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UK GCSE grades and enabling failure?

Tara456's picture

I've touched on how flabbergasted I am with SK15's school's attitude in another thread, but now he's come home having scored 51% in a mock GCSE and has been told that this is excellent and is a Grade A (7). This time I have checked the exam paper myself and this time I know it's not one of his "oh yeah, it was really easy" remarks before he gets 25%, it's all there written on the front.

He has left more than half the questions unanswered, the answer booklet is more than half empty. Answers seem to be have been marked twice, with one question he clearly got mostly wrong (you don't have to be Einstein to see how his answer doesn't correctly answer the question) being first marked 1/3 then reviewed and upped to 3 - full marks.

So, he's told he has a grade 7. He only scored 51%!!  Apparently grade 7 is an A!!!   Can anyone with more insight into this madness help me understand what's going on?

The impact? He thinks he's doing really well, he's just regarding the rest of his revision as 'topping up' on a deep understanding of the topic, and so he's spending even more time on SnapChat confidently bragging about how great he's doing.  If I'd ever have left half an O'level paper empty it would be an F, not an A.

fairyo's picture


This is a mock exam- seems to me the teacher is underpressure to show results- so there's some fixing going on, either by the class teacher or the head of department. Someone is trying to make themselves look good.

If this is a Year 11 student I would try to speak to the teacher in a tactful way, but there isn't much you can do except say you're worried he won't get the grades.

What subject is it? I do know Maths GCSE has become particularly difficult so the pass bar may have been set low.

As to his spending all his time on Snapchat- that's what most of his friends are doing too... 

Tara456's picture

It's Physics.  The teachers told his BM and my OH that he's doing wonderfully, despite lateness, failing to submit work, detentions, failing to complete classroom tasks, drugs, failing to talk to teachers respectfully, and results and quality of work I've only ever seen previously in remedial classes or, in my day, the "bottom set".

He sits and pretends he's revising, Snapchatting instead, then quickly hides his phone down under his leg and shows his Dad fake work he's copied from the internet. Dad walks away satisfied his precious son is finally working hard, SS15 blames any negative feedback from teachers as "the teacher has a problem with me, don't know why, picks on me/teacher doesn't understand how the syllabus works/teacher made a mistake", BM and my OH fall for all of it. I sit there open mouthed.

The only time the reality of the situation hits them is when he has a test that is marked correctly, with no massaging. ie "you scored 20 out of 80". As close to a bare fact as we can get. He still says "20 out of 80" is a good mark, everyone gets that" or the teacher told him well done.

elkclan's picture

Yeah, I wouldn't worry about the 51% that might well be a such and such grade (7) but I would totally double check that this is an A.  I have just come back from a school evening and I was under the impression that 7 is what an average student should score at the end of Yr 11 and that a 9 is an A. But frankly the system is so opaque that I don't understand it and I could have the wrong end of the stick. I thought that maybe it was because I'm an American and unfamiliar with the system but my SO is English and his son is year ahead of mine in school and he doesn't understand it either. And my SO is an educator!!! 

No less than 3 teachers told me my son was a 'ray of sunshine' and my SO was like "What???? Are you sure they don't have the wrong kid?" He is no ray of sunshine at home. But the school seems to have a totally different impression. Which is great. 

Letti.R's picture

I went to school in Scotland, which makes the English or Welsh GCSE grade boundaries a bit of a mystery to me.

The Mocks are supposed to be used to predict your real GCSE outcome by showing you where to focus and improve.
His scores won't be adjusted or improved by some over eager teacher then. 
SS needs to knuckle down to serious studying or he is going to do very poorly when his GCSE finals rock 'round.

Where I work, the bursary committee is very wary of the 7, in that they only look at 8s or 9s as a true A or A*.
The lower boundary of a 7 can be dodgy.
I will not be surprised if it is 51% for some subjects.
The grade boundaries get worse and worse every time!

Who told him it is an A?
You need to look at the qualification authority: like AQA or Edexcel and if it is a foundation or higher boundary for a specific subject.

On the whole, I think GCSE's only really matter if SS is going to do a tertiary qualification or his A-levels.
Why worry if he has 51%?
It is unlikely he will be accepted anywhere for further study with those marks.
He will need to find a JOB - and better hope SnapChat is hiring!

Tara456's picture

(sorry, don't know how to quote others and then reply)

"The Mocks are supposed to be used to predict your real GCSE outcome by showing you where to focus and improve."

This is part of the reason I'm so concerned. He now thinks 51% is A grade, he actually said he was surprised he didn't get an A*. How can anybody above the age of 3 see a half empty answer book and thinks that could ever merit an A*? So he thinks he doesn't have to focus on much, he doesn't need to improve at all, like he said to me "anything I do now is just extra, I'm there already, I've done enough and know everything." Scratch one-s head

Who actually marks the final GCSEs?  Are they the same teachers who are fiddling the marks in the mocks? Surely that can't be the case?

"Who told him it's an A?"  - he did, and then said he's actually surprised as he thought he'd get an A*.

He wants to go onto A Levels and University. He thinks this is all going to happen. I only worry about his 51% because a) if marking is done correctly, and he continues the way he's been, he's heading for failing all his exams and b) if he doesn't get the bare minimum to get through, I'll have to stick around here for another year.

There is no way this Snowflake will go out and get a job. He'd crumble on the first day. BM will see that he has even more private tutors and re-sits or re-does the year.

elkclan's picture

I do know that scripts are sent off to various exam boards who farm them out to teachers (mainly) all over the country - so they are not marked by anyone who knows him at all or has any incentive to massage marks. 

