Ofqual last week wrote to awarding organisations (AOs), asking them to justify the size, and guided learning hours, of qualifications of theirs which count in Key Stage 4 performance tables.

The regulator may wish to go further and consider also how grades in non-GCSE qualifications relate to GCSE grades.

GCSE grades awarded by different AOs are moderated based on Key Stage 2 test results [PDF], but the process for non-GCSE qualifications appears to be more variable, particularly for smaller AOs.

The chart below shows the average point score per entry (APSE) in the most popular non-GCSE qualifications nationally in 2015, compared to the APSE which the same students achieved across all GCSEs which they took.


A few things are clear from the chart.

In a few cases, non-GCSE qualifications have a similar, or even lower, APSE than that of GCSEs entered by the same pupils.

In most cases, though, non-GCSE APSE is higher – in fact, across all non-GCSE qualifications, including those not shown in the above chart, students achieve almost two points, or a third of a grade, more on average than they do in their GCSEs.

This information alone isn’t enough to form a conclusion on whether there is an issue with the comparability of GCSE and non-GCSE qualifications.

Relatively few students are entered for the qualifications shown in this chart – ranging from 11 per cent of students nationally for OCR ICT to 3 per cent for BTEC Performing Arts – which suggests self-selection could be at play. Those taking these qualifications may have greater levels of motivation or aptitude for these qualifications, and therefore achieve higher standards than in their GCSE subjects.

But in some cases, the gap between students’ GCSE and non-GCSE APSEs is stark.

In the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualification, which has drawn criticism recently, the difference is staggering. On average, pupils taking the ECDL achieve 52 points – equivalent to a grade A – whereas they average 38 points – below grade C – in their GCSEs.

Ofqual has already begun to examine inter-subject comparability in GCSEs and A-Levels. At the risk of making a hard job even harder, inter-qualification comparability should also be considered.