Following today’s results from the first year of ongoing GCSE reforms, we take a look at some of the headline numbers concerning science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Periods of qualification reform can be particularly difficult, not least for the schools, teachers, students and parent in the midst of it all. The complexities of the ongoing changes mean that data from last year to this, particularly with regards to attainment, can not easily be compared. For this reason, much of this year’s analysis we have carried out will be addressing some of the changes that we have seen, rather than comparing this year’s results to years previous.

Science GCSE; where have the 15 year olds gone?

On the face of the data, it was a troubling day for the general Science GCSE. The uptake in the subject declined by 27.6% from last year, to just under 300,000 entries. Although, upon further analysis, we can see that there is no reason for concern.

Science is not a subject that had been reformed for this year’s students, but is due to be reformed into Combined Science for examination in the Summer of 2018. Typically, those gifted in science would be prompted to sit a Science GCSE at age 15, and then move to study Additional Science, Further Science or separate sciences such as Chemistry, Physics and Biology the following year. Due to the impending changes however, 15 year old students have been discouraged from studying towards a Science GCSE this year, in favour of studying a Combined Science course next year.

 

The advice for younger students has clearly been heard by those across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as the fall in those 15 and younger taking the Science GCSE this year has dropped a huge 99.3%, amounting to just under 1,000 total entries. As the graph shows, the number of 16 year olds taking the Science GCSE has slightly increased, and the number of students across all ages studying Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Biology has remained steady.

Maths GCSE; what has changed?

This year has seen the complete reform of the Maths GCSE in England, the subject now contains more content than before and also allows more exam time for students. In addition to this, the subject is now graded from 9 to 1, 9 being the highest grade possible. These new GCSE’s have deliberately been made more challenging as part of the overhaul of the GCSE curriculum. In part, Government policy these new boundaries have been drawn to “better recognise the achievements of high-attaining pupils”, and much fewer grade 9’s will be awarded that A* grades.


The number of entries into the Maths GCSE continue to rise, thanks in part to compulsory resits for students who do not achieve at least a grade C (from this year a grade 4) in their first sitting. To ensure fairness across the UK, grades have been anchored across structures, so that an A is equivalent to 7, C is equivalent to 4, and G is equivalent to 1.

 

 

Cumulative grades received for Maths (%)

 

 

A/7

C/4

G/1

 

Change in entries from 2016/17 (%)

2017

2016

2017

2016

2017

2016

All candidates

+1.7%

15.5

15.9

59.4

61.0

97.0

96.5

16 yrs

+0.6%

19.7

19.7

69.9

70.5

97.8

97.0

17 yrs (and over)

+3.6%

1.8

2.4

26.5

29.5

94.9

95.1

15 yrs (and under)

+23.2%

19.1

30.0

52.2

66.7

92.3

94.8


The table shows that, on average, attainment rates for Maths have dropped slightly this year. The number of 16 year olds attaining at least a C/4 has decreased from 70.5% to 69.9%, while attainment of C/4 grades suffered more of a drop with other age groups. These comparisons must be taken cautiously, but they go a little way in analysing the results of the first reformed STEM subject. We hope that the reforms being implemented across the board in GCSE and A-level qualifications will be successful in improving STEM learning for future students.

To read our press release, click here.

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