It is confusing times in the world of education, with an abundance of new changes being made to a number of qualifications, and introduced over a number of years. This minefield of new information can be quite easy to get lost in particularly if you are an adviser (and/or parent) and are sitting somewhere on the periphery, lacking perhaps the training and information that teaching staff will be receiving. To help simplify, here’s a quick overview of both the changes that have happened so far, and details on what changes are still to take place and when.
The start of this academic year saw a return to the old linear style of learning GCSEs, replacing the modular system. Under the linear system, which will affect those sitting their exams in the summer of 2014 onwards, students will take all their assessments in the May/June, thus abolishing the January and March exams. This will eradicate the issue of students repeating modules to boost their grades. Additional changes to the way that league tables will assess students, by taking account only of their first attempt, will also stop the trend of schools entering pupils for GCSEs a year early.
As well as structural changes, a number of changes were also introduced to specific subjects at this time. In particular English has seen a cut in course work from 60% to 40% and the teacher-assessed speaking and listening tests no longer form part of the final qualification. Geography and history have been ‘strengthened’ resulting in tougher exams and the introduction of the new performance measure EBacc has meant a greater emphasis on students learning modern foreign languages.
Additionally, in January 2013 a further change was brought in affecting marking in English literature, geography, history and religious studies GCSEs. This saw the introduction of additional marks in these subjects (and only these subjects) to reflect the quality of grammar, spelling and punctuality. The additional marks contribute to approximately 5% of the overall mark in each case.
The most dramatic changes are to occur from the beginning of the forthcoming academic year, and will affect students sitting there GCSEs from the summer of 2017 onward. Initially these will affect English Language, English Literature and maths GCSEs only, in both content and assessment. In terms of assessment, a new grading scale that uses the numbers 1–9 to identify levels of performance (with 9 being the top level) will be introduced in these 3 subjects. Maths will become ‘more challenging’ with a stronger emphasis on problems that involve multi-step solutions and an ‘improvement’ in the current tiering model to allow more overlap. The English Language qualification will contain no set texts (whilst expecting students to read ‘a wider range of texts’) and 20% of marks will be allocated for appropriate spelling, punctuation and grammar. English Literature will no longer be compulsory and will see a return of the ‘unseen text’ element. There will be a greater emphasis on classical literature including a requirement for one Victorian novel and a Shakespeare play.
Teaching of the new GCSEs will begin in the following subjects: geography, history, biology, chemistry, physics, double science, modern foreign languages (French, German, Spanish), ancient languages (classical Greek and Latin), religious studies, art & design, drama, dance, music, physical education, computer science, citizenship studies, food preparation and nutrition. The first cohort to take these exams will do so in the summer of 2018. The specification of these new exams will be available to schools from Autumn 2015.
The first teaching of the remaining new GCSE subject will be brought in, with exams to be taken in summer 2019.