GCSE results day: Tough new exams 'demoralising' for struggling students
TOUGH new GCSEs are ‘demoralising’ for lower-achieving students, headteachers have warned.
Eight in 10 school leaders believe the reformed courses are having a detrimental effect on struggling students.
And a similar proportion are concerned that they are causing higher levels of student stress.
Teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to receive their GCSE results on Thursday.
Under the biggest shake-up of exams in England for a generation, GCSEs have been toughened up, with less coursework, and exams at the end of the two-year courses, rather than throughout.
Traditional A*-G grades have been scrapped and replaced with a 9-1 system, with 9 the highest result.
A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 broadly equivalent to an A.
Ahead of results day, the Association of School and College Leaders said it is concerned that the overhaul has ‘sacrificed the interests’ of the most vulnerable students for the ‘supposed benefits of raising the bar for the most able’.
A survey of more than 500 ASCL members in England, found that virtually all (98 per cent) think the new GCSEs are more difficult than the old courses.
The most commonly given reason for the increased difficulty was that the GCSEs now contain more content, followed by students having to remember more, and harder exam questions.
The majority of those questioned - 80 per cent - believe that students with lower prior attainment are detrimentally affected by the new courses, while 79 per cent said the GCSEs are causing higher levels of student stress.
One assistant headteacher told the union: ‘These have been designed without a thought for low prior attaining or SEN students. I cannot think of anything more dispiriting than going through school thinking every day 'I cannot do this' - but that is the reality for many students.’
Another school leader said: ‘A large proportion of students are being failed by the new GCSEs.
‘Not everyone is suited to them and, while they may be a good pathway for those students going on to A-level or degree level, they are simply not fit for purpose for students who may thrive with a more vocational route.
‘These students are made to feel they are constantly failing no matter how hard they work because they struggle to retain the list of endless facts they need for their exams.’
The poll found that the most commonly cited benefit of the new GCSEs was that they better prepare students for their future education and careers, followed by a greater level of challenge being more fulfilling for students.
ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: ‘The findings of this survey reflect widespread concern that reformed GCSEs have sacrificed the interests of the most vulnerable students for the supposed benefits of raising the bar for the most able students.
‘The Government has seen increased rigour as an end in itself without fully considering what it wants the exam system to achieve for all students of all abilities. As a result, we now have a set of GCSEs which are extremely hard to access for students with lower prior attainment. This is incredibly stressful and demoralising for these young people.’
A separate survey, by the National Education Union (NEU) of its members, has found that 73% think that the assessment method of the new GCSEs has made student mental health worse.
In addition, 54 per cent of the 650 teachers polled said reformed GCSEs reflect students' abilities less accurately than the old courses, while 19% said they better reflect abilities.
Nansi Ellis, NEU assistant general secretary, said: ‘It is incredible that Government has managed to create a new GCSE system that the majority of teachers (54 per cent) do not believe gives a true reflection of student ability.
‘Assessment in the majority of subjects by end-of-year exams only, and excessive content crammed into too short a time, is resulting in an exam system that is largely about regurgitating facts with very little time for thinking or deeper learning. Not only does this fail to reflect students' ability but is leading to many feeling disillusioned, disengaged and stressed.’
In response to the ASCL survey, a Department for Education spokeswoman said: ‘Exams are an essential part of ensuring that young people have acquired the knowledge and skills they need, but should never be at the expense of a young person's wellbeing.
‘We trust schools to work with parents and support young people so they do their best.’
- The ASCL survey questioned 554 ASCL members in England in July. The NEU survey, which took place between July 26 and August 2, questioned 650 NEU members teaching GCSE classes.