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French without tears

New exams in languages will be easier. Teachers win major changes to GCSE revamp.

Pupils will be able to gain a GCSE in French and other languages without having to show they can read or write in the subject.

The changes have been made in new criteria published this week in an overhaul of the 20-year-old exams, which show that teachers have won major concessions on issues such as coursework.

An analysis by The TES has found that pupils will be able to chose between a full GCSE or short courses (worth half a GCSE) in either spoken or written language.

Helen Myers, president of the Association for Language Learning, said: "I'm perplexed and surprised. What I understand as the purpose of GCSE is to lay the foundation for future education and study."

But Peter Downes, a former president of the association and a former member of the Nuffield Languages Inquiry, backed the move. He said: "I can read Dutch, but I can't speak it. If I was a teenager that skill in reading Dutch would be worth certificating."

The criteria for GCSEs in 28 subjects, to be taught from 2009, reveal how teachers forced the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority into major alterations after drafts were published in the summer.

Proposals to cut coursework in media studies and citizenship have been reversed following protests. But in religious studies, coursework is now being scrapped after teachers of the short course said it would have led to a heavier workload.

The QCA said the reforms would introduce more challenging questions to the new courses. However, it is not clear from the criteria how this aim will be realised.

The exam boards are being encouraged to make the exams more lively and engaging. They are supposed to be linked more explicitly to the world of work.

Ministers also gave a boost to the new diploma qualifications which will count as seven GCSEs and more than three A-levels in league tables, making them highly attractive to schools and colleges.

Schools and colleges teaching the diplomas from September will receive pound;1,000 extra per pupil.

The qualification's weightings were welcomed by heads' leaders.

However, the British Chambers of Commerce said that it was concerned that leading universities have not yet fully signed up to support the diplomas.

Teachers force changes, page 10.

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