No Image Available

When is a GCSE not a GCSE?


Students sitting examsCandidates are eagerly awaiting their GCSE results this Thursday, which will be important for students, universities and employers alike. Yet, GCSEs are now run in many different ways, which can be confusing when it comes to recruiting. Mike Morrison explains what the different qualifications mean on a CV.

Today, employers take note of qualifications, especially formative GCSEs, to help determine whether or not candidates are competent and literate. However, most employers do not realise the difference between the many GCSE formats, which can make a significant difference to the results achieved and how skilled or academic the employee is.

With results on the rise, more and more students are getting higher grades, but according to the 2008 CBI survey, 40% of employers are dissatisfied with the literacy and numeracy skills of school leavers.

“The main issue seems to be that employers simply do not understand the many ways in which GCSEs are run.”

“A worrying number of employers have little confidence that they will be able to plug their skills gaps. In our new stock take of the nation’s skills, too many firms also say poor basic skills are hampering customer service and acting as a drag on their business’s performance,” said John Cridland, deputy director general of the CBI.

The main issue seems to be that employers simply do not understand the many ways in which GCSEs are run. One popular method today is taking a modular course.

Modular GCSEs

A person taking modules is much more likely to get a higher grade than someone taking the exam all at once. This is because, according to Directgov: “If your GCSE is made up of units, you can choose to resit individual units. The awarding body will count the higher mark from your different attempts.”

People taking their exams without these units take their examinations all at once, and cannot redo them no matter how poor their mark. Students who take modules retain their knowledge learnt in lessons for a few weeks and then take a test on it. As soon as the unit has been taught they have an ‘end of unit test’, which is part of their final grade. There is no need to remember this information further. Students not taking modules, however, have to remember their entire course over a two-year period and recall it in their final examinations, and if they fail then there is no chance of resitting.

Professor Alan Smithers, an education expert from the University of Buckingham, says: “… research shows that modular courses tend to lead to at least half a grade higher in outcomes. One gets appreciably higher grades with modular courses for the same level of ability.”

Vocational GCSEs

Schools and colleges intend for their courses to be as easy to pass as possible to keep up to league table standards. To ensure their students pass as many GCSEs as possible, more and more are studying modular GCSEs and vocational subjects.

“It is vital that if you are taking someone on just by looking at their examination results, then you should be aware of the differences.”

Vocational subjects are aimed for the world of work rather than a future in academics; there is more coursework than examination and arguably less skills, such as writing and logic.

If an employer wants to know if someone studied a vocational course or not, it can be difficult because the word ‘vocational’ was dropped from the title and they are now known simply as GCSEs, even if they are different in style and content.

Academic boards – what is the difference?

Another important difference is that students study a different way, depending on what examination board or course they are taking. An example of this is science. Here are some examples of the different science courses currently available:

  • One GCSE: Science (which includes elements of biology, chemistry and physics)

  • Two GCSEs: Science and Additional Science (a more academic course)

  • Two GCSEs: Science and GCSE Applied Science (a more vocational course)

  • Up to three GCSEs: Biology, Chemistry and Physics as separate GCSEs.

So here we have two GCSEs with the same worth, but one is a harder course to pass (Science and Additional Science), as it focuses much more on the academics of and reason behind science, while the other does not. An employer can look at two CVs and both candidates can have two GCSEs in a valued subject at the same grade, but there is a performance difference, and this difference is made hard to recognise.

When is an English GCSE not an English GCSE?

English is a valued subject. Of course everyone wants someone with good and effective English communication skills but the examination board and type of the GCSE should be looked at. For instance, looking for those ‘A’ students does not always mean you’re getting a skilled ‘A’ grade worker. Boundaries can be changed. Therefore, one year you could need 80% to get an ‘A’ grade, and next year only 65%. All exam boards mark differently; it may be much harder with one. Getting an ‘A’ nowadays doesn’t necessarily mean they got a good qualification. An employer should check the way the course was taken and with what board – did they take the more vocational, or more academic sciences? It is vital that if you are taking someone on just by looking at their examination results, then you should be aware of the differences.

Not a level playing field

As not all GCSEs are equal, recruiters need to be careful when interviewing and shortlisting candidates. It could be that the most suitable candidate has, in fact, only five GCSEs (all taken via final exam) rather than the candidate with eight GCSEs which are all modular.

Mike Morrison is director of RapidBI Ltd, a consulting and training company specialising in organisational development and the development of high performing organisations, teams and individuals. This article was researched by RapidBI’s researcher, Jerry Morrison.

One Response

No Image Available