Ofsted asked to discourage GCSE early entry – a “damaging trend harming interests of many pupils”

Michael GoveEducation Secretary Michael Gove today warns of the dangers of entering pupils early for GCSEs before they are ready.

Mr Gove has written to the chief inspector at Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to ask him to examine how the practice can be “discouraged”.

In a letter to Sir Michael, Mr Gove says that taking a GCSE early “can be beneficial where it is undertaken as part of a planned programme of accelerated progression through to A level and beyond”.

But he warns it has become a “damaging trend that is harming the interests of many pupils”.

Department for Education research shows that:

  • In 2007 there were 67,000 early entries in English and maths GCSEs – only two per cent of pupils entered English early while only five per cent of pupils entered maths early.
  • In 2010 the number of early entries rose to 326,000 – 24 per cent of pupils took English early while 27 per cent of pupils took maths early.

Mr Gove says the research looked at the impact of the practice on attainment and found that “for many of these pupils early GCSE entry can be detrimental to their overall performance”.

  • In 2010, 29 per cent of early entrants got an A*, A or B in maths GCSE – compared with 37 per cent of all entrants, and 41 per cent of end-of-course entrants.
  • In 2010, 30 per cent of early entrants got an A*, A or B in English GCSE – compared with 41 per cent of all entrants, and 45 per cent of end-of-course entrants.
  • Higher attaining state schools are less likely to enter pupils early than lower attaining schools. For example there were fewer pupils entering early in grammar schools than there were in other state schools.

Mr Gove says:

[This] suggests that candidates who enter early perform worse overall than those who do not, even after re-sits are taken into account.

It seems likely that candidates are being entered before they are ready, and ‘banking’ a C grade where their performance at Key Stage 2 would suggest that if they had continued to study the subject and taken the GCSE at the end of Year 11 they could have achieved a top grade.

This is of particular concern in mathematics, where there is high progression from A*/A grade at GCSE to A level, but low progression from grades B and C.

In addition, I believe that this speaks more generally of a narrowed curriculum, focused not on sound subject teaching as a basis for successful progression, but on preparation to pass exams.

He adds that he would like to hear what Ofsted and the Department can do “to ensure that early entry does not impact negatively on pupils achieving their full potential”.

The research also shows that pupils who achieved an A*-C grade were less likely to be given the opportunity to re-take and potentially achieve a higher grade. For instance, for those who took maths GCSE at the end of Year 10, a year before the end of their course:

  • 98 per cent who got a D re-took.
  • 76 per cent who got a C re-took.
  • 63 per cent who got a B re-took.

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