However, hard evidence of this has proved difficult to come by. But there is evidence that teachers have admitted to "playing the system" by selecting a particular board's version of an exam according to how easy its questions are.
They have also made comments that appear to support the view that boards can expect to lose business if they do not start "listening to their customers" and making their exams more straightforward. The confessions, which come after the head of England's largest exam board said earlier this year that teachers choose the GCSE courses that will help their pupils get the best results, feature in discussions on a popular online forum for history teachers, and follow the Conservatives' statement last week that league tables are pushing schools to concentrate on middle-ability pupils whose results are central to the current rankings, rather than higher- or lower-achieving students.
They will also fuel the debate on the effect of institutional and commercial pressures on academic standards. There are five GCSE boards covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and finding syllabuses that might improve pupils' chances of getting good results appears to be a strong factor in decision-making.
However, Ofqual, the exams regulator, says it monitors standards closely to ensure all GCSEs are equally difficult. An experienced history teacher from a school in Doncaster, south Yorkshire, started the lengthy discussion about the relative difficulty of exams in after telling fellow users of the schoolhistory.
He had abandoned the syllabus from the AQA board, he said, because in the previous three years "the style of questions in paper 1 has got progressively harder and more tricky". Over the next three years, the teacher reported how his pupils' grades improved dramatically after opting for OCR, with the pass rate more than doubling in the years between and He said the coursework requirements were less exacting for OCR, and that less ground had to be covered in the teaching.
Wouldn't it be better if everyone was playing on a level playing field? He added that OCR's exams were more "predictable", having posted predictions of the subject matter of questions for and that proved correct. In a posting on the site after last summer's exams, he wrote: "I still honestly believe that [OCR is] the best spec for our kids because the literacy levels of the questions and the predictability of what is coming up is spot on!
He added: "It's about time that [AQA] started listening to their customers instead of blindly continuing with inappropriate questions on paper 1 with literacy levels that are beyond the average grade D student. Another teacher responded by saying that he had also switched boards from AQA — to another rival, Edexcel. He said: "I've moved to Edexcel I prepare candidates to pass exams. They try to trip them up at every stage.
She said: "A sign that AQA are finally listening to the masses, I think, but too little, too late in my opinion. Another teacher, however, was not so convinced that OCR's exams were easier than AQA's, and wrote that he would be sticking with AQA because it had "simplified" its papers for a new version of the exam being launched this September.
He said: "AQA look to have simplified their papers, so I'll be staying put. In a further discussion on the website, from last year, another teacher discussed switching from the AQA board to Edexcel as the new versions of the exams were about to be launched. The teacher said: "I feel awful about this in many ways as I'm a determined opponent of 'dumbing down' and grade inflation, but It has often been alleged that teachers shop around for the "easiest" board — although teachers' perceptions of which version of an exam might offer the best route to success vary — and it appears the issue is not confined to history.
In April, in evidence to the Commons children, schools and families committee, another major exam body appeared to support the view that schools feel under pressure to opt for the easiest exams, as their ranking in league tables depends on them doing well.
This was resulting in lower standards. The evidence from Cambridge Assessment said: "Performance tables exert a strong downwards pull on the system — schools actively 'game play' in order to find the easiest route to higher qualifications outcomes. In January, Mike Cresswell, director general of the AQA board, told a London seminar on exam standards: "The choice of examination syllabus is now primarily about making judgments about what will give you the best results.
This could then drive them to choose the exams of a board based on bad information. He said: "There is a real risk to educational standards in this country. If these de facto measures of standards are used, they will provide perverse indicators to boards to reduce the standards they set. Which books would be most relevant to your cohort? If you could pick any books to teach to Year 10 and Year 11 to ensure a lively, edgy, and engaging course for your students — what would you pick?
If you have suggestions for more great contemporary, interesting and diverse books for GCSE classes — please use our contact form and let us know. This is a live suggestion section — if you have ideas for more great GCSE set text choices, please get in touch via our contact form.
A selection of reading books to challenge and interest Year 10 pupils — aged — in KS4 secondary schools. Graphic novels versions of GCSE English novels and playscript set texts for young adults in KS4 to appeal to both reluctant and able readers and make challenging exam texts more accessible. A selection of reading books to challenge and interest Year 11 pupils — aged — in KS4 secondary schools. Authors include Ray Bradbury and John Steinbeck.
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