Ofqual’s decision to maintain fieldwork questions but remove a requirement to conduct practical fieldwork in the 2021 geography GCSE has been criticised by a subject association leader.
Alan Kinder, Geographical Association chief executive, told Tes: “This does not provide me with confidence that Ofqual is able at present to regulate in the interests of geography candidates."
Ofqual’s latest guidelines scrap the requirement for candidates to conduct fieldwork.
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But Ofqual has confimed that candidates will still be asked questions related to "unfamiliar fieldwork" – these are questions on fieldwork theory, in which candidates apply knowledge of fieldwork processes to settings they have not experienced.
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An Ofqual spokesperson said: "Students will not be asked questions in their exams that require them to draw on their own experience of fieldwork, although they will be asked questions related to unfamiliar fieldwork."
The proposal to scrap practical fieldwork was announced early this year – and described as "ham-fisted policy-making" by Mr Kinder – as a measure to deal with Covid disruptions.
But the fact that, according to new requirements, students can still be questioned on fieldwork theory has been branded by Mr Kinder as “an absurdity”.
The Ofqual document indicates that only practical fieldwork will be scrapped.
A sentence in the Ofqual document reads: "An awarding organisation must interpret the content document as if paragraphs [referring to fieldwork] have been disapplied in so far as they require a learner to undertake fieldwork him- or herself and collect their own primary data."
Referring to that sentence, Mr Kinder told Tes: “It does not say that this disapplies requirement for fieldwork questions, and that’s what opens up this absurdity of people being examined on fieldwork practices, locations, techniques, and they have never done them."
Many of the exam papers, Mr Kinder explained, split fieldwork requirements and ask questions about fieldwork that the candidate has conducted (familiar fieldwork) and more theoretical questions about fieldwork in a setting the candidate won’t have experienced (unfamiliar fieldwork).
Mr Kinder said: "Nobody, no exam board, no geographical association, and, as far as I am aware, no teacher, has argued that you should retain unfamiliar fieldwork but remove practical fieldwork.
“It’s ridiculous. If you haven’t had any practical experience it’s nonsensical, really.”
An Ofqual spokesperson said: "We consulted widely on proposals for changes to exams and assessments next year and considered all responses to the consultation before reaching final decisions.
"The package of measures frees up teaching time, reduces pressure on students and allows assessments to be undertaken within current public health restrictions, while ensuring the qualifications remain meaningful and allow students to progress successfully."
They added: "We made this change because of the difficulties schools and colleges would face arranging fieldwork during the pandemic and because taking students out of school could be disruptive (including to other subjects)."