This guest post was written by Simon Bradbury @PeBrado.
So the day has been and gone where students and staff wait with a mixture of nerves and excitement for their GCSE results. With so much emphasis on schools regarding grades I am not sure who is more nervous now, the students or the staff. Regarding GCSE PE, it is often whether the student’s theory grade does their practical grade justice as over time students have tended to perform better in the practical than in the theory. Why is this? Is it because PE students or those that play sport are less academically minded? I wonder how many of your students their GCSE PE grade was the students best grade. I know this was the case for a number of the students at my school.
Over the last couple of years we have seen the grade boundaries increase in the practical but go down in the theory. If we take this year’s AQA paper students needed 64/80 to achieve A* whereas in 2014 and 2015 students needed 67/80 to achieve the same grade. This is the lowest it has been since 2013. The only grade that required the same mark was that of a C, which is interesting considering this is the grade that schools are generally judged by (i.e.) A*-C. For AQA the practical grade boundaries remained the same as the previous year with students required to get 86/90 for an A*. Interesting again that to get an A* in the practical students need to get 96% (86/90) but in the theory only 80% (64/80).
For students studying Edexcel they needed between 5/6 fewer marks than in the previous year. 54/80 was an A* grade this year whereas in 2015 it was 60/80. However, Edexcel’s practical grade boundaries went up with students required to achieve 48/50 to achieve an A* compared to 47/50 in 2015. So again students had to get 96% (48/50) in the practical but only 68% (54/80) in the theory to get an A* in both. The same could be said for OCR in terms of the grade boundaries dropping by about 4 marks per grade for the theory but slightly increasing by a mark or so for the practical.
The only exam board that bucks this trend is WJEC. Students this year needed to achieve 81/100 in their theory exam compared to 72/100 in 2015, which to me is a big increase. Every grade went up by 9 marks in the theory exam apart from an E, which went up 8 marks. Students also had to perform better in their practical by 1 mark per grade. Therefore students studying WJEC required 81% (81/100) in their theory examination but only 92% (110/120) in the practical to achieve an A* grade in both components.
The results for the last two years for the major exam boards can be found here (click on the image to open the spreadsheet):
So, what does this all mean for our students. Generally exam boards move their grade boundaries up and down based on national statistics of the students. For example AQA, are not going to have 64/80 as A* if the highest mark achieved by any student was 60. They have obviously lowered the grade boundaries based on how the students have done nationally. But why did students not perform so well as in previous years? Is it because it was a tough paper? Is it because students are not as academically minded as 3 years ago? The fact that the practical grade boundaries seem to be increasing or staying the same will state that students put more emphasis on the practical and rightly so as it is currently worth 60% of the course. However, with the specifications changing to 40% practical I believe there will be a dramatic drop in A*-C achieved in GCSE PE in two years time.
If I take my school as an example we had 20 students taking GCSE PE this year and only four got a grade C or higher on the paper. Over the last 3 years, we have had a total of 85 students take GCSE PE and only 35 (41%) of those students have achieved a grade C or higher in the paper. Focussing on AQA now as that is the exam board we use as a department for GCSE PE, we will not be alone in our concerns. This year we were slightly below similar centres (1%) and all AQA centres (4%) but in 2014 and 2015 we were above both similar centres and all AQA centres for average percentage in the theory exam. Therefore, I believe nationally there will be a drop in A*-C achieved in GCSE PE because of the changes in the specification.
Now it is not all doom and gloom, as I believe the new specifications to be much better in terms of the theory content and it is certainly more enjoyable and engaging to teach and that feedback has come from both staff and students at my school. I also think it leads onto A Level PE better too and in the long run students that do well at GCSE PE should then go on to do well at A Level PE, whereas at the moment that is not always the case as you have students going onto A Level PE because they got an A overall, but predominantly it was because of the practical grades and not the theory grade. However, I think schools, staff and students need to prepare themselves as it is going to be a great deal harder to achieve those top grades at GCSE PE.
I would be interested to find out how schools are preparing for the new specification particularly those running the course over 2 years as depending on the number of lessons your students have they are likely to be spending considerably more time sat down in the classroom then they are out practicing their sports. Doing the course over 3 years almost allows a 50/50 split between practical and theory lessons.
Certainly interesting times ahead for GCSE PE students.