Research and analysis

Inter-subject comparability (2015 onwards)

Ofqual’s research on the comparability of different GCSE, AS and A level subjects in England and related reference papers.

Documents

Comparability of Different GCSE and A Level Subjects in England: An Introduction: ISC Working Paper 1 (Opposs, 2015)

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Inter-Subject Comparability: A Review of the Technical Literature: ISC Working Paper 2 (Ofqual, 2015)

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Inter-Subject Comparability of Exam Standards in GCSE and A Level: ISC Working Paper 3 (He & Stockford, 2015)

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Inter-Subject Comparability: An International Review: ISC Working Paper 4 (Opposs, 2015)

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A Recent History of Regulatory Perspectives on Inter-Subject Comparability in England: ISC Working Paper 5 (Newton, 2015)

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Exploring Implications of Policy Options Concerning Inter-Subject Comparability: ISC Working Paper 6 (Newton, 2015)

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Infographic: Inter-subject comparability policy options (Ofqual, 2015)

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Comparability of standards between subjects: Schools Council Examinations Bulletin 29 (Nuttall, Backhouse & Willmott, 1974)

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Comparing Qualifications - fitness for purpose - methodology paper - May 1998 (Coles & Matthews, 1998)

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Examination standards: report of the independent committee to QCA (McGaw, Gipps & Godber, 2004)

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Fitness for purpose: a means of comparing qualifications (Coles & Matthews, 1995)

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Native speakers in A level modern foreign languages (Taylor & Zanini, 2017)

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Maintaining GCE A level Standards: The findings of an independent panel of experts (Baker, Sutherland & McGaw, 2002)

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Progression from GCSE to A level: Comparative Progression Analysis as a new approach to investigating inter-subject comparability (Newton, He & Black. 2017)

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Details

There are a number of dimensions to comparability. This work focusses on whether some GCSE or A level subjects are harder than others and, if so, whether a better alignment should be achieved.

We launched a debate on inter-subject comparability in December 2015, with the publication of six working papers. Our intention was to interrogate this complex issue as thoroughly as possible before establishing a position on it.

Inter-subject comparability: an introductory discussion

Update, April 2017: modern foreign language research and comparative progression analysis research

In summer 2016, Ofqual conducted research to consider the presence of native speakers in A level modern foreign languages (MFL). The research was conducted in response to stakeholder concerns that the proportion of native speakers sitting A level MFL is increasing, and that, as a result, students are being disadvantaged due to the methods via which standards are maintained. The report is published above.

In April 2016, leaders of a number of high-profile science organisations wrote to Ofqual expressing disagreement with the finding in some of the working papers Ofqual had produced on inter-subject comparability. Ofqual then undertook research based on the letter to look at the progression of students from GCSE to A level. The results of this research are published above.

Progress update – September 2016

Prompted by our debate, various organisations and individuals have sought to help us shed more light on inter-subject comparability. Some have undertaken new research themselves (some of which is presented below under additional research), while we have responded by exploring a number of novel approaches to investigate this complex issue.

Much of this new research has come to light following our conference in February 2016, which stimulated a vibrant discussion and variety of contrasting views to be aired. The results of our survey of potential policy options – summarised in our infographic – also indicated a depth of interest and breadth of opinion on the subject. We received 216 responses. Two-fifths of respondents favoured Option 2 – to achieve inter-subject comparability through the grade awarding process. But all four options received some support (17% Option 1, 13% Option 3, 28% Option 4).