Early and multiple GCSE entry: Patterns over time and grade improvement

Category: Blogs, Data Insights, ADR Wales, Children & Young People

Written by Jennifer May Hampton, 19 April 2021

The Education Data Lab is an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Welsh Government funded initiative that is supported by and working in collaboration with ADR Wales. Two new Data Insights published today report on one of the first work packages undertaken in the WISERD Education Data Lab, established in late 2019, which used the Welsh Examinations Database to investigate early and multiple entries to GCSEs in compulsory mainstream education.

Examination entry practices and regulations in Wales have meant that many pupils have been able to sit exams and be awarded grades prior to the traditional end of compulsory schooling at the end of Year 11. Although intended to maximise student outcomes, concerns have been raised that such practices may actually disadvantage some pupils in a number of ways. Coupled with the accompanying financial burden of multiple entries, recent reforms have seen changes to school performance reporting that discourage such practices.

Using data prior to the reforms, we see an overall rise in early entries to GCSEs over the period of study, with different practices observed across the subjects, but most commonly in mathematics subjects which also have the highest levels of multiple entries. By using grades awarded, we identified two groups: one of which is being entered early in order to get that particular exam out of the way by ‘banking’ the grade; and another which is being entered early to allow for the opportunity to re-enter the GCSE to maximise the potential for a highest possible grade. Although having some of the highest rates of multiple entry, mathematics shows the lowest rates of improvement.

Along with individual and school-level concerns, early and multiple entry practices are clearly influenced by the regulations and restrictions enacted by examination structures. The analysis shines a spotlight on the relatively low levels of those who improve their grade through multiple entry, particularly those who do so in an effort to pass the ever-important grade C threshold in mathematics. Although the global pandemic has resulted in extreme changes to recent examination and awarding practices, future work could consider the overall effect of early entry on other pupil outcomes, including impacts on other awarded grades and educational career progression.

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