New GCSE subject criteria

20th October 2000 at 01:00
BY the end of the autumn term, teachers will have been able to see specifications and specimen papers for revised GCSEs. These have been developed to meet the new GCSE subject criteria - to be examined from 2003.

There are significant changes. The principles that underpin the new criteria are the same as those informing the revised national curriculum programme of study and the recently published Qualification and Curriculum Authority schemes of work for key stage 3. The revisions mark a shift away from topics linked to specific key stages towards pupils' knowledge of language and their ability to apply it in a variety of contexts.

For the first time, at least 20 per cent of the marks must be allocated to knowledge and accurate application of the grammar and structures of the foreign language. These marks will all be concentrated in speaking and writing tests. This does not mean the introduction of decontextualised tests of grammar. Tasks will continue to have a clear communicative purpose but there will be a real premium on using appropriate structures and achieving a high degree of accuracy. These changes will be more noticeable at foundation level but should have a significant impact on the way all candidates are taught.

Another change that will have a profound effect is that, from the 2003, dictionaries will no longer be available in exam. Dictionaries were introduced in 1997 and their use in exams remains highly controversial. Some candidates have used them to good effect, broadening their range of expression and checking spellings and genders. Others have used them with less discrimination and every GCSE examiner has their own stock of howlers found in exam scripts. Without a dictionary, candidates will need once again to ensure they have learned sufficient vocabulary. At the same time, to ensure that all candidates fully understand rubrics in exam papers, there has been some softening of the criteria relating to the use of the target language in instructions.

Topic areas have also been reviewed critically. There has been some judicious pruning and awarding bodies have been asked to ensure that topics are relevant to candidates and reflect their maturity and interests. The impact of ICT has been acknowledged too. E-mail messages now feature in writing papers and authentic texts for reading may be taken from a website.

While there are many similarities, each specification will retain its own distinctive features.

This information is available from all awarding bodies.

Christopher Maynard is the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority principal subject officer for modern foreign languages, 83 Piccadilly, London W1J 8QA. Tel: 020 7509 5555. Web:

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