Education & Family

GCSE and A-level subject range set to be cut back

Exam hall
This latest stage of exam reforms tackles a range of "non-core" subjects

Exam reforms in England will see tougher qualifications for some GCSE and A-level subjects, while others could be scrapped, a watchdog has said.

Subjects such as applied science and electronics could cease to be GCSEs.

This is not necessarily about the rigour of subjects, but whether there is an overlap with similar exams, such as "catering" and "food technology".

Ofqual chief Glenys Stacey said it was important that qualifications were "reviewed and updated".

In the latest stage of reforming GCSEs and A-levels, there is a consultation over rationalising the range of exams on offer.

The big mainstream subjects - such as English, maths, science, history and languages - have already had overhauls announced.

Arts and creative subjects have also had changes announced - so this latest announcement affects the remaining non-core subjects.

Confusing overlaps

The Ofqual consultation puts a question mark over exams which have relatively small numbers of candidates - such as 105 for manufacturing GCSE - and others which are similar to related subjects, such as A-level performance studies and drama and theatre studies.

There are more than 20 GCSEs and A-levels which could be discontinued from 2016, including GCSEs in expressive arts, home economics, applied science, engineering and environmental science.

A-levels under threat include science in society, engineering and performance studies. Film studies was on an initial list of A-level subjects to be discontinued, but is now among those to be retained and revised.

"In England we have a large range of subjects and a variety of qualifications with different titles and some overlap (for example, biology and human biology). This can be confusing, and it makes standards difficult to maintain," says the exam watchdog's consultation.

"Our proposals for this will inevitably lead to a small drop in the number of subjects available: subjects that attract few students may disappear, with exam boards unlikely to invest in reforming them to the standard we require."

Ofqual is also consulting on revising and strengthening another group of subjects, which would be taught from 2017.

These include GCSEs in ancient history, astronomy, economics, media studies and psychology.

Head teachers' leader Brian Lightman welcomed the consultation, saying: "We need finally to let go of this toxic discourse about 'soft' and 'rigorous' subjects."

He said Ofqual's proposals showed that "rumours that have been circulating about the abolition of popular GCSE and A-level subjects have been greatly exaggerated".

"Not only are the vast majority of courses being retained, rumours like these destabilise efforts to promote confidence in England's qualifications system," said Mr Lightman, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders.

"The plans for the most part appear sensible. There are a few areas where we do have concerns about proposals to discontinue popular qualifications, in particular film studies at A-level and home economics at GCSE. We will be picking this up with Ofqual."

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