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New GCSEs to be benchmarked internationally

6 April 2014

England's GCSE pupils will be benchmarked against high-performing international counterparts from 2017. Ofqual has unveiled a plan to link GCSE grades to levels achieved by pupils in China, Singapore and other countries deemed to be high-performing, but the idea of an international educational currency has prompted concern from teaching unions, who said some countries excluded certain types of children to boost their scores in international tests.   

The performance of students in England has recently lagged behind cities and countries such as Shanghai in China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) education survey from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.   In the most recent Pisa survey, published last year, English students achieved marks of 500 in reading and 495 in maths. By contrast, Shanghai students scored 570 in reading and 613 in maths, and Hong Kong 545 and 561 respectively.   

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Pisa – which surveys a small sample of 15-year-olds in each country taking part – was not an appropriate benchmark to use for a reform of GCSEs. ‘While we understand the government's wish to raise the bar by aligning some grades to Pisa, this raises all kinds of issues. Pisa is a completely different kind of exam than the new GCSEs,’ he said. 

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