New English exam spurns set texts

20th May 2005 at 01:00
A dual-award GCSE which does without an externally-marked exam is being trialled, reports William Stewart

A new English course which allows pupils to gain two GCSEs without studying a set text or sitting an externally-marked exam is being tried out in schools.

The Edexcel English Studies course is being described by the board as a completely new style of GCSE.

Pupils complete coursework and sit tests set by the board. This work, marked by teachers but externally moderated by the board, could account for an entire dual-award GCSE.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said this was a departure from the norm as English GCSEs were usually made up of at least 60 per cent externally- marked exams.

The course content, made up of seven "bite-sized" units, also breaks new ground, including sections on emailing and text messaging etiquette and reality TV.

Students have to take a compulsory module in communication: writing, speaking and listening and the study of a range of computer, reference and media texts.

For a dual award GCSE, they then choose three of five optional study modules.

These cover spoken English studies, the moving image, the language of digital communication and two English literature modules.

The English literature assessments are more conventional, embracing the study of authors including Alan Bennett, Edgar Allan Poe and Roddy Doyle.

But students do not have to study them.

The module on the moving image could cover a reality TV show, soap opera, television drama, teen or horror movie, while the digital communication module could include the study of email and text message communication.

An Edexcel spokeswoman said: "The new GCSE is rigorous and meets the QCA's requirements."

John Dunford, Secondary Heads Association, general secretary, said: "We welcome anything which places more trust in the judgement and professionalism of teachers while maintaining national standards."

The course is being offered alongside an English GCSE which also places a great emphasis on teachers setting pupils tests on their project work, with results then moderated by the board.

An Edexcel spokeswoman said these would typically involve students being set a project by the exam board three to four weeks before the test. They would then study the topic and sit an in-school test on it, lasting between two to four hours, under exam conditions.

Simon Gibbons, from the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "We would always support teacher assessment in front of external exams because experience shows it is more reliable."

Richard Wilson, from the Institute of Directors, said: "Most employers would prefer things to be assessed externally. I am not saying teachers cannot do it to a reasonable standard but I think that is what they prefer."

Teacher assessment was backed by last year's Tomlinson inquiry into secondary qualifications reform.

Britain's largest exam board, AQA, said it had no plans to introduce a similar qualification.

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