Stories + Views
Is GCSE Grade Inflation a Myth?
The conventional wisdom is that GCSE grades are not worth what they used to be, that they have suffered from grade inflation and that business has lost faith in them. But is there any basis to this? Janet Downs has looked at some of the evidence in our FAQ section (under School Performance), and there does seem to be more evidence of it at A level. The basis of Gove’s changes is the assumption of grade inflation at GCSE but is it reality or myth?
This morning (18th September, p 6) the Guardian published intriguing data on the change in the % achieving grade C or above over the last 20 years:
- All subjects: From 42% in 1988 to 69% in 2012
- English: From 57% in 1993 to 64% in 2012
- Maths: From 46% in 1993 to 58% in 2012
So there was a relatively small increase in English, a moderate increase in Maths and a large increase in other subjects. But how does this compare to progress of these children at age 11? DfE data shows that:
- English: % achieving Level 4 or better rose from 49% in 1995 to 80% in 2007
- Maths: % achieving Level 4 or better rose from 45% in 1995 to 77% in 2007
I have used 2007 figures as this was the cohort that took GCSEs in 2012. The 1993 GCSE students would have been in Year 6 in 1988 but age 11 SATs were only introduced in 1995 so these are the earliest figures available. Students achieving a Level 4 at age 11 are expected to achieve a level C in GCSE (last year 74% did so in English and 69% in Maths).
We discovered this week, as Fiona Millar described, that Ofqual is now setting GCSE pass rates according to the SATs results achieved by the same cohort. If this had been the policy over the last twenty years then we could expect a much bigger rise in English results. Indeed if age 11 literacy has been transformed, with a jump of 31% in the number achieving level 4, why have those achieving GCSE only risen by 7%?
The same question can be asked of Maths. If the number achieving level 4 rose by 32%, why did GCSE grade Cs only rise by 12%. This would seem to indicate there is more likely to have been grade deflation than grade inflation. The increase for both subjects is absolutely in line with what can be expected from the improved performance at primary school and, we would hope, improvements in secondary schools.
At first glance the increase of 27% in the numbers achieving grade C across all subjects would seem to indicate grade inflation in the other GCSEs. However even this 27% increase is less than the increase in level 4s in either English or Maths. And, oddly (given the huge increase), nobody seems to talk about grade inflation for the SATs that students take at age 11.
So is the basis of the changes announced this week by the government actually based on myth rather than reality?