When I took my O Levels in 1983, I was nervous enough taking each exam once. But this year, increasing numbers of teenagers will take their GCSE exams in the same subject more than once. Some took their maths GCSE more than seven times.
Michael Gove will be familiar with this – he took his driving test seven times in total before he passed. Today, he needs to get a grip on multiple entry at GCSE.
More and more pupils are sitting exams in the same subject with more than one exam board. Many are also being entered for alternative ‘IGCSEs’, originally designed for international students, alongside a GCSE in the same subject.
Why are schools putting pupils into exams in the same subject so many times? Part of the answer is that they fear a repeat of last year’s GCSE English fiasco, where grade boundaries were moved between January and June.
IGCSEs, for example, are thought to be safer from Michael Gove’s tinkering. Ofqual are reporting a 60,000 increase in the numbers sitting IGCSE English and an 11,000 increase in those sitting IGCSE maths compared to last year.
According to official figures from the Department of Education, the number of pupils doing more than one GCSE in maths has more than doubled between the general election and 2012. In maths, 400 pupils were entered for their GCSE maths exam seven or more times.
For GCSE maths alone, the cost to schools of putting pupils into additional exams last year is estimated to be nearly £11 million. That is money that could have been spent on improving standards in our schools with better teaching.
The trend continued this year. Some 35 per cent of pupils took two or more exams in the same subject, and 10,000 individuals took four exams in the same subject. Two individuals took an unprecedented eight exams in one subject!
Sitting multiple exams can also squeeze the amount of time available for teaching the curriculum. It is not just time spent in the exam hall. It is also time spent on mocks, extra revision and exam preparation.
We need students that have a good depth and breadth of knowledge, and that are not just good at taking exams. Michael Gove needs to ensure that the system is robust, so students only need to take the exam once.
After last year’s GCSE grading fiasco, it might have been assumed that Michael Gove would step in. But he seems more interested in dreaming up new names for GCSEs, rather than dealing with what really matters.
Employers, universities and colleges need to have certainty that standards are maintained and reflected in pupils’ exam results. We need an exam system that is fair and has the confidence of parents, pupils and teachers.
Stephen Twigg is Labour’s Shadow Education SecretaryTags: Department of Education, Education, GCSEs, IGCSE, Michael Gove