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More reliable exam system needed to avoid resits and regional disparities in results, education unions warn

A BROADER, more reliable exam system is needed to avoid a wave of resits and crippling regional disparities in results, education unions warned today as pupils across England and Wales received their GCSE results.

The National Education Union (NEU) congratulated the 67.8 per cent of students across England who achieved at least a “standard pass” grade 4, while fellow teaching union NASUWT Cymru hailed the 64.5 pass rate — grade C and above — in Wales.

Compared with last year, the former figure was down by 5.2 per cent and the latter by 3.7 per cent amid a deliberate policy to return grades to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in 2019.

Covid-19 lockdowns saw national exams scrapped and replaced with teacher-assessed grades in 2020 and 2021, which tended to be higher.

Overall, the figures for pupils achieving top grades — at least 7 in England or A in Wales — were up on pre-pandemic levels, but results varied across the country, with 28.4 per cent of students in London achieving the highest results, compared with just 17.6 in north-east England.

Overall, the gap between the highest and lowest proportions of top grades in the north and south grew, from 9.3 per cent four years ago to 10.8 per cent now.

Educational charity the Sutton Trust slammed the “considerable difference in attainment,” while Labour shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan declared the Tory government’s supposed commitment to “levelling up” dead.

“Children in disadvantaged communities aren’t going to do as well as children in more affluent areas — that’s the legacy of 13 years of Conservative government,” he charged.

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney praised the hard work of pupils but accused ministers of “acting as if the pandemic has had no after-effects.

“The damage it has done to students’ learning and well-being is enduring and differs from school to school.”

He also stressed long-term concerns with an exams-only assessment system which left teachers carrying the can during the pandemic and “does not set students up for 21st-century success.

“The benefits of a shift to a broader, more reliable assessment system are becoming more and more clear,” he argued.

NASUWT urged ministers to “take responsibility for widening the attainment gap,” while school leaders’ union NAHT said that too many students are “forced into a dispiriting round of maths and English resits.”

“Students should be able to take the qualification which best suits them,” it said. 

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