EEF research to investigate impact of three-year GCSEs

The Education Endowment Foundation has commissioned research into whether teaching GCSEs over three years boosts pupils’ grades.

The charity has enlisted the National Foundation for Educational Research for the study, which aims to give schools more evidence of the impact of their decisions.

Schools have traditionally taught a three year key stage 3 between years 7 and 9, and then a two-year key stage 4 over years 10 and 11. But in recent years, in the face of increased government focus on outcomes, many schools have chosen to lengthen the time spent on GCSEs.

Headteachers and academy trust leaders have clashed with Ofsted in recent months over its new inspection regime, after inspectors began to downgrade schools they said had narrowed the curriculum by running a three-year key stage 4.

Ofsted insists schools with three-year GCSE programmes can still be rated ‘outstanding’ if their set-up does not result in the curriculum being narrowed, but some school leaders have warned the watchdog’s new approach favours middle-class children.

The EEF study aims to understand the impact of different approaches to organising GCSEs on pupil grades. Organisers want hundreds of schools to be involved. Every eligible secondary school in England will be invited to take part.

Professor Becky Francis, the EEF’s CEO, said the findings of education research “can seem quite distant from the day-to-day concerns of life in schools”.

“School leaders and teachers make hundreds of decisions every year, all of which have an impact on their pupils, and it’s important that these studies focus on practical issues for schools – how best to deliver the curriculum in the senior years of schooling.

“The results will offer useful insights to help schools improve outcomes and better meet the needs of all pupils.”

Simon Rutt, NFER’s head of statistics, who will lead the project, said: “We would actively encourage as many secondary schools as possible to participate in this important project by completing the survey sent to schools today, as we aim to represent the main practices currently taking place in schools across England.”

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