GCSE pass rate could drop 23% under new reforms

The proportion of pupils achieving a “good pass” in their GCSEs could fall by almost a quarter under the new numerical grading system, a leading think tank has warned.

Following Schools Week’s analysis last year that up to 20 per cent of pupils who previously achieved C grades under the existing system would not reach a grade five in the new exams, a report by CentreForum and Education Datalab has predicted the fall could in fact be around 23 per cent.

The revelation has led to calls from former schools minister David Laws (pictured) for England to “do better”.

The research also warns that while attainment at age 16 and 11 has risen, between 43 and 44 per cent of children still don’t achieve the expected benchmark of five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths, or level 4b in reading, writing and maths at the end of primary.

Although the gap between disadvantaged and other pupils has narrowed in the last 10 years, this narrowing has been much slower in secondary schools.

It adds: “When the new grade 5 standard is introduced in place of the current “C” grade standard, we calculate that the percentage of children who secure this “good pass” level in English and maths will initially fall by around 23 per cent [percentage points], from 58 per cent to 35 per cent.”

To ensure England is keeping pace with “world class” standards of education, CentreForum recommends the government establishes a “new benchmark standard” which would measure pupils achievement across 8 GCSEs.

The report goes on to say: “This would mean securing an average grade of 5 or better in these specified eight subjects. We judge that this would be close to a world class standard.”

Current figures suggest only around 46 per cent of pupils in England reach this “world class” standard.

Liberal Democrat politician Mr Laws, who now serves as executive chair of CentreForum having lost his Parliamentary seat in May, said the report showed there was “no cause for complacency” in schools.

He said: “When the new GCSEs are introduced, we may well see a fall of over 20 per cent in the proportion of English children regarded as reaching the new ‘good pass’ standard, and we think that over half of all children will be below the world class benchmark on average across their eight GCSEs.”

He added that England needed to “do much better” if it is to “become a world leader in giving real opportunity to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Last June, Schools Week analysed exam statistics and exclusively revealed a likely sharp fall in the number of pupils achieving what the government considers to be a “good pass” once the new GCSE reforms are complete.

A “postcard” designed by exam regulator Ofqual, to explain the new GCSE regime, shows that a grade five will only be awarded to the top third of pupils achieving the current C grade.

Pupils who achieve a middle or low C will get a level four – which will not count as a good pass.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the report showed the “stark choice” faced in education. She said: “Either we prepare today’s young people to compete with the best in the world, or we don’t.

“That’s why we’ve taken the decision to set the new GCSE ‘good pass’ at the same level as other high performing countries set their pass mark.

“Every time we have raised the bar for schools and colleges they have risen to meet the challenge, and we are confident that this is no exception. Over time we expect to see more pupils reach this new higher standard and the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers continuing to narrow.”

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  1. It is difficult to see how this comparison is being made as countries have such widely differing education systems and few test at 16 in the way we do in the UK. Spurious use of comparisons such as these do not help.

  2. As a parent of one of the guinea pigs being used to test the system I feel very bitter that my child’s future is being played with in this way. Just get a system and stick with it and stop moving the goalposts.

  3. Few countries have tests at 16 so it’s difficult to understand where the ‘world class’ standard came from. And then I read it in the report. It’s a forecast prediction by Centre Forum of what a world-class standard might look like in 2030.
    Is the DfE spokesperson really suggesting the new GCSEs have been pegged to a theoretical standard which might be around in 14 years time? This is indeed crystal-ball gazing of high degree.

  4. As one of the first years being tested on this new system I think it’s horrible how the’re using us as lab rats putting our future at stake because they don’t know weather it will be a good change or not for all we know it could fail compleatly leaving us with those bad GCSE’s for the rest of our lives this leaving us unable to get into a six form and then even more importantly a good university then leading us to not being able to have a job so if the government really think this is ok they need to have a rethink about all the extra pressure they are putting on us and descide wether it was a good choice!