Geography teachers say they feel "gutted" and "screwed" by proposals to make GCSE modules that they may have already taught to their students only optional next summer.
Under consultation plans published by Ofqual and the Department for Education yesterday, paper 1 modules would be optional, but those in papers 2 and 3 would be left unchanged.
Teachers have commented that the proposed change will disadvantage their students if they have already spent time focusing on the paper 1 modules.
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Teacher Kate Stockings commented on Twitter that the proposed changes – which for the Pearson Edexcel exam board mean that topics on development and urbanisation in paper 1 would become optional – "leave us screwed", as her school teaches paper 1 first.
The proposed changes for summer 2022 Assessments leave us screwed. We start with Paper 1 because it makes curriculum sense. We’re taught all of it to Year 10 but now it’s the ONLY bit that will become optional?! This does not work 😡 pic.twitter.com/4MqMaeoGJn— Kate Stockings (@kate_stockings) July 12, 2021
"I'm gutted at this... this example proposal will be excellent for some schools, awful for others. It's not fair," she added.
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Head of geography Mark Enser said: "It advantages schools who have focused their time this year teaching the other units and disadvantages those who have already taught both the ones that are now optional. Exams only work if they are done in the same conditions for everyone."
He told Tes: "The issue is making two topics optional halfway through the course. It will disadvantage those pupils who have already studied those two topics.
"For example, in AQA they are proposing that pupils will only answer questions on economic world or resource management. That will benefit those who spent Year 10 studying other topics but will disadvantage those who have studied them first. They will still have to teach the entire course when other centres won't.
"The exam boards seem to be assuming that people teach their specification in the order it is printed in – but this order makes no particular curriculum sense."
For OCR A, paper 2 topics are optional, meaning different specifications will have different optional topics affecting them. But for any schools that have covered these optional topics, the change may leave them at a disadvantage.
In their consultation, Ofqual and the Department for Education say that "these changes would be in addition to the changes relating to the assessment of fieldwork in geography GCSE which Ofqual announced on 16 June".
They add: "We believe that, in the circumstances, this is acceptable and the fairest way to mitigate the impact of the pandemic for students taking GCSE geography exams in summer 2022 and that the proposed changes will not have an undue impact on students’ successful progression to A-level geography."
GCSE English literature, history and ancient history students will also be given options over topics under the current plans.
But any students given a choice of topic will not receive advance notice of the content to be covered in their paper, which is another "mitigation" being considered for other subjects.
Alan Kinder, chief executive of the Geographical Association (GA), said: "Whilst the GA called for the introduction of ‘high-level optionality’ as part of the least-worst option, given the severe disruption to learning resulting from the pandemic, the critical point is that it did so a year ago [in its response to Ofqual's 2020 consultation on 2021 exams, for example].
"This approach would have meant teachers rejigging their teaching this year. An inconvenience, to be sure. But far, far preferable to the situation 12 months on, following inexplicable delays. Since the teachers who make up the GA could see the situation ahead, it is unclear why policymakers could not."
An Ofqual spokesperson said: “We are keen to gather views from teachers, parents and students as we go through the consultation process on proposals for summer 2022 and encourage them to feed into it.”