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ASCL ‘forgotten third’ inquiry mulls ‘stage not age’ testing call

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An influential commission on the future of GCSEs is considering recommending an end to the comparable outcomes system and a move to “stage not age” testing of pupils.

Leadership union ASCL launched its “forgotten third” inquiry last October to examine the plight of those pupils who fail to achieve a grade 4 in their GCSE English and maths.

The commission, led by National Education Trust founder Roy Blatchford, will deliver an interim report to ASCL’s annual conference this afternoon. It will question the government’s policy of compulsory post-16 resits for those who don’t pass and whether to “retain an assessment and examination system that year in, year out creates a forgotten third”.

But Schools Week understands the commission is considering going further in its full report in June, and recommending wholesale change to the current testing system for 16-year-olds, which uses the comparable outcomes system to ensure roughly the same number of pupils get each grade every year.

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, has warned of an “extraordinary culture that we feel that in order to define our success we have to define it through the number of children who don’t do it, the forgotten third we’re calling them”.

“In the old days, if you got a grade D, E or F, at least there was this sense that they were part of a continuum and their GCSE counted for something,” he told Schools Week in a pre-conference interview.

“But as soon as you’ve got a grade 4 being deemed a ‘standard pass’ and grade 5 being deemed a ‘good pass’, what does that make a grade 3?”



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  1. Keith Joseph, describing exam reform on 24 June 1984), said, ‘GCSE’s will grade candidates by their performance…on the basis of what they themselves know and can do and without regard to the performance of others’.
    GCSEs were designed to ensure nearly 100% of 16-year-olds would leave school with exams graded from G (basic) to A (excellent). None of these grades was described as a ‘fail’.
    This vision has been abandoned. We now have built-in failure. It’s a national shame.