A major exam board has reported a huge slump in certifications as schools shun iGCSEs in favour of more traditional qualifications.
According to Ofqual’s annual qualifications market report, OCR, the third-largest provider of GCSE and equivalent qualifications, awarded 21 per cent fewer certificates last year.
Exam boards WJEC and Pearson also saw falls of 17 per cent and 10 per cent respectively, but AQA, the largest provider of GCSEs, only dropped by 0.2 per cent.
The figures have been ascribed to a sudden loss of interest in iGCSEs, which no longer count towards a school’s league-table position. Policy experts have warned that boards will continue to narrow the range of subjects on offer as more pupils are entered only for exams that count in league tables.
GCSE certificate numbers dropped across all four major exam boards last summer. At the same time, there was a two-per-cent drop in the number of 16-year-olds in secondary schools.
OCR suffered the biggest loss by far, with a fall from 1.5 million certificates in 2015-16 to 1.2 million last year.
Schools could see even fewer awards become available
AQA was the only exam board that increased its share of GCSEs, up from 46 per cent to 53 per cent, which means it now certificates more than half of every GCSE pupils sit.
WJEC and Pearson saw their market share drop by two per cent, and OCR by three per cent.
A source familiar with the situation described such a significant change in market share as a “big shift”, the likes of which haven’t been seen before. Changes are usually “pretty small”.
The removal of the English language and literature iGCSE from headline accountability measures caused many schools to move towards the normal English GCSE.
This has also hit OCR’s level 1 and 2 English language qualifications, which fell dramatically from 22,025 to just 1,335 last year.
OCR declined to comment on the situation.
AQA’s reformed English GCSE at level 1 and 2 was popular however, as schools moved away from the iGCSE. It took 463,050 certificates last year.
Geoff Coombe, AQA’s director of qualifications and markets, said the board was “really pleased” with the number of schools “trusting” its qualifications.
All four boards have also been affected by a new trend in which schools enter pupils for fewer GCSEs, according to Jill Stokoe, a policy advisor at the National Education Union.
Where until recently schools entered pupils for as many as 11 GCSEs, they are now more likely to restrict pupils to the seven EBacc subjects to fill the “buckets” for Progress 8, she said.
OCR already announced two years ago it would no longer offer modern foreign languages, after too few pupils took the awards to be viable. Last summer was the final year the board offered language papers.
As schools choose to enter pupils for fewer subjects, market forces mean boards may in the future continue to reduce the awards they offer, she said.
“It’s cyclical, because schools respond to accountability measures, and then this will affect the commercial market. So schools could see even fewer awards become available.”