Only grade 5 and above should be considered a pass when GCSE maths and English results are released tomorrow

 John Jerrim.

Tomorrow is the release of GCSE results, with this year having the added excitement of changes to how grades are being reported for certain subjects. Rather than the long-standing use of alphabetic grades (ranging from A* to U), English language and maths will be scored on a numeric (9 to 1) scale. Consequently, no-one really quite knows what to expect!

Confusion has not been helped by the Department for Education defining both grade 4 and grade 5 as the “pass” mark, and then using these for different purposes. For instance, whereas schools will require their pupils to achieve grade 5 to be included in their EBACC accountability figures, children themselves will be awarded the EBACC if they reach at least grade 4. Likewise, the leading Russell Group universities are now using different criteria; whereas UCL will require applicants to certain courses to have achieved at least grade 5 in English and maths, other (such as Manchester) are only asking for grade 4 . 

Confused? You should be! It doesn’t really make much sense, does it? But it does lead me to an important question – what is the minimum threshold in these subjects that we should be expecting young people to achieve?

In collaboration with colleagues from the Education Policy Institute we have used OECD PISA data matched to GCSE grades in order to consider the standards of achievement needed for the English education system to become “world class”. This, in turn, can help us to think about whether the pass mark should be set at grade 4 or grade 5.

The key results from this work are presented in Tables 1 and 2 below. They illustrate how well we believe children in other countries would do, were they to sit England’s GCSE examinations. The key message is this; in both English and mathematics the average grade needs to be around grade 5 if England’s education system is ever going to be considered world class. This should therefore become the standard which we expect our young people to meet.

This then has important implications for how we interpret GCSE results when they are released tomorrow. Only grade 5 should be treated as the pass mark; grade 4 and below should be treated as a fail. From now on, universities, employers, schools and teachers should be setting grade 5 as the standard they expect young people to meet.

 

Figure 1: The simulated distribution of GCSE grades in mathematics across a selection of countries

 

  %U % 1/2/3 % 4/5/6 % 7/8/9 Average grade
Singapore 1 12 47 41 5.68
Hong Kong 1 13 51 35 5.45
Macao 1 13 53 34 5.40
Taiwan 1 15 48 36 5.41
Japan 1 15 53 32 5.26
China 1 17 49 33 5.23
South Korea 1 17 51 30 5.14
Switzerland 1 17 53 29 5.09
Estonia 1 17 56 26 5.05
Canada 1 18 54 27 5.02
Netherlands 1 19 53 27 4.99
Denmark 1 18 57 25 4.95
Finland 1 18 56 25 4.95
Slovenia 1 19 54 26 4.93
Belgium 1 20 53 26 4.90
Germany 1 20 55 24 4.86
Poland 1 20 55 24 4.86
Ireland 1 20 57 23 4.84
Norway 1 21 56 22 4.79
Austria 2 22 53 23 4.77
New Zealand 2 22 54 22 4.71
Sweden 2 22 55 22 4.72
Australia 2 23 53 23 4.71
England 2 22 53 22 4.72
France 2 23 53 23 4.72
Czech Republic 2 23 53 22 4.69
Portugal 2 23 53 22 4.69
Italy 2 24 53 22 4.65
Iceland 2 24 53 21 4.64
Spain 2 23 56 19 4.59
Luxembourg 2 24 54 21 4.61
Latvia 1 24 56 18 4.51
Hungary 2 26 53 19 4.47
Slovak Republic 2 26 53 19 4.47
Israel 3 28 51 19 4.41
United States 2 27 54 17 4.39
Greece 3 31 52 15 4.19
Chile 4 37 50 9 3.76
Turkey 4 37 49 9 3.72
Mexico 5 41 48 6 3.53

 

Figure 2: The simulated distribution of GCSE grades in English language across a selection of countries

 

  %U % 1/2/3 % 4/5/6 % 7/8/9 Average grade
Singapore 0 19 56 25 5.01
Hong Kong 0 19 58 23 4.93
Canada 0 20 57 23 4.94
Finland 0 20 57 23 4.94
Ireland 0 20 58 22 4.88
Estonia 0 21 58 21 4.85
South Korea 0 22 56 22 4.82
Japan 0 22 57 21 4.83
Norway 0 22 56 21 4.81
New Zealand 0 25 54 21 4.75
Germany 1 24 56 20 4.76
Macao 0 22 58 19 4.74
Poland 0 23 57 19 4.72
Slovenia 0 24 56 19 4.72
Netherlands 0 25 56 19 4.70
Australia 1 25 55 19 4.71
Sweden 0 25 55 19 4.67
Denmark 0 25 57 18 4.64
England 0 25 56 19 4.65
France 1 26 53 20 4.65
Belgium 0 25 55 19 4.66
Portugal 0 25 56 18 4.66
Taiwan 0 25 57 18 4.64
United States 1 26 55 19 4.64
Spain 1 25 57 18 4.62
China 1 27 54 19 4.60
Switzerland 1 26 56 18 4.58
Latvia 0 27 57 16 4.53
Czech Republic 1 28 54 17 4.53
Austria 1 28 55 17 4.53
Italy 1 27 56 17 4.54
Iceland 1 29 55 16 4.47
Luxembourg 1 29 53 17 4.49
Israel 1 30 52 17 4.48
Hungary 1 31 54 14 4.35
Greece 1 32 53 14 4.33
Chile 1 33 54 12 4.23
Slovak Republic 1 34 52 13 4.21
Turkey 1 40 51 8 3.93
Mexico 1 41 50 8 3.89

 

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Education policy, International comparisons, Teaching, learning, curriculum & assessment
One comment on “Only grade 5 and above should be considered a pass when GCSE maths and English results are released tomorrow
  1. John Hodgson says:

    It would be interesting to follow the reasoning behind these confident projections of students from various countries’ performance in GCSE English. Maths has the advantage of being a universal language.

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