Missing the mark at GCSE English

Getting above or failing to reach thresholds in high-stakes public examinations is an important feature of success or failure in many people’s lives. One well-known example is the need to obtain a grade C in GCSE English. New research by the Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) analyses the costs of narrowly failing, or only just achieving, a grade C in English GCSE.

Stephen Machin and colleagues tracked the progress of more than 49,000 pupils who took their English GCSE in 2013 and got a grade C or D, and then looked at how they progressed over the next three years. Results showed that pupils of similar ability have significantly different trajectories depending on whether they just pass or fail the exam. Pupils who continue in education post-16 may find that the options open to them are more limited, and may end up in settings with less-well performing peers. Those who narrowly miss out on a grade C have a lower probability of enrolling in a higher-level qualification – by at least nine percentage points. Furthermore, pupils who narrowly miss out on a grade C are more likely to drop out of education at age 18 (by about four percentage points), and are at increased risk of poorer prospects in the long term.

Source: Entry through the narrow door: the costs of just failing high stakes exams (April 2018), Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) Research Discussion Paper 014