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Ending orals will not dumb down GCSEs

Language teachers believe that new speaking tests will not make language GCSEs easier, but risk increasing their workload.

The Government is scrapping the current short oral test in favour of teacher assessment.

The change was recommended by Lord Dearing in his report last year which considered ways to encourage more 14-year-olds to take up languages.

The TES reported last December that the GCSE specifications were to be changed to make oral tests less stressful for students.

At present, the oral test requires pupils to talk to their teacher under test conditions for between seven and 15 minutes at the end of the two-year course.

The conversation is recorded and either sent to the exam board for marking, or marked at school and the recording then sent away to be moderated. Helen Myers, president of the Association for Language Learning, said the idea that scrapping the current oral test would dumb down languages was wrong.

She said: "Speaking counts for 25 per cent of the whole GCSE, but is judged in as little as seven minutes. We want to reward children for the skills they have, not try to catch them out. The exam boards will now have to come up with ideas on how to assess speaking.

"At the moment nothing is formalised and we are advising people to make sure that it is manageable in a school context. Teachers will be worried about workload. I'm concerned that QCA and the exam boards will be too ambitious."

A Qualifications and Curriculum Authority report on speaking tests discovered that students prepared for the oral test by writing out monologues on all the topics tested and memorised them, sometimes without fully understanding what they have written. Most teachers said that the current test leads to conversations that are contrived.

Edexcel has piloted a GCSE in Applied French which involves teachers assessing pupils at least three times during the course.

But the QCA report found that schools offering this tended to have smaller class sizes and many teachers believe they would struggle to deliver this type of course to a whole year group.

Greg Watson, chief executive of the exam body OCR, shared teachers' concerns about the change to oral assessment.

He said: "Making assessment less intimidating is a laudable aim. But employers who appoint young people on the evidence of their GCSE results, only to discover that these have overstated their level of competence, will quickly lose faith in the qualification."

Jim Knight, schools minister, said the new tests would provide a more accurate reflection of pupils' skills.

He said: "Candidates will now have the chance to do themselves justice over the whole course of their studies - not just a single, hit or miss, 10-minute test."

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