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Even fewer grade 9s (part 2) – TES and Tom Benton

On 7th April 2017 the TES published an article titled Reaching the peak? Mystery surrounds new top grade. This followed their scoop that Tim Leunig, Chief Analyst at the DfE, has tweeted that when all the new GCSEs are taken he expects only about two candidates per year (yes, two in the whole country) to attain grade 9 in all their Attainment 8 subjects – https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/exclusive-only-two-pupils-will-get-straight-top-grades-new-gcses-dfe

The only person quoted about grade 9s in the article is Tom Benton, the Cambridge Assessment researcher, who says grade 9 “is not much harder than A*” and he expects “hundreds of people to get straight grade 9s”.

This is surprising because Tom Benton devised the formula for calculating the proportion of grade 9s which has been adopted by Ofqual, and Ofqual’s figures show a predicted drop between A* and grade 9 as the new GCSEs are taken of 57 per cent in Maths (from 51000 A*s to 22000 grade 9s) and 35 per cent in English Language (from 32000 to 21000).

Ofqual’s policy statement is at: Decisions on setting the grade standards of new GCSEs in England – part 2 (Ofqual 2016)
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/551571/Decisions_-_setting_GCSE_grade_standards_-_part_2.pdf  section 4.

This paper gives a reference at page 2, footnote 4 to Tom Benton’s paper which proposes the formula for calculating the proportion of grade 9s: http://www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/Images/298710-a-possible-formula-to-determine-the-percentage-of-candidates-who-should-receive-the-new-gcse-grade-9-in-each-subject.pdf

In this paper Tom Benton actually states that:  “Across almost every subject, the percentage of candidates achieving grade 9 will be substantially lower than the percentage who achieved grade A*” and gives this as one of Ofqual’s objectives in relation to grade 9 (page 6, numbered para 4).

Perhaps Benton was quoted out of context by the TES, but his comments certainly look inconsistent.

More important for schools, thousands of grade 9s will still be awarded, but there will be fierce competition for them by independent and grammar schools whose reputation depends on them and whose teaching is more strongly geared to achieving them.  Comprehensive schools seem likely to achieve far fewer grade 9s than they have A*s.

I feel slightly rueful because I wrote to the TES pointing out Tom Benton’s apparent inconsistency and making the point in the previous paragraph. On 14th April the TES published a heavily cut version of my letter simply repeating Benton’s comments that grade 9 “is not much harder than A*” and he expects “hundreds of people to get straight grade 9s” with my point about fierce competition for them by independent and grammar schools. So it looks as if I accept that grade 9 “is not much harder than A*” which isn’t true and Ofqual itself says isn’t true – https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-gcse-9-to-1-grades-coming-soon

Well, Tim Leunig who started all this hasn’t withdrawn his prediction of only about two candidates in the country achieving grade 9s in all their Attainment 8 subjects, so I have the DfE’s Chief Analyst on my side!

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