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Languages GCSEs bid au revoir to 'uninspiring' content

An exam board hopes to make its language GCSEs more appealing by dropping “rather uninspiring” content about pencil cases and "my school day", and teaching pupils to talk about tattoos and music festivals instead. 

OCR says it wants its reformed French, German and Spanish GCSEs, which will be introduced next year, to have a more “contemporary appeal”.

The board is ditching phrases such as “Il y a tant de belles choses dans les vitrines” (“There are so many beautiful things in the shop windows”) in favour of “À mon avis un tatouage discret est une expression de ta personnalité” (“In my opinion a discreet tattoo is an expression of your personality”).

Explaining its “radical” update, the board cited a teacher who had told the consultation on the qualifications: “Students are not really going to meet somebody in a café in Paris and describe their entire family.”

OCR says it is also adopting skills that have had well-established global success through EFL (English as a foreign language) teaching.  Katherine Smith, in charge of the new qualifications for the board, said: “This entails moving away from working too long on a clichéd topic until a student is bored with it, to working on more appealing subjects, and with an all-important shift in emphasis on the skills that they can transfer across content.”

She said that skills being neglected under existing qualifications included “grammatical structures such as tenses”.

“Current GCSE specifications have focused on preparing coursework, which is more about the theme than learning the building blocks of a language,” Ms Smith added. “This has de-skilled students and led to ‘topic fatigue’.”

OCR also wants to get rid of “inflexible vocabulary lists”. It has revealed that candidates learning German could be asked to consider a film review of the thriller Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run), while the new Spanish course includes tweets on the Olympic Games.

The draft new courses, which would be taught from September next year, have been submitted to exams regulator Ofqual for approval.

OCR's overhaul comes amid ongoing concern about language learning in schools and universities. Figures published earlier this year showed that the number of students taking foreign languages at university has slumped in recent years, with entries for French and German in free fall.

There has been a steady decline in the number of pupils taking languages at GCSE.


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Ofqual: A-level languages crisis so severe reform could be fast-tracked -October 18 2013

Examinations - Languages in peril from grades 'farce' September 6 2013

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