Bookmark and Share

Exam results 2017

From all of us at ASCL, we hope that there was much for your students and staff to celebrate this exam results season. Following the publication of this year’s exam results, in our press releases, we focused on several key aspects that the government needs to urgently address (see below). However, we hope you’ll also note that we kept the main story precisely what it ought to be – a celebration of the achievements of students at all levels, and a tribute to the staff who helped young people to gain the grades they need.

A level decline in creative subjects and languages

This year’s A level results show that entries in music, drama, French and German are continuing to decline as a result of the severe funding pressures on schools and colleges.

Schools and colleges are having to cut courses in these subjects because the relatively small number of candidates signing up to them means they are not financially viable to run. This reflects the severe budget pressures on post-16 education which has suffered significant real-terms cuts since 2010.

ASCL is concerned that this trend, combined with a huge drop in AS level entries as a result of government reforms, is narrowing the curriculum and reducing student choice.

Commenting on results day, Geoff Barton, ASCL General Secretary, said: “Congratulations to the students who are celebrating results in A level, AS levels and vocational qualifications. Today is about their achievements.

“Beyond today, however, the government must get to grips with the continuing decline in entries to music, drama, French and German.

“These subjects are vitally important to the future of young people and to the economy.

“However, the level of funding for post-16 education is simply not sufficient to sustain courses with relatively small numbers of students, and many schools and colleges have no alternative other than to cut these courses. Increasingly, they will be available only in the private sector, making a mockery of the government’s claim to be promoting social mobility.

“The decline in A level entries means there will be fewer teachers in these subjects in the future making them even more difficult to sustain.

“Combined with the decline in AS level entries as a result of the government’s ill-conceived decision to decouple these qualifications from A levels, we are seeing a significant narrowing of the post-16 curriculum. The government must take heed of these statistics and act urgently to improve the level of investment in post-16 education and the uptake of these important subjects.”

Government reform has sounded death knell for AS levels

A survey of school leaders shows that 65% of respondents have cut the number of AS level courses they offer since the process of ‘decoupling’ them from A levels began – and that nearly 90% expect to do so in the future.

A snapshot survey conducted by ASCL in England found that 65% (112 respondents) have removed AS level courses from the curriculum since 2015.

It also found that 86% (148 respondents) expect to remove AS courses in the future. The findings come as the results of this summer’s AS and A levels show that the number of entries for AS subjects fell by 42% in 2017.

Geoff Barton, ASCL General Secretary, said: “It is increasingly clear that government reforms have sounded the death knell for AS levels.

“AS levels allowed students to study four subjects knowing they would all count towards a qualification, either an AS level or a full A level.

“They were intended as a way of broadening the curriculum and were valued by students, employers and universities.

“But the government has decided – against the advice of virtually everybody in education – to make them standalone qualifications which no longer count towards the final A level grade.

“Students now have to decide on their final three A level choices at the outset, and schools and colleges are increasingly focusing on these qualifications to maximise teaching time, rather than holding exams for AS levels in Year 12 which do not count towards the final grade.

“They are under severe funding pressures and cannot afford to run a suite of standalone AS levels.

“As a result, we are returning to a situation where students typically study three rather than four subjects in post-16 education.

“The great benefit of the old system was that it gave students a broader range of knowledge and allowed them to keep their options open for longer.

“The decision to decouple these qualifications was an entirely unnecessary reform which is narrowing the curriculum and reducing student choice.”

GCSE pupils and teachers have performed miracles

Commenting on this year’s GCSE results, Geoff Barton, ASCL General Secretary, said:

“Congratulations to the pupils and their teachers on this year’s GCSE results which have been achieved in very challenging circumstances. They have performed miracles amidst a sea of curriculum change which continues unabated next year. They deserve tremendous credit for their hard work.

“We have once again seen a decline in entries to subjects which are not included in the English Baccalaureate. The evidence is clear that the government’s reforms are narrowing the curriculum and we think this is to the detriment of our young people and to the country.

“We are concerned to see a slight decline in the overall rate for grades C/ 4, and above, and fear that this may be the result of driving children down this narrow academic route which does not necessarily suit every child. In addition, the new reformed GCSEs are more challenging and children sit more exams.

“These factors are putting young people under great pressure and creating increased stress and anxiety. We are increasingly concerned about their wellbeing and we will be raising this issue with the DfE as a matter of urgency.

“School and college leaders are firmly committed to raising standards. But the government has to understand that this is not achieved by putting young people and teachers under intolerable pressure. The solution lies in proper funding for education, and improving the supply of teachers into the profession, not by constant meddling with the curriculum.”

New GCSEs are increasing stress and anxiety

A pupil taking a typical set of new reformed GCSEs will sit about eight hours more exams than under the old system, analysis by ASCL has found.

ASCL is concerned that the new GCSEs – which are also more challenging – are already causing increased stress and anxiety to pupils, and that this will intensify next year.

ASCL compared the exam timetables of two students sitting a similar set of exams under the old system and the reformed system.

Student A, who took old-style GCSEs in the summer of 2016, sat 18 exams – the total length of which was 24 hours and 30 minutes.

Student B, who will take new GCSEs in the same subjects in the summer of 2019, will sit 22 exams – the total length of which will be 33 hours.

Geoff Barton, ASCL General Secretary, said: “We have already had reports from members of increased stress and anxiety among pupils this year, and this will intensify next year.

“We know from numerous reports that there is a rising tide of mental health issues among young people and we are concerned the new exams will make the situation worse.

“The new GCSEs are more challenging, and there are more papers, and this is putting severe pressure on young people. We support a robust qualification system, but it has to be balanced against the welfare of young people, and we are not sure the balance in the new system is correct.

“We will be talking to the DfE to see if there are ways to mitigate the impact on young people.”

We have once again seen a decline in entries to subjects which are not included in the English Baccalaureate. The evidence is clear that the government’s reforms are narrowing the curriculum and we think this is to the detriment of our young people and to the country.

ASCL has published a factsheet about the new GCSEs which can be downloaded from www.ascl.org.uk/GCSEfactsheet