GCSEs: Gove pledges 'challenging' exam changes

 

Michael Gove: "Young people deserve an education system that can compete with the best in the world"

Related Stories

An overhaul of GCSEs in England has been announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove to help pupils in England "compete with the best in the world".

From 2015, GCSEs will move from coursework to exams at the end of two years and will be graded from 8 to 1, rather than A* to G.

"We need to reform our examination system to restore public confidence," Mr Gove told the House of Commons.

Labour's Stephen Twigg attacked "shallow" changes lacking in evidence.

Mr Twigg accused Mr Gove of "cutting back on re-sits, while affording himself a fourth attempt at GCSE reform".

Mary Bousted, leader of the ATL teachers' union, said the constant change in exams was turning pupils into "Mr Gove's guinea pigs".

'Merit'

Head teachers' leader Russell Hobby said the plans for a "more rigorous exam to the existing GCSE contain merit" but warned against an over-hasty implementation. "We need to take time to get any new assessment system right."

Wales and Northern Ireland are keeping GCSEs, but so far are not adopting the changes proposed for England.

Ofqual head Glenys Stacey says: "We want to see qualifications that are more stretching for the most able students, using assessments that really test knowledge, understanding and skills."

There is no sign of a change in name to I-level for the English exams - as had been rumoured.

Key changes from autumn 2015
  • Changes will initially be for nine core GCSE subjects
  • Grading by numbers 8-1 rather than by the current letters A*-G
  • No more modular courses, instead full exams taken at the end of two years
  • Controlled assessments (coursework done under exam conditions) will be scrapped
  • Exams to be based on a more stretching, essay-based system
  • Pass mark to be pushed higher

The reforms will initially apply to a group of core subjects - English language and literature, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, combined science, history and geography.

'Whole book'

Hundreds of thousands of pupils will begin studying these revised GCSEs from autumn 2015 and the first candidates to take the exams will be in summer 2017.

Apart from exceptions such as practical experiments in science, there will be a shift towards results depending fully on exams taken at the end of two years. It will mean removing the 25% of marks in history, English literature and geography that are currently allowed for controlled assessments.

AROUND THE UK

The GCSE changes being announced will only apply to pupils in England.

Scotland has its own exam system, but Wales and Northern Ireland also use GCSEs.

Wales is planning its own regulatory shake-up, but has already said it has no intention of changing from the GCSE brand.

Wit no sign of a change in the name of the new exams in England, there are likely to be questions about how universities and employers will understand the different forms of GCSE.

Grading will be by numbers rather than letters - with 8 at the top and 1 at the bottom. The pass mark will be pushed higher, with claims it will compare with the highest-performing school systems, such as Finland and Shanghai.

But the National Union of Teachers said Finland used a high level of the type of student assessment being removed from exams in England.

The new GCSEs will push for a more stretching, essay-based exam system, reminiscent of O-levels, taken by pupils until the late 1980s.

Mr Gove told MPs that previous course specifications "were too vague" and had caused "suspicion and speculation that some exam boards were 'harder' than others".

History will require more study of British history. Pupils will have to write an in-depth study of a 25-to-50-year period within a range of eras stretching from 500AD to the present day.

There will be a less prominent world history section and pupils will be asked to study a theme such as changes in politics, religion or culture across the medieval, early modern and modern eras.

In English literature, exam questions will be designed to ensure that pupils have read the whole book.

The course content will include at least one play by Shakespeare, a selection of work by the Romantic poets, a 19th Century novel, a selection of poetry since 1850 and a 20th Century novel or drama.

For both English language and literature, digital texts are excluded.

Maths will promote the idea of developing independent problem-solving skills, rather than setting types of questions that can be rehearsed.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said: "We do need to start competing against those top performing countries in the world, because for too long we've pretended that students' results are getting better, when all that's been happening is the exams have been getting easier."

Brian Lightman, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, said his greatest concern was about the proposed syllabus changes. "Simply making exams harder does not guarantee higher standards or mean that students will be prepared for a job. The curriculum should stretch and challenge the highest achieving students but it must also engage and motivate those who struggle at the other end."

'Rushed'

This is the latest stage in Mr Gove's drive to reconfigure the exam system.

Last year, Mr Gove announced plans for the scrapping of GCSEs and their replacement with English Baccalaureate Certificates, with each subject to be set by a single exam board.

