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It's still coursework, but under teachers' gaze

Details of new 'controlled assesment' receive cautious welcome

PUPILS COULD make digital diaries showing how they completed their technology project or spend days researching an historical figure in a local museum under plans to replace GCSE coursework with so-called "controlled assessment".

Details of the new-look assessments were unveiled for the first time by the Government's curriculum watchdog this week. Coursework is to be replaced by strictly timetabled tasks performed, in the majority of cases, under the eye of the teacher. The amount of work assessed by exam has also increased.

Dr Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said the changes would "increase public confidence in the GCSE and allow the integration of new sources of data and information, including the internet, under supervision".

Previously, GCSEs had been dogged by concerns that coursework encouraged plagiarism and cheating. Schools were criticised for supplying essay plans and lists of phrases and giving pupils excessive assistance with redrafting.

The QCA has asked exam boards to provide a bank of assessment tasks and stipulate the supervision required for each one, to ensure fairness between schools. Subjects will now be assessed in the same way no matter what the exam board.

Examples of controlled assessments, provided by the QCA, include a history project comprising eight hours of research using the internet, group discussion and museum visits, followed by a return to the classroom for four hours of planning and writing up.

Design and technology pupils might be assessed via an online diary and portfolio. The new courses will be taught from 2009.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said that most staff would welcome the move.

The fact that many teachers were judged by the quality of their pupils'

coursework had put "enormous pressure" on the system, he said.

Maths will now be assessed entirely by exam and the proportion of subjects such as business studies, engineering and health and social care assessed by exam had increased by 10 percentage points. English and ICT will not be announced until next year when the new functional skills component has been developed, but are likely to go the same way. The newly revamped science GCSE has remained unchanged.

Media studies teachers were unhappy that the amount of work assessed externally had increased.

Jenny Grahame, an advisory teacher at the English and Media Centre, called it "an absolutely appalling and retrograde step", arguing that media studies was unsuited to exam assessment.

Tiers have been cut across subjects including modern foreign languages, classics and home economics, meaning pupils of all abilities will take the same paper, a move that has been broadly welcomed. In languages, the uninspiring topics-based approach, which forced pupils to learn how to order an ice cream or book a holiday, has been dropped. Pupils will now be able to choose what to speak and write about. Peter Hall, chair of the National Association of Language Advisors, said: "The more one can tailor the content to the pupils the better."

In classics, children will no longer be required to translate from English into Latin or Greek, a development that is bemoaned by David Taylor, the examinations spokesman for the Joint Association of Classical Teachers.

And where pupils were merely required to know and understand their GCSE course they are now required to be "inspired, moved and changed" by it.

A public consultation on the draft plans runs until September.

What's new?

Coursework to be replaced by controlled assessment.

More exams in most subjects.

Tiered papers to be abolished across many subjects.

Greater focus on sustainable development and diversity.

Requirement for pupils to be "inspired, moved and changed".


British history is given a much greater emphasis in new draft GCSE criteria for the subject. The guidelines say at least a quarter of GCSE history courses must be on domestic topics.

Pupils must be able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of: "a substantial and coherent element of British history andor the history of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales."

At present, GCSE history courses must include only "an element" of British history or that of the four countries in the British Isles. There is also a new emphasis on understanding chronology. Pupils, for the first time, must make "connections and comparisons between different aspects of the periods, themes and topics studied".

There is also a new section saying that "where appropriate", history GCSEs should show how the subject links to vocational learning. This could include the work of the heritage, tourist and media sectors including museums, galleries, archives, historical sites, tourist attractions and television and radio programmes in "preserving, presenting and influencing people's attitudes towards the past".

Gone is a requirement to study history from at least two perspectives such as political, economic, social, technological, scientific, religious and cultural.

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