Less than half of pupils understand GCSE reforms, survey finds

Less than half of pupils understand why the government has reformed GCSE qualifications, despite over half a million pounds of public money being spent on explaining the changes.

According to a new Ipsos Mori survey, only 48 per cent of school pupils who had heard of the changes to the GCSE grading system actually understood why the government had introduced the new GCSEs. The figure was slightly higher for parents and carers, with 54 per cent understanding the change.

The government spent more than £380,000 telling schools, pupils and employers about the changes to GCSEs, which included replacing the A* to G grades with a new 9 to 1 system from last year.

Then a further £121,500 was also spent on publicising the reforms last year, according to a response to a parliamentary question reported in the Independent in July last year.

Today’s survey, which ran through December last year to January this year, also showed that 61 per cent of parents and carers of school pupils understood which grade is now the highest for the new GSCEs, while 40 per cent of school pupils and 50 per cent of parents and carers understood “somewhat” or “very well” why the grading scale had changed from letters to numbers in the first place.

The survey was the fourth of its kind and questioned a nationally representative sample of young people at secondary schools and colleges in England. Pupils who are home educated, or attending independent schools were not included.

In total, 2,590 paired responses were gained from school pupils and their parents or carers, and 206 paired responses from college students and their parents or carers.

The research covered a wide range of topics affecting school pupils, including mental health, bullying, subject choice and careers guidance.

Pupils were asked whether they are currently, planning to take or have already taken a GCSE in a foreign language, an arts subject, design and technology, and the humanities.

Humanities was selected by the highest proportion of pupils (68 per cent), followed by a foreign language (48 per cent), arts (40 per cent), and design and technology (32 per cent)

While pupils taking humanities, design and technology and arts subjects said they had chosen them because they enjoy them, pupils taking a foreign language were most likely to say they were studying it because their school required them to do so.

Other findings included two in five school pupils (41 per cent) reporting their school currently has a breakfast club, with 16 per cent of pupils accessing this provision at least a few times each month. Only 4 per cent said they go to their school’s breakfast club every day.

The government U-turned on plans last year to offer free breakfasts to all primary school pupils.

The survey also asked about the ‘Baker clause’, which requires every school to give training providers and colleges access to every pupil in years 8 to 13, so they can find out about non-academic routes.

It found that 61 per cent of pupils in year 9 or above had received at least some information from their school on apprenticeships, but only 38 per cent of parents or carers of these pupils also said they had been given any information.

When parents and pupils were asked if they had heard about the government’s ‘Educate Against Hate’ website, designed to “gives parents, teachers and governors practical advice on protecting children from extremism and radicalisation”, 88 per cent said they had not heard of it at all.