‘Gib­ber­ish’ grades

Em­ploy­ees warn that pupils with new-style ‘gib­ber­ish’ grades could miss out on jobs

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

Em­ploy­ers warn that new GCSES may lead to missed op­por­tu­ni­ties

THEY ARE de­signed to lift Eng­land’s schools to “world-class” stan­dards, but now, as pupils pre­pare to re­ceive the first re­sults from re­formed GCSES next week, em­ploy­ers and par­ents fear that the tough new ex­ams will ac­tu­ally harm their prospects.

The In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors is warn­ing that its mem­bers may view the new nu­mer­i­cal grad­ing sys­tem as “gib­ber­ish” and in­stead favour job can­di­dates with old style let­tered GCSE grades, dis­ad­van­tag­ing this year’s can­di­dates.

Mean­while a Tes and Mum­snet sur­vey shows that only 4 per cent of par­ents of pupils sit­ting the re­formed ex­ams be­lieve that they will im­prove their chil­dren’s chances in life, with 44 per cent say­ing they will “hin­der” them.

It also re­veals a wide­spread lack of un­der­stand­ing of new nu­mer­i­cal grades and a dearth of in­for­ma­tion about them among par­ents.

How­ever, a board mem­ber from ex­ams reg­u­la­tor Ofqual ar­gues that any­one who is con­fused about the new sys­tem has “not thought about it hard enough” (see box, “‘No rea­son to find grades con­fus­ing’”, page 10).

On Thurs­day, pupils in Eng­land will be awarded nu­mer­i­cal grades (from 9 to 1) in the new English lit­er­a­ture, English lan­guage and maths GCSES for the first time, rather than A* to G grades.

Sea­mus Nevin, head of em­ploy­ment and skills pol­icy at the In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors, be­lieves many em­ploy­ers will only dis­cover that the GCSES have changed once they be­gin re­ceiv­ing CVS from pupils.

“They might think, ‘What is this gib­ber­ish and what does it mean and how has it changed from pre­vi­ous grad­ing sys­tems?’” he says.

Worse still, he fears some busi­nesses could sim­ply dis­re­gard CVS with new GCSE grades.

“If the em­ployer is time-poor and re­source­con­strained then they can on oc­ca­sions be quite keen to get through as many [CVS] as pos­si­ble,” Nevin warns. “So if they have a CV that they don’t un­der­stand, then they might opt for the ones that they do.”

Huge con­fu­sion

The Tes and Mum­snet re­search shows that nearly a third of par­ents in Eng­land are un­aware of the new GCSE grad­ing sys­tem. There is huge con­fu­sion over the nu­mer­i­cal scale – with many still in the dark about what con­sti­tutes a top grade and a pass (see pages 10-11).

Con­cerns have been build­ing over a gen­eral lack of knowl­edge about the new GCSES. A re­port last month from the CBI and ex­am­board owner Pear­son re­vealed that more than a third of busi­nesses did not know that a new nu­mer­i­cal grad­ing sys­tem for GCSES in English and maths will be used this sum­mer.

The gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion in March this year to have two dif­fer­ent pass grades – 4 as a stan­dard pass (the min­i­mum level re­quired for pupils to avoid English and maths re­sits) and 5 as a “strong pass” (the main grade for school ac­count­abil­ity) – has only added to the con­fu­sion.

Ge­off Bar­ton, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the As­so­ci­a­tion of School and Col­lege Lead­ers (ASCL), says the sit­u­a­tion wors­ened as civil ser­vants de­layed com­mu­ni­ca­tion about the changes, de­cid­ing they should be cov­ered by pre-gen­eral elec­tion “pur­dah”.

“We spot­ted that this might be a year when there was go­ing to be more anx­i­ety. It was added to be­cause there was a gen­eral

elec­tion and a view that pur­dah should ap­ply to this,” he says.

“Part of the [planned] com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan was to make sure that em­ploy­ers knew about the new sys­tem and that would have been slowed down.”

Barn­aby Lenon, chair­man of the In­de­pen­dent Schools Coun­cil (ISC) and Ofqual board mem­ber, ar­gues the new grad­ing sys­tem is “sim­ple and straight­for­ward” and that the changes have been set out clearly by both schools and Ofqual.

Last month, schools min­is­ter Nick Gibb re­vealed that more than half a mil­lion pounds of pub­lic money had been al­lo­cated to ex­plain­ing the GCSE exam re­forms. Ofqual says that un­der­stand­ing of the new grades and the re­forms has in­creased as a re­sult of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion work car­ried out.

The reg­u­la­tor says that its films about the changes have been watched “more than 10 mil­lion times” and its re­search shows that 70 per cent of small busi­ness own­ers and 80 per cent of par­ents of sec­ondary pupils are now aware of the new grades.

How­ever, a snap poll of sec­ondary teach­ers from the ATL teach­ing union has found that the vast ma­jor­ity still do not think par­ents un­der­stand the new sys­tem (see box, “‘Bru­tal’ changes”, above).

A Depart­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion spokesper­son says: “We have worked with Ofqual to is­sue a wide range of re­sources since 2014 to help raise aware­ness of the new grad­ing sys­tem. We have also been work­ing di­rectly with the CBI and oth­ers to com­mu­ni­cate this with em­ploy­ers. Al­most two thirds of em­ploy­ers are aware of the new GCSE grad­ing sys­tem and we will en­sure that en­gage­ment con­tin­ues.”

‘It’s not very fair or nec­es­sary’: pages 10-11 A ques­tion of dif­fi­culty?: pages 36-41

BIG PIC­TURE: There are fears that em­ploy­ers will find it hard to de­ci­pher new GCSE grades

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