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PE exams under review

Specialist short GCSEs and new A-levels will feature among the new syllabuses. Kevin Gilliver reports. From September 1996 all Year 10 pupils will be expected to study the revised national curriculum for physical education. New GCSE physical education courses introduced at the same time will build on the knowledge, understanding and skills of the revised Order.

As soon as the revised Order was settled, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the assessment authority for Wales (ACAC) drew up new criteria for GCSE exams in physical education, which provided the framework for GCSE examining groups to develop the aims, assessment objectives, schemes of work and assessment techniques of their new syllabuses.

The new criteria have required changes to current GCSE syllabuses. In particular, the assessment objectives of the physical education syllabuses must reflect the national curriculum common requirements, general requirements and extend the key stage areas of activity as appropriate. To ensure balance in terms of breadth and depth, a general physical education syllabus must be based on at least four activities taken from no less than three of the national curriculum areas of activity, for example two games, dance and athletics.

All five GCSE examining groups are developing new physical education syllabuses for approval by SCAA and ACAC. The proposals were considered in June by a panel of subject experts nominated by the exam groups and subject associations. After further development work, the approval process is well advanced and syllabuses should be available from the exam groups early in the New Year, ready for teaching from September 1996, consistent with the published schedule.

All new courses will differ in some ways from current one and, as now, the new syllabuses will vary in emphasis and approach. Schools may decide to use a syllabus that is close to the one they are currently following or they may wish to use a different one.

Many schools are taking up the challenge of teaching GCSE physical education for the first time. Last year there was a 20 per cent increase in the number of pupils taking GCSE physical education, with 68,000 candidates.

The Midland Examining Group (MEG), the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board (NEAB) and University of London Examinations and Assessment Council (ULEAC) are in the process of submitting GCSE (Short Course) proposals in physical education. The MEG short course proposal is for a specialised syllabus based on the games area of activity, and the other two proposals are for general syllabuses based on two different areas of activity.

The short course syllabuses are designed to be of GCSE standard but to cover less content. The course will be teachable in about half the curriculum time of a full course. SCAA and ACAC have prepared criteria to govern these syllabuses.

Since September 1994, whole classes of pupils who take early examinations for national curriculum subjects (that is before the start of Year 11), do not have to continue studying the national curriculum subject in question. However, physical education was excluded from these regulations because the Secretary of State decided that it would not be appropriate to enable a class of pupils to drop national curriculum physical education even if the pupils in that class were entered early for a GCSE subject. It was seen as important, in the interests of pupils' health and welfare, that they continue with physical education until the end of compulsory education.

SCAA is also in the process of approving revised GCE A-level syllabuses in physical education, sport studies and dance. The revised syllabuses should be approved by Christmas and come into operation next September.

AEB is developing and revising the two A-levels in which 70 per cent of the content will be common to each syllabus. Physical education will include a 30 per cent practical coursework component and sport studies will include a 30 per cent coursework study. The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) is developing a new A-level in physical education which will also be available to centres from September 1996. The syllabus will include a 30 per cent practical coursework component.

NEAB will continue to offer GCE A and AS-level exams in dance. The revised NEAB syllabuses should also be available to candidates from next September.

Kevin Gilliver is professional officer for PE at the School Curriculum and Assessment Council.

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