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Perceptions of A levels and GCSEs in England: wave 14

The results of Ofqual's annual survey on perceptions of A levels, GCSEs and other qualifications. Conducted 19 January to 27 February 2016.

In general, this year’s results are very similar to previous waves.

Highlights from the survey

Perceptions of GCSEs and A levels

  1. GCSEs and A levels continue to be seen as trusted qualifications by headteachers (GCSE +43 percentage points (pp); A level +82pp), young people (+61pp; +76pp) and parents (+58pp; +74pp).
  2. Overall, A levels are seen as good preparation for further study by those involved in higher education (+40pp), teachers (+78pp) and employers (+80pp), but their views are more broadly balanced with respect to work. GCSEs are seen by all groups to develop a broad range of skills for students and are good preparation for further study.
  3. Head teachers and teachers (+22pp) are more likely to agree than disagree that A level standards are maintained year on year. Overall, more young people than not have confidence that GCSE standards (+8pp) and A level standards (+3pp) are maintained year on year.
  4. More HE providers and employers than not believe the marking of GCSEs (+12pp & +7pp respectively) and A levels (+23pp & +20pp) is accurate. More teachers than not (+7pp) believe the marking of A levels is accurate. Slightly fewer teachers agree than disagree that the marking of GCSEs is accurate (-4pp).
  5. Overall, those involved in higher education (+30pp) and employers (+15pp) believe GCSEs provide a reliable measure by which applicants can be fairly compared to one another.
  6. Those involved in higher education are more likely to say than not (+30pp) that A levels provide a good indicator of the overall ability of an applicant. And employers are more likely to say than not (+32pp) that A levels provide a reliable measure by which candidates’ suitability for employment can be fairly compared to one another.

Perceptions of GCSE and A level reform

  1. Overall, more parents (+8pp), teachers (+15pp) and those in higher education than not (+17pp) agree that GCSEs needed reform. Employers (+19pp) and those involved in higher education (+25pp) are more likely to say than not that A levels needed reform, but head teachers (-5pp) are more likely to think the opposite.
  2. The vast majority of head teachers (90%) understand that grade 9 is the best grade that students can get on the new 9 to 1 grading scale to be used for reformed GCSEs. Knowledge and understanding of the new system is much lower among the general teaching population young people, parents and employers.
  3. Only around half of teachers (51%) and head teachers (59%) recognise that grade 5 will be the lowest grade considered to be a ‘good pass’ by the Department for Education. Understanding is lower among young people (32%), parents (23%) and employers (16%).

Enquiries about results and appeals

  1. Awareness of the systems available for enquiring about and appealing GCSE and A level results is lower among groups outside the teaching profession, including young people and parents (32%).
  2. Young people (+5pp) and teachers (+4pp) are more likely than not to say that the enquiries about results and appeals systems are fair. Head teachers are less likely to agree (-13pp).

Commenting on today’s release, Sally Collier, Chief Regulator Ofqual, said:

In general, these data show patterns similar to previous years. It is reassuring that GCSEs and A levels continue to be trusted qualifications, and that employers and those in higher education believe students’ results are reliable measures of ability. These qualifications are, however, going through a period of reform and it is apparent that we need to do more to build awareness and understanding of some of the changes today in order to maintain those perceptions into the future.

For the full Official Statistics, please click here.