Comparing specifications from 5 subject areas, at GCSE and A level, with and without coursework to investigate how attainment differs dependent on student characteristics.


The impact of coursework on attainment dependent on student characteristics

Ref: Ofqual/20/6629PDF, 1.53MB, 47 pages

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Ofqual commissioned this work in 2019 in order to try to gain some deeper insight into the relationship between different forms of assessment within high stakes qualifications, to understand the extent to which different types of assessment – examination and non-examined assessment (coursework) – might be associated with different levels of performance for different groups or types of students. While there are often views or observations around, say, whether a particular gender ‘does better’ in examinations, or that students of lower socio-economic status may not have the same access to resources at home to support coursework, the research literature to support these views is not as substantial as it can be; and often does not adequately control for other factors.

This research aims to make the most of existing data around performance in different types of assessment. Over the last two decades, there have been changes in the proportion of examined and non-examined assessment (coursework) and this research utilises this data to see whether there is any evidence to show that differences in learner characteristics (gender, ethnicity, special educational needs, socio-economic class) are associated with different patterns of performance in relation to different types of assessment. The data is useful in that it comprises large, whole cohort data for the years analysed. The insights are likely to provide a useful evidence base and have a bearing on future decisions about use of different types of assessment in high stakes examinations.

Key findings

  1. There is little evidence that coursework has any impact on outcomes for students of different socio-economic statuses (SES) or for students with special educational needs.
  2. Male students perform better than female students in wholly examined GCSE specifications and also in GCSE specifications where there is a greater level of control in the coursework. Female students tend to have better outcomes than males where internally set, internally marked coursework is included.
  3. There is little indication of different outcomes for students of different ethnicities across different assessment types; except for students of Chinese ethnicity who despite performing well overall, perform relatively poorly when entered for specifications with coursework.
  4. In specifications where coursework was optional, the examined alternative appears to provide a safety net for less able students who failed to submit coursework.

Published 30 June 2020