This re-branding was scrapped, with GCSEs to be retained but reformed instead.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said the the government's approach was "rushed".

"If you did this by consensus, by actually talking to the profession and understanding how best to examine things, we would be in a much better position."

Start Quote

Simply making exams harder does not guarantee higher standards or mean that students will be prepared for a job”

End Quote Brian Lightman ASCL general secretary

Chris Keates, leader of the Nasuwt teachers' union, attacked the government's claim that the GCSE was a "broken qualification" and said it had "proved itself to be a robust and reliable qualification".

She accused the government of driving an "inaccurate and ideologically-driven media attack on the qualification".

The latest plans will be put out to consultation over the summer, with a timetable that will see exam boards producing courses to be accredited by Ofqual for teaching in autumn 2015.

The prospect of different forms of GCSEs in England, and Wales and Northern Ireland has raised the question of how they will be distinguished from each other.

The CBI said employers would want to be "crystal clear about the differences to eliminate any confusion".

Exam reform in England*

Current GCSE New GCSE

* Wales and Northern Ireland are keeping GCSES, but will not adopt the changes outlined above. Scotland has its own system.

Style

Modular courses with coursework plus exams. Exams taken throughout the course as modules are completed. However, from Sep 2012, coursework and modules were reduced or reformed

Modular courses scrapped, new course content, reduced coursework but GCSE brand retained. Controlled assessments scrapped. Most exams taken after two years rather than at the end of modules. More demanding essay-style questions

Exam board

Multiple exam boards

Multiple exam boards

Timeframe

Two year course period; some exams can be taken at the end of each module

Exams taken at the end of two year period, with first exams in summer 2017

Subjects

The existing form of GCSE will continue for subjects outside the core group of new GCSEs

Reforms will be initially applied to core subjects - English, maths, sciences, history and geography - with others to follow

Grading

A* - G

Numbers 8 (highest) to 1 (lowest). Pass mark to be pushed higher

Accountability

Schools measured by pupils achieving five A*-C passes including English and maths

Still under consultation, but under proposals could be based on the number of pupils in a school reaching an attainment threshold in English and maths. Average point score would be based on a range of eight GCSEs

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +40

    Comment number 1131.

    For everyone who is saying they are 'easy', I would like them to have a go at taking 12 GCSE's at once and see how they do. It's just making it seem like the grades of the students who have done well are worthless and that anyone could do them. If that was the case everyone would be coming out with A*'s. Also I had to do a whole Shakespeare play and whole novels so that is nonsense.

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 1117.

    I'm currently doing GCSEs, & I completely disagree with "exams are easy". For example, in English, we already had to learn 10-15 poems for our exam. And as for this nonsense saying students don't need to read the whole book they're studying, of course you do! (If you want to get more than a C, that is)
    Nobody has the right to say sweeping statements about GCSEs unless they've done them themselves.

  • rate this
    +36

    Comment number 1079.

    I did GCSE English (Language and Literature) two years ago and we read all of Twelfth Night, Lord of the Flies, An Inspector Calls and a poetry compilation, as well as some non-fiction texts. Older generations love to think that we have it easy (the implication being that they're much more intelligent than us), but I'd like to see them sit an A level Maths or Chemistry paper if it's so easy!

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 1078.

    When I was at University I did essays and they were marked properly based on the content. It formed 20% of the grade. It gaves candidates a chance to know the subject in more depth. Also encourages independent thought and self learning. It was marked harshly because you had a book in front of you. It shouldn't be dismissed because students do learn from it.

  • rate this
    +33

    Comment number 585.

    I am a current GCSE student... my concern is that if I have these 'easier' GCSEs will I be disregarded if someone is applying for a job with the the new and GCSEs are not easy, I admit I am doing 11 academic ones and I do all these things they spoke about they are difficult.... in English Literature we already have to do one shakespeare play and a book with English language a play and another book

 

Comments 5 of 8

 

More Education & Family stories

RSS

Features

  • Baby being handed overFraught world

    The legal confusion over UK surrogate births


  • Bad resultsBlame game

    The best excuses to use when exam results don't make the grade


  • Welsh flagDragon's den

    Why Wales will make its own mind up on independence


  • BKS IyengarFlexible guru

    The man who helped bring yoga to the West


  • Police respond to a shooting in Santa MonicaTrigger decision

    What really happens before a police officer fires his gun?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.