Ofqual revises the minimum grade for GCSE higher tier combined science students in England

Boy confused by results

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Some higher tier students may be surprised to receive a grade 3-3 for GCSE combined science this Thursday, as they have been told this result is impossible.

Today, Ofqual announced they have revised the lowest allowed grade for higher tier students down from 4-3 for this summer, because more students than expected missed the threshold grade.

Thursday sees the first year of results for reformed combined science GCSEs. Combined science candidates now receive a double grade equivalent to two GCSEs, from 9-9 through to 1-1. The new combined science replaces the former qualification for students opting not to take separate sciences – biology, chemistry and physics.

Schools had to choose whether to enter students for the higher or lower tier combined science double-award. Entering a student into the higher tier meant more scope for them to reach their potential, but risked their result being unclassified if they fell below a 4-3. The maximum grade foundation tier students can achieve is a 5-5.

Tier-entry decisions aren’t straightforward. Exam boards believe the foundation tier would have been more appropriate for students who fell below a 4-4 in the higher tier exam. Rather than disadvantage students who would have acheived a grade in the foundation tier, Ofqual allowed them to award 3-3s.

In their blog today, Ofqual acknowledge, ‘schools find decisions about tier entry difficult for some students, and the structural changes to the sciences … has made it more complex this year.’ They promise further support before schools make tier entry choices in 2019.

Danièle Gibney, curriculum, qualifications and assessment programme manager at the Royal Society of Chemistry, says Ofqual’s decision to revise the minimum grade to avoid disadvantaging students is fair. ‘We will continue conversations with Ofqual this week, when the full results statistics are released’, she says. She encourages teachers to contact the RSC with feedback on how this change has affected their school, which will inform their discussions and future support for schools.