GCSE and A level Exam pupils

GCSE and A level Exam pupils in England find themselves at a disadvantage as rest of UK lowers exam boundaries

A-level and GCSEs exam candidates will face much tougher grading if not in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland this summer.

School Exam candidates along with Private candidates who are sitting their GCSE and A-level exams in England over the summer of 2023 face tougher grading than their peers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Support varies in different parts of the UK as regulators in each country assess how to rein in record GCSE and A level grade inflation during the pandemic.

Of-qual, the exam regulator in England, has made it clear they are aiming to 2019 grading levels.

While as The Exam House is an Exam centre we are also interested in the future of GCSEs especially.

Though grades are expected to remain higher than they were in 2019 in devolved nations.

Ofqual has maintained some support, allowing pupils to use formulae and equations sheets in some GCSE subjects.

The regulator has said that if the performance was lower than it was pre the pandemic, senior examiners will make allowances in grade boundaries so that overall results will be similar to those in 2019.

While, the exam watchdog in other parts of the UK such as Wales, has said it plans to ensure that overall results will fall around midway between the 2019 and 2022 results. Recognising “the long-term impact” of Covid-19 had on pupils.

Advance information on exams

Both Wales and Northern Ireland exam regulators have said they will not return to pre-pandemic grading until 2024. Many students in those countries have been given advance information about what will appear in exam papers this year.

In Scotland, GCSEs and Scottish Highers has said that grading in 2023 will “continue to be sensitive” to the extent of the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on pupils’ learning.

Modifications introduced for some subjects during the pandemic are remaining in place, such as removing or reducing some parts of exams.

Barnaby Lenon, former head of Harrow and chairman of the Independent Schools Council said: "It is clearly hopeless that England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be grading the same qualifications in different ways in 2023.

This undermines the very purpose of these qualifications. The differences between the different nations will add a large layer of complexity for users of these qualifications, such as universities."

Universities have said that they will take into account the different grading systems in each nation when comparing applicants.

A spokesman for Universities UK said that “prospective students and their families can be assured that university admission teams are aware of different approaches to grading and are well practised at taking different circumstances into account”.

Ofqual said it is working “closely with Ucas, universities and colleges to make sure they understand the arrangements for grading and take this into account when they make offers”.

Some employers have reservations. Dr Mick Walker, president of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, said that exam regulators in the different nations “need to ensure that the standard is the same, so a C is a C”.

He told the telegraph: "If you're a local employer, do you know there are differences in the way they are awarded?"

“It’s like having the pound but using the pound in different countries and it means slightly different things. It’s not governed by the same regulation but the nomenclature is the same.”

He added: “I think where there’s that element of doubt it’s alway nice to reassure students that there are adults in the room looking at these things. These are qualifications for life. There’s older people I know who still refer to their O-levels and GCSEs.”

Why can there by a divergence between the devolved nations :

The divergence in the school systems in England and the devolved nations has widened since devolution in 1999.

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham, said: “GCSEs and A-levels mean different things in the different countries of the UK.”

“The regulators do what they can to maintain standards, but exams have different grading systems, and they’ve gone in their own directions.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “For years, the nations of the UK have used different exam systems. Universities are well used to making fair offers to students from across the UK with those different systems in mind, and this year is no different.

“Last September, Ofqual confirmed a return to pre-pandemic grading in 2023, with protection in place for GCSEs and A-levels against the impact of disruption. This means that a student should be just as likely to achieve a particular grade this year as they would have been before the pandemic.”