Lin­ear re­gres­sion

Top grades fall over­all but gen­der gap closes, sug­gest­ing course changes ben­e­fit boys

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - CONTENTS - Eleanor busby

Top grades fall in new lin­ear A-level sub­jects, as gen­der gap closes

YES­TER­DAY’S A-LEVEL re­sult head­lines may have felt like the usual an­nual déjà vu, with the pro­por­tion of en­tries re­ceiv­ing the top A* grade reach­ing a new record level at 8.3 per cent.

But be­neath the sur­face there were more in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ments. This sum­mer, the ini­tial tranche of re­formed “lin­ear” A lev­els were sat in Eng­land for the first time.

Lurid claims in the press last week­end warned that Ofqual’s usual ap­proach to grad­ing would “dumb down” th­ese sub­jects. In the event, the pro­por­tion of 18-year-old en­tries re­ceiv­ing top grades in them ac­tu­ally fell com­pared with last year.

Un­like the new GCSES, there was no ex­plicit in­ten­tion that the new A lev­els should be tougher than be­fore. Exam boards be­lieve the drop oc­curred be­cause the co­hort is slightly weaker, Tes un­der­stands.

Mean­while, pre­dic­tions that the gen­der gap would nar­row un­der the new re­formed A lev­els – which have much less course­work and have re­placed mod­u­lar struc­tures with end-of-course ex­ams – did come true.

Across the 13 re­formed A-lev­els in Eng­land, there is no longer any gen­der gap at A and A*, whereas last year girls led by 0.9 per­cent­age points.

Pro­fes­sor Alan Smithers, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Ed­u­ca­tion and Em­ploy­ment Re­search at Buck­ing­ham Univer­sity, sug­gested last week that the re­forms could ben­e­fit boys as the mod­u­lar re­forms to A lev­els in 2000 had favoured girls.

“I think what hap­pened when A lev­els changed from end-of-course ex­am­i­na­tions to mod­u­lar – which led to a big gap open­ing in favour of girls – sug­gests that the re­ver­sion to end-of-course ex­am­i­na­tions will lead to a nar­row­ing of the gap,” he said.

It is not only the re­formed qual­i­fi­ca­tions in Eng­land that closed the gen­der gap. Boys across the UK have re­ceived a larger share than girls of A and A* grades com­bined for the first time this year.

This sum­mer’s re­sults show that 26.6 per cent of UK boys’ A-level en­tries scored at least an A, com­pared with 26.1 per cent of UK girls’ en­tries.

Michael Turner, the di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Joint Coun­cil for Qual­i­fi­ca­tions (JCQ), which rep­re­sents exam boards, says “it is too early to draw any firm con­clu­sions” from the data.

“How­ever, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see if the pat­tern con­tin­ues as we progress through the re­form timetable,” he adds.

This year’s statis­tics also re­veal that the num­ber of AS level en­tries in Eng­land have plum­meted by 42 per cent. This is a steeper fall than last year, when the first de­cou­pled AS lev­els – which do not count to­wards fi­nal A-level grades – came in and en­tries dropped by 14.8 per cent.

Fur­ther maths has bucked the trend this year, with As-level en­tries up by 4.5 per cent.

A new snap­shot sur­vey from the As­so­ci­a­tion of School and Col­lege Lead­ers sug­gests that 86 per cent of heads are look­ing to cut As-level cour­ses in the fu­ture.

“It is in­creas­ingly clear that gov­ern­ment re­forms have sounded the death knell for AS lev­els,” Ge­off Bar­ton, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the ASCL, says. “The de­ci­sion to de­cou­ple th­ese qual­i­fi­ca­tions was an en­tirely un­nec­es­sary re­form that is nar­row­ing the cur­ricu­lum and re­duc­ing stu­dent choice.”

The JCQ will be car­ry­ing out re­search to fur­ther an­a­lyse the im­pact of the re­forms.

“The fall in AS en­tries in Eng­land – and the small de­cline in out­comes in the re­formed sub­jects at A level – raises an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two qual­i­fi­ca­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, the im­pact that tak­ing the AS level has on per­for­mance at A level,” Turner says.

CATCH­ING UP: There is no longer a gen­der gap at A and A* un­der the re­formed A lev­els

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