UK to Change GCSE System to Eliminate ‘Perverse Incentive’

UK education minister David Laws has announced that the “perverse incentive” encouraging schools to act against the best interests of pupils by judging success on the numbers achieving at least five C grades on GCSE exams will be discontinued. The progress of pupils in English secondary schools will instead be measured across eight subjects, with their attainment on exams at 16 benchmarked against what they were forecast to achieve when they left primary school at age 11, in one of the biggest changes in schools accountability under the coalition government.

According to Nicholas Watt of The Guardian, members of Parliament were told by Laws that the new system to be introduced in 2016 would be fairer than the current because it would better measure progress made by pupils. The National Union of Teachers, however, fired a warning that the decision to eliminate the well-understood A* to C grading system could have a “devastating impact” on some schools that the NUT thinks will struggle under the new model.

Results achieved by a pupil at the end of primary school will be used to set a reasonable expectation of what he or she can achieve at GCSE, according to the Liberal Democrat schools minister. Should a pupil outperform the expectations, the school will receive appropriate credit for their success. Speaking in the Commons, Laws said:

“A child who gets an A when they were expected to get a B or a D when they were expected to get an E, will effectively scores points for their school. That approach will ensure that all pupils matter, and matter equally. It will be fairer for schools and fairer for pupils.”

The minister used strong language to criticize the current system because it encourages an excessive focus on getting pupils to grade C at GCSE. David said that the new system would enable teachers focus on all students rather than only those who could get grade C.

“Schools improve their league table position if pupils move over the C/D borderline. That gives schools a huge incentive to focus excessively on the small number of pupils around the five Cs borderlines. In our view, that is unfair to pupils with the potential to move from E grades to D grades or from B grades to A grades. It is also, paradoxically, unfair to those on the C/D borderline because it leads schools to teach to the test,” David said.

Based on the progress made by pupils in the eight subjects, which include English and math as mandatory and three further subjects in the Ebacc replacement to GCSE chosen from science, foreign languages, history and geography, a new “floor target” would be set. The final three subjects would include art, music and drama, and vocational subjects such as engineering and business, which would be counted as “other high-value qualifications”. English and math will be “double-weighted” as a sign of their importance.

These will be used to produce a simple grade average rating for the entire school, which will be given a plus or minus score set against the expected floor target. Schools beating the floor will have a positive score.