What do teachers and pupils REALLY think about A-levels and GCSEs? 7 findings from latest government figures

The exams regulator Ofqual today released its annual survey on the perception of A-levels and GCSEs.

Lots of people were consulted, including: headteachers (281), teachers (697), youngsters (338), parents (259) and academics (253).

The survey, carried out by YouGov, comes during the government’s overhaul of qualifications in its push to make them “more rigorous”.

Here’s the key points:


Qualifications are, generally, trusted – but headteachers are losing faith


perception of GCSEs

Nearly two thirds of stakeholders agreed that GCSEs were a “trusted qualification”. A similar amount agreed with the sentiment that “GCSEs are well understood”.

Breaking it down per group, seven out of ten headteachers agreed that “GCSEs are well understood” – however this was down from the 83 per cent of heads who agreed last year.

This could be down to the government’s GCSE reforms, which includes an overhaul of the grading system. Which brings us on to our next point …



LOTS of parents and pupils don’t know about the new 1-9 GCSE grading system…


The survey found nearly a third of youngsters were not aware of the new grading scale, compared to nearly half of parents. This was even lower for employers (29 per cent) and the public (22 per cent).


… and heads aren’t that sure, either!


Also, only 59 per cent of headteachers surveyed knew that grade 5 was the lowest grade the Department for Education will consider a good pass. Awareness was even lower for teachers, with just 51 per cent able to answer the question. Only a third of students knew grade 5 was the pass mark.

9-1 grading



But what about A-level reforms?


Two thirds of respondents said A-levels are well understood, and nearly nine in ten teachers regarded them as a trusted qualification.

But half of employers did feel qualification reforms are needed – compared to just 26 per cent of parents and 37 per cent of heads.

a levels perecption table


And the A-level qualification decoupling?


Overall, four out of ten people said the move to linear end of course assessment is a bad thing at A-level. (Although 37 per cent agreed the advantages outweigh the disadvantages).

Breaking that down, more than half of heads were against the decoupling of AS and A-levels. (From now on, the traditional AS-levels are decoupled from A-levels – in favour of a linear A-level. New reformed AS subjects no longer count towards a student’s final A-level grade).

This appears to have caused lots of problems for universities, who have expressed their opposition to the changes.

But, in the Ofqual survey, just over a third (35 per cent) of higher education institutions said there were more disadvantages after the change (compared to 31 per cent that thought there were more advantages)

Ofqual figures reported by Schools Week last month also showed that despite all the upheaval, pupils were actually still plumping for AS-levels.



Parents and pupils are unaware of the exam appeals system, and heads think it’s unfair


Ofqual is planning changes to its exam appeals system. But its survey has revealed that roughly a third of both parents and youngsters were unaware there was even a route to appeal exam results.

Also, when asked whether that system was fair, 42 per cent of heads disagreed – the largest of any of the groups surveyed.

appeal system awareness



What Ofqual said:


Commenting on today’s release, Sally Collier, Chief Regulator Ofqual, said: “In general, these data show patterns similar to previous years. It is reassuring that GCSEs and A-levels continue to be trusted qualifications, and that employers and those in higher education believe students’ results are reliable measures of ability.

“These qualifications are, however, going through a period of reform and it is apparent that we need to do more to build awareness and understanding of some of the changes today in order to maintain those perceptions into the future.”

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