Letti.R's picture

Yes, this is correct.
Marked by outside examiners who are probably teachers too.
Only garantee is your script is not marked by someone from your own school.

This kid is in trouble because he is so close to  the grade boundary, he has no room for any more errors.
I looked at the grade boundaries and they are shockingly low.
Except for OCR, yes, 51% is a 7!
When I was at school - I am 30 - 50% was a fail.
Now mid percentages of  20%s and 30%s is a 4
No wonder the world is going to hell.

Tara456's picture

Precisely. If any of us got 65% of lower we'd be devastated and would go home hanging our head in shame, terrified of what Mum and Dad would say, and would have to sit and work out what went so terribly wrong.  50% was virtually unheard of and was a total catastrophic FAIL.  Nadda. Go home and do it again or kicked out. Utter FAIL. What kind of screwed up education system does the UK have now where a kid who gets 51% (and before 25...30%...) comes home all cocky and bragging about his amazing success? Especially when the questions read like the kind of stuff we were doing when we were 12-13.


fairyo's picture

I used to mark exam papers (English) so can comment with some insight, although I shall also be brutally honest as I no longer teach full-time and I am no longer subject to being judged by Ofsted or league tables.

Examiners are trained in marking objectively, and the percentage pass rate will be based on a countrywide sample and asessment on how students have responded to the papers. It is tightly controlled and marking is anonymous. Markers are not given papers from schools they are likely to know, and have to express interests in any schools they may have involvement with.  It is highly unlikely that an examiner would award false marks as their marking is in turn closely scrutinised. I hope that puts your mind at rest that the papers will be marked fairly.

Mock exams are traditionally held to show anticipated performance, but if individual teachers or departments are under scrutiny then they may have a desire to make their mock results look good and therefore mark for personal glory, even thought the student may fail abysmally. This is a possible reason for the teachers' attitudes, but a bit unlikely.

A and A* grades etc are now obsolete and people shouldn't still be using them although I understand it is still referred to as a comparison against the old standards. A* was never awarded to students except for outstanding performance and could not be achieved without a great deal of work. The new level 9 is now supposed to be beyond the capability of most students, so is the new gold standard for achievement, although whether it s to be the case remains to be seen.

Different subjects have different margins, and if SS is doing triple Science he has to achieve across the three subjects of Biology, Chemistry and Physics- so the Physics mark will not stand alone unless he is doing the three Science's separately. He can't achieve well in Physics without having an equally good ability in Maths- so I would check his Maths grade as a comparison.

Going to University, unfortunately, is no measure of how capable of not students may be. It really depends on the University and course they offer how difficult or easy it may be for students to be accepted.

The whole education system is in a dire state if you ask me, it has become a top down system. By this I mean that it is all about making people at the top look good, and very little to do with the needs, or education, of the student at the bottom. More and more academies (and most schools now are academies) employ non-qualified teachers- so I would attempt to check out their credentials although this may prove difficult.

As to your SS the lessons he seems to be learning are that laziness and a lack of motivation has its own rewards- he is surrounded by people for whom image is everything and that is becoming increasingly difficult to oppose. 


Tara456's picture

Thanks for your insight.

Another 'A' today he says, another 7, and is "expecting an A*".  On a paper that I know I would have been too embarrassed to have even have handed in in my O-level school days. He gets loads of extra time too for every exam, and for project work that means HOURS more time than other students.

I can't see any value whatsever in GCSE grades, surely they're completely meaningless even if one takes out the A/B/C etc categories because still it's natural to work out what is great - the upper numbers - what's ok - the middle ones - and what's poor - the lower ones. So 7 will always "feel" upper and great.  Employers surely don't pay any attention to them at all nowadays, not now it's such a con?

fairyo's picture

Ever since league tables were introduced it has been a con for the kids- who are just there now to get good grades regardless of how much they actually know or can do. No wonder mental health problems are increasing amongst young people. Employers take very little notice of grades, especially now the goal posts have changed, kids now having to  stay in education until they are 18 and only need to attain a basic level in Maths and English.

I'm so glad I no longer teach in schools and my own kids are long past school age- I do worry though, about my grandchildren...

elkclan's picture

I wouldn't be that concerned about the percentages. I know it's hard to get your head around - I struggle with it too! But when I was in graduate school we were set exams so hard that 30% was sometimes the top mark. I thought that was horrible. But that's the way it was. So I was reasonably happy with my 20% in a class I was struggling in - though I'd have been overjoyed by 25% 

Rags's picture

I had a Prof in Engineering school whose tests were extremely rigorous.  Average on his tests were in the 20%-30% range with a 50% being a strong A.

I was happy to pass his tests. 

The top student in my class dropped his class because he could not get his head around the Prof's testing intent.  He blew a gasket when he got a test back, chewed the Prof out, and walked out of class.  The Prof would not allow him to return so... he ended up graduating a semester later than he should have.

The Prof repeatedly told his classes that he was not only testing the knowledge of the students but also testing his ability to teach.  Doc A was a great Prof.  Just passing his class made a student extremely well versed in the material.  But, he did not help my GPA one bit.  I had him for 3 different classes before I graduated.  He was a couple of years younger than I was at the time.  He had a great sense of humor.

Think Turkish accent.

Conversion between Mechanical and Electrical systems.  "And what do we do with the masses?  Why, we educate them of course."

Motorola Micro Processor Machine Language Timing States: "And what is the difference between T1 and T2? In T2 Schwarzenegger was a good guy!"