GCSE and A-levels 2017 Wales – But did we enter them too early?

Results from the 2017 summer series of examinations in Wales are a mixed bag – A Levels are up, GCSEs are down, but have schools set up their students to fail by  entering them into the exams too early?

Where can I find the results?

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) is a membership organisation comprising the seven largest providers of qualifications in the UK and every year it publishes summaries of the results.

Qualifications Wales is the independent regulator of non-degree qualifications and the qualifications system in Wales.  It published result overviews specific to Wales.

What are the headline results in Wales?

A Level results in comparison to 2016:
– A* up by 1.7 percentage points to 8.3%
– A* / A up 2.3 percentage points to 25%
– A* / E up 0.4 percentage points to 97.7%

AS Level results in comparison to 2016:
– A is up 1.1 percentage points to 19.1%
– A / E is up 0.6 percentage point to 88.9%

GCSE results in comparison with 2016:
– A* unchanged at 6.1%
– A* / A down by 1.5 percentage points to 17.9%
– A* / C down by 3.8 percentage points to 62.8%
– A* / G down by 1.8 percentage points to 96.9%

Welsh Baccalaureate

This summer was the first award of the new Welsh Baccalaureate KS4 Skills Challenge Certificate, equivalent to a GCSE.  It is graded A*-C for achievement at Level 2 and Pass* and Pass at Level 1.  Detailed results can be found on the WJEC exam board website
– 23,443 entered
– A* / C achieved by 67.5%

This was the second year that the new Post-16 Welsh Baccalaureate has been awarded, including the Post-16 Skills Challenge Certificate at National and Foundation level.  In comparison to 2016, results were:
– % achieving the National post-16 Skills Challenge Certificate down from 80.6 to 78.8
– % achieving the Foundation post-16 Skills Challenge Certificate down from 94.6 to 85.2

Provisional results

These results are provisional.  Final validated results will be confirmed by November after all results queries are resolved.  Although some results queries will lead to re-marking and some adjustment to individual grades, the overall national results are unlikely to change significantly.

3 things of interest:

1. It really is difficult to make a direct comparison between the results in Wales and England.

This summer saw the first examination of qualifications that are being reformed in content, marking and grading.  Reform is underway in Wales, England and Northern Ireland and not all three are pursuing the same reform.  Comparing apples and pears isn’t always fruitful.

For example, the AS Level counts towards the full A Level in Wales but not in England.  This means that the cohort sitting AS Level in England is different to previous years, and is not the same as the cohort sitting the AS Level in Wales.

In England, GCSE grading is changing to a 1-9 scale with 9 being the highest, 5 being equivalent to a ‘good’ pass at C grade and 4 equivalent to a standard ‘pass’ at C Grade.  In Wales, the 8 point scale of A* – G for GCSE remains.  A ‘C’ Grade in Wales could be a 4 or a 5 in English money.

2. Even within Wales, caution is needed before drawing firm conclusions from comparing this year’s results to others.

New made-in-Wales qualifications in Maths, English and Welsh at GCSE will have encouraged many schools to change how they enter pupils for examinations.  Many will have entered more Year 10 pupils by early entry to give pupils and teachers a chance to experience the new examinations.  This will have changed the profile of the cohort sitting this summer’s exams in comparison to other years.

Where there was an option of Higher, Intermediate or Foundation papers in a reformed subject being examined for the first or second time, some teachers may have been uncertain about the level of challenge that was suitable for certain students.  Some students would have struggled in papers that were too challenging and others would not have been challenged enough.  This will have had an impact when examiners marked and graded what was put before them.

3. Big increase in early entry for GCSE makes some people uncomfortable, including the Cabinet Secretary.

On the day of the GCSE results, Qualifications Wales said:

“The overall GCSE results in Wales this summer for all students have fallen. A significant factor contributing to this fall is the considerable change in entry patterns, notably, a significant increase in the number of Year 10 entries and a significant number of Year 11 students achieving their maths qualifications in November.”

The overall entry for GCSEs in Wales this summer rose by 14%, fuelled by a 57% increase in the number of Year 10 entries.  Year 10 entries accounted for 16% of all GCSE qualifications sat.

Kirsty Williams AM, Cabinet Secretary for Education said:

“I am deeply concerned that some schools, for whatever reason, are entering children early for exams…That’s why I have asked Qualifications Wales to do a report into early entry, and I will take the appropriate action to ensure that early entry does not jeopardise my pursuit of high standards in our education system.”

School performance measures in England recently adopted a principle of ‘first GCSE result counts’ instead of ‘count best GCSE result’.  This principle may be considered by the Cabinet Secretary in a wider review of school accountability measures which has been underway over the summer.


Author: Robin Hughes

Robin Huges HeadshotRobin has been a school governor for over ten years and is bilingual, Welsh and English. Before becoming a consultant and working with a number of private and public sector educational organisations, Robin had stakeholder management roles in an examination board and was Wales Secretary for ASCL, a body that represents over 16,000 senior school leaders.

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