Ofqual puts brakes on GCSE and A level exam reforms

Richard Vaughan

The government’s sweeping exam reforms to GCSEs and A levels will be delayed after regulator Ofqual expressed concerns about the pace of change, it was announced today.

In the latest blow to education secretary Michael Gove’s attempts to revamp the qualifications, Ofqual said it “cannot be confident” that new GCSEs would be ready for 2015.

Now, only English language, English literature and maths will be brought into schools in two years time, with the science, history and geography put back until 2016.

Revamped A-levels in maths and further maths will also be put back a year, and are now expected to be introduced at the same time as new languages A-levels in 2016, Ofqual said.

In a letter to Mr Gove, Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey said that new GCSEs were necessary to address problems with the qualifications. 

But she added: "Already, though, it is clear that the amount of work needed on GCSEs, including the development of strengthened regulatory arrangements, means we cannot be confident that new, high quality GCSEs in all subjects could be ready in good time for first teaching from 2015."

In a response to Ms Stacey, Mr Gove said: "On GCSEs, we both agree that existing GCSEs are inadequate and that reformed qualifications should be introduced at the earliest opportunity.

"We must replace the modular GCSE treadmill with exams that encourage the skills universities and employers want, such as essay writing and mathematical problem-solving … However, I accept that much more rigorous regulatory demands should be put in place and that Ofqual needs more time to develop them."

The move comes in the wake of concerns from school leaders, unions and other bodies about the pace of the government's exams reform. 

Ofqual’s letter to Mr Gove said that the content of two A level subjects - art and design and sociology - was "fit for purpose" and that in most of the others "it can be made so". But it also warns that "fundamental work" is needed to improve A-level maths and further maths.

Maths A levels will be delayed until 2016, with the newly established A-level Content Advisory Board (Alcab), which is being set up by leading universities' body the Russell Group, advising on the content of these qualifications, plus languages over the next year.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Given the volume of changes to qualifications and curriculum already under way, it is quite right of Ofqual to slow the pace of change.

"We have to remember that schools are already working to implement major changes to the national curriculum, GCSE exams and A-levels, and there is a risk of trying to do too much too fast.”

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said: "Given the seismic change planned for all GCSEs, it makes sense to deal with maths and English first. These subjects are the foundation of our education system and economy and we owe it to everyone to get them right for future generations as soon as possible."

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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