Teachers force changes to GCSEs

27th December 2007 at 00:00
New exams in 28 subjects from 2009 show drastic alterations to QCA's original revisions.

Teachers have forced the Government's exams watchdog into drastic changes to revision of GCSEs in many subjects from 2009. Already-trailed alterations to the 20-year-old exams, such as the introduction of tighter controls on coursework and the possibility of more modular courses, remain in place.

But the final criteria for the new GCSEs in 28 subjects, published today, show many detailed changes from what was proposed when they appeared in draft form in June.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's decisions follow a consultation with 1,865 teachers.

A TES analysis of the new criteria has revealed that not being able to speak French, German or other languages will no longer be a barrier to gaining a GCSE in the subject.

Pupils will be able to choose to study a short course in either speaking and listening or reading and writing. The change is in line with Lord Dearing's review into language learning published earlier this year. This pointed out that the current GCSE short course, which covers all four skills but has less content than the full GCSE, was not popular.

Other major changes have also been prompted by the Dearing recommendations. Oral tests could change to become less stressful and schools and students will be allowed to choose at least some of the content to be studied.

Students will now gain 40 per cent of their grade from external exams and 60 per cent from controlled assessment, the same weighting as in other practical subjects such as music or engineering.

In addition, the criteria state that assessment of speaking and writing must be by controlled assessment.

But tiered papers will remain, despite teachers in the consultation being divided over this issue.

Five subjects were not included in the revisions: English, maths and ICT are being relaunched in 2010. Science was revamped last year.

In religious education, overwhelming opposition to the introduction of coursework into the short-course GCSE has persuaded the QCA to ditch the change.

A total of 281 RE teachers responded to the QCA's consultation on the draft criteria, the biggest response for any subject.

The authority had planned to introduce coursework as 25 per cent of the short course. But 89 per cent of teachers in the survey disagreed and the course will remain exam-only. Coursework will now also be scrapped from the full GCSE because the QCA wanted to align the two exams.

Deborah Weston, chair of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education, said: "There was a big concern over workload. A teacher running the short course could have ended up having to mark 400 pieces of coursework."

In media studies, the reverse has happened. Teachers were so fed up with proposals to cut coursework from 50 to 25 per cent that the QCA has changed its mind and the GCSE will now be 60 per cent internally assessed.

Citizenship teachers have welcomed the QCA's decision to back off plans to cut the coursework element from 40 to 25 per cent. Internal assessment will now rise to 60 per cent. A revolt by Latin teachers has saved the foundation GCSE exam from abolition. The QCA had proposed scrapping the foundation and higher tiers and replacing them with an all-ability exam.

Will Griffiths, director of the Cambridge School Classics Project, said: "Getting rid of the foundation tier would have reduced the number of schools offering Latin."

Coursework has been scrapped completely in Latin and Greek.

History and geography remain largely unchanged from June, with history including a new emphasis on Britain.

Law, sociology and psychology will become exam-only courses from 2009. Currently, pupils can opt to take up to 20 per cent of the GCSE as coursework.

For a full list of the new criteria, go to www.qca.org.uk.

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