Back in December 2015 the DFE published a document ->  GCSE_Early_Entry_Guidance that clarified some rules about “early entry” – you may remember when new early entry rules for key stage 4 qualifications were announced on September 29 2013 (I remember it well!) that only a pupil’s first entry to a key stage 4 qualification would counts towards their school’s performance measures. This rule applies even where qualifications are taken with one exam board and then retaken with another or within the same series. According to this early entry guidance document this rule does not “prevent schools from entering pupils for examinations before the end of key stage 4, it aims to focus attention on whether pupils have been sufficiently prepared to achieve the very best possible outcome in that subject. Pupils can sit an examination more than once but it will be their first certificated grade in that subject that will be used for performance measures.” … the document then went on to say that as they are introduced, only the new reformed GCSEs will be included in the key stage 4 performance tables and measures.

The reason for the above pre-amble is to provide some information that I’ve heard is being used by a small number of schools trying to use what they think is a “loophole”. Given the uncertainty about tiers of entry I know that schools will be looking for any loopholes they can find so I’m not surprised that a very small number seem to be convinced that they can enter students for different tiers with different exam boards for their “borderline” students this summer … yep the students will be sitting through two papers each sitting! Let me explain: there is nothing that physically stops the exams officer entering the same student for the same exam with different boards and neither board will know that the student has been entered elsewhere, so when the data hits the schools and the DFE etc in August it just appears that the students have 2 quals in the same subject awarded for an exam in the same exam season – if there are different grades to be awarded to the student I’m not sure what happens in terms of performance tables but suspect that the data crunchers probably just assume its an anomaly and allow the “best” grade to be reflected (if there is, in fact, a “best” grade).

Listen up … IT IS NOT A LOOPHOLE … It is not allowed. FACT! The JCQ have a document called “Instructions for conducting exams 16-17” (ICE) and on page 17 it states the following:

It is very clear that you must not vary the start for an exam if there is a clash between papers of different awarding bodies in the same subject. This is the only way of managing dual entry between exam boards BUT doing so should not be taken lightly … it is malpractice. Clear and simple. If you want to understand the seriousness of instances of malpractice then spend 10 minutes reading this document-> JCQ Suspected Malpractice 16-17 . It’s not very light reading but it clearly uses the example of “moving the time beyond the arrangements set out in the ICE document” as an example of malpractice. 

Not only is it clearly malpractice but it is doing the rest of us that are “playing the straight man” a disservice, especially this Summer as it’s a zero sum game and just plain “not fair”. Anyway I wanted to understand the scale of this so back in February I did a Freedom of Information request to both Ofqual and the DFE asking them for a breakdown of the numbers involved from last Summer and I’ve had a response from both of them. Ofqual’s is very detailed but the DFE have asked for clarification as I suspect that they don’t really understand what I’m after and so I still await their full disclosure but given that the entries are now in for this Summer series I would hope that someone is doing some analysis, as we speak, to see if any schools have double entered and the appropriate action is taken to make sure there is a level playing field for us all.

I hope you’re still with me because its about to get interesting … as I’ve said my response from Ofqual (thanks guys!!) was very detailed and I have included their report below – note that there are sections of it that they redacted before sending to me (I haven’t blanked anything out). It is clear there are some anomalies but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Personally I don’t think the numbers of students involved is massive given the size of an annual cohort but there are more centres than I thought though! However, I am not surprised – the accountability on schools is massive, and whilst progress 8 offers more of a level playing field there are still issues with it that mean the “gold standard” will, in my opinion, be the 4/5 measures in the short term … and as for the students, getting that “C” (or as it will be the 4 or the 5) is a massive stepping stone to the next stage of their life so I can see why they would buy into any additional opportunities to “bag” the grades  they’re chasing. My advice … don’t do it! It is malpractice and there is more at risk than a handful of grade 4’s.