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The comparability of exam standards can be viewed in different ways. Concerns are sometimes raised about whether standards of GCSEs or A levels are being maintained over time. On some occasions, there is disquiet about the comparability of standards between the exams offered by different exam boards within a subject. For some years now there have been issues raised about the comparability of GCSEs and A levels with vocational qualifications that full-time students can take instead. In recent times, it has been suggested that our GCSEs and A levels do not stand comparison with the equivalent exams used in some educationally high-performing countries.
There is a fifth dimension to comparability. From time to time, questions are asked as to whether some GCSE or A level subjects are harder than others and, if so, whether a better alignment should be achieved. We are investigating technical, practical and policy issues in relation to the comparability of different GCSE and A level subjects in England, and we intend to establish our position once we have heard the views of others.
To help throw light on the present position, stimulate informed debate and help us decide what to do, we have produced a set of six working papers. This working paper considers why the comparability of different GCSE and A level subjects is an important issue to consider, focusing particularly on possible effects on the balance of the curriculum taken by GCSE and A level students. It also draws on the other working papers to provide a brief introduction to relevant considerations.