GCSEs 2021: MFL 'one-off' speaking tests allowed

Teachers will have a choice to assess spoken modern foreign language skills in classroom activities or as a one-off task

Claudia Civinini

GCSEs 2021: Changes to MFL spoken assessment have been published by Ofqual

Teachers will have the choice to assess their students’ spoken language skills during normal classroom activities or as individual, one-off assessments for modern foreign language GCSEs next year.

This is according to new requirements published by Ofqual today in response to disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement signals a change from August proposals, which said: "Spoken language assessment should take place during normal teaching and learning rather than during a one-off performance" and that "teachers should base their judgements on the accumulation of evidence of a learner's language performance through everyday classroom activities over time".


Teachers: Language GCSEs biased against poor pupils

A levels 2020: Big leap in top grades for languages

Stats: Language GCSE entries up but a mixed picture at A level


This was a point that generated concern in the consultation that followed, with one teacher asking: "How can you have 30 sheets of paper in front of you and make judgements about performance whilst carrying out normal classroom activities?”

GCSEs 2021: Modern foreign languages assessments

In its latest document, Ofqual explains that it was not its intention to restrict the circumstances in which teachers would be able to assess students' spoken language. 

It reads: "We have decided to amend the requirements to make it clear that awarding organisations may permit teachers to conduct spoken language assessments either as part of an ongoing classroom process or through specific one-off assessment opportunities." 

Another issue that attracted comments during the consultation was that Ofqual had not set any requirements for evidence of learners’ performance in spoken language assessments to be recorded or retained.

Some respondents pointed out that teachers could not be sure of the consistent application of the criteria by other schools if exam boards were not required to review and moderate the outcomes awarded.

But Ofqual responded saying that it considers these requirements to "reflect the most appropriate balance between validity and flexibility in light of the coronavirus pandemic" and that exam boards must do "all they can" to ensure that teachers understand and apply the pass, merit and distinction criteria.

Today, the regulator published the criteria that teachers must use to assess students' spoken language skills. 

In 2021, students will be given either a pass, merit or distinction (or not classified) for their spoken language assessment – alongside their 1-9 grade for modern foreign language GCSEs.

Each school and college will need to provide a statement to its exam boards "to say they have taken all reasonable steps to make sure students have the opportunity for their spoken language to be assessed", the statement reads

It continues: "We have confirmed that exam boards will not be required to review evidence of student performance as this would undermine the intended flexibility of the approach, and would be burdensome for centres."

What the changes will mean for the assessment of spoken language: 

• They will remove the assessment of spoken language from the calculation of the overall qualification result (the 9 to 1 grade).

• They will put in place flexible requirements for the assessment of spoken language by teachers.

• They will put in place common criteria for the assessment of spoken language by teachers.

• They will require the teacher’s assessment of spoken language to be marked on a three-point scale – pass, merit, distinction (or not classified).

• They will require each centre to provide a statement to its exam board confirming that it has taken reasonable steps to make sure there is an opportunity for the assessment of spoken language for every learner.

• They will require the outcome of the assessment of a learner’s spoken language to be separately reported alongside the 9 to 1 grade when results and certificates are issued.

Changes to the use of vocabulary in assessments

• Allowing exam boards greater flexibility in respect of the vocabulary that is to be used in assessments by removing the specific requirement that exists in other years, to use vocabulary not on the vocabulary list that they publish in their specification.

The consultation seeking views on the short-term amendments to the spoken language assessment was run between 12 October and 27 October 2020.

The regulator said: "Most people who responded to the consultation supported the criteria.

"They also welcomed the approach, which they said would relieve pressure on teachers and students."

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Claudia Civinini

Claudia Civinini

Find me on Twitter @claudiacivinini

Latest stories

Covid in schools, GCSEs 2021, teacher safety: LIVE

Coronavirus and schools: LIVE 27/1

A one-stop shop for teachers who want to know what impact the ongoing pandemic will have on their working lives
Tes Reporter 27 Jan 2021