The exams watchdog has suggested basing the new floor standard at GCSE on progression in English and maths, rather than absolute performance.
Ofqual has also advised that English and maths should have greater weighting in the proposed “Best 8” league table measure.
The Department for Education is currently consulting over plans to change school accountability measures, having recognised that the current five A* to C benchmark creates too much of a focus on borderline students.
Plans are for a new “Best 8” progress measure which includes eight selected subjects. These will include English and maths, three further English Baccalaureate subjects, and three others.
The consultation document states: “The remaining three slots could be taken up by further qualifications from the range of EBacc subjects, or any other high value arts, academic, or vocational qualifications.”
The progress measure will be calculated using a value-added method, using end of key stage 2 results in English and maths as a baseline. The average of all pupils’ scores in these eight qualifications will be published in the tables.
Alongside this, the tables will feature a threshold measure showing the percentage of pupils achieving A* to C in English and maths.
However, in a letter to education secretary Michael Gove, Ofqual’s chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “You will need to make sure you do not over-emphasise grade threshold measures of threshold performance in key qualifications. In particular, if the floor standard model is to be carried forward there are alternative bases which would place less pressure on the most important GCSEs.
“One option is to base the floor standard on progress in English and maths rather than absolute performance, bringing in a wider measure such as Best 8 to keep the absolute perspective. In that way, English and maths would remain the central core of a balanced accountability framework, but without the pressure of being threshold measures in the floor standard.”
Speaking about the “Best 8” proposal, Ms Stacey added: “We note that the proposed measures work on the basis that each subject is given equal weight and focus. You may consider giving different weights to the eight qualifications to recognise the particular importance of English and maths in the overall mix.”
General secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Brian Lightman, said Ofqual’s proposals should be discussed, but fears that the government’s “rigid timescale” is restricting proper debate.
The consultation over the proposals closed on May 1, and the DfE has said that while the changes are intended to be implemented in 2015 or 2016 alongside GCSE reform, “many proposals could be put in place earlier”.
Mr Lightman said: “Because of the rush to implement change, we may well end up yet again with accountability measures that lead to perverse incentives and qualifications that have in-built design flaws.”
Elsewhere, Mr Lightman raised concerns that the removal of national curriculum levels will hamper schools’ ability to track student progress.
He said: “It is good to see Ofqual suggests an emphasis on progress measures. Accountability measures based on student progress are the best indicators of a school’s effectiveness.
“Being able to track students’ progress through their school years is essential and we are very concerned that the DfE is removing national curriculum levels without any suggestion of a viable, practical alternative that allows progress to be tracked.”