GCSE reforms Q&A: the major changes planned for schools
Pupils sitting GCSEs will be awarded a numerical grade, with a greater emphasis on examinations
MAJOR changes to the GCSE system in England are being announced today by the exams regulator Ofqual and the Department of Education. Pupils will face a numerical grading system and an increase in mathematics, while a public consultation has been launched into how the pass mark should be set.
What are the main changes?
- Pupils sitting GCSE exams will be awarded a numerical grade, with one at the bottom and nine at the top, replacing the current A* to G grades. Ofqual is yet to decide how the two grading systems might compare, and has warned that it is "ridiculous" to assume that a four would equate to a current C grade, as some people appear to have done.
- Ofqual is also looking at aligning the GCSE pass mark with higher-performing countries, such as Singapore and Finland, thus making the exams tougher. There will be a public consultation on the proposal.
- Classroom assessment will be scrapped in most subjects, although science experiments and geography fieldwork have been mentioned as exceptions, and courses will no longer be broken down into modules. This means that in most cases GCSE grades will be decided by a single final examination at the end of two years of study.
- Most two-tiered papers, where easier papers are devised for less able students, will be scrapped - although not in maths. The Department for Education is also due to publish details of the content for revised GCSE papers today. According to the Daily Telegraph, schools will be encouraged to provide at least one extra maths lesson a week and place greater focus on spelling and grammar.
- Maths GCSEs are expected to feature around a third more content and require pupils to master essential concepts in greater depth.
Why are the changes being made?
The new grading system aims to make it easier for employers and universities to differentiate pupils' abilities. In some subjects, such as science, up to 40 per cent of pupils achieve an A or A* making it difficult to identify the smartest pupils. Education ministers want to drive up standards of numeracy and literacy, with the aim of putting England on a par with the world's top-performing countries.
What about the rest of the UK?
The grading reforms are only expected to take place in England. Scotland already has a separate qualification system, while Wales and Northern Ireland look likely to stick to the current GCSE system.
When will the changes happen?
The reforms will mostly be introduced into classrooms in 2015, with pupils to sit the first new-style GCSE exams in 2017. English language, English literature and mathematics will be the first three subjects to be marked and graded under the new system. The bulk of the remaining GCSE subjects - such as sciences, history and modern languages - will change to the new grades from 2018. This means that pupils taking their GCSEs in 2017 face a hybrid set of results combining the old and new systems. Glenys Stacey, the head of Ofqual, acknowledged that it would be a messy transition but told The Guardian the new scheme is necessary and says any confusion among parents and employers was "a consequence worth living with".
How have teachers reacted?
Malcolm Trobe, from the Association of School and College Leaders, says there is "much to welcome" in the announcement. But Christine Blower, from the National Union of Teachers, says a "one-size-fits-all model" of a single exam at the end of a course suggests all other approaches represent lower standards. "We do not accept this," she tells The Independent. "Tiering, re-sit opportunities, modules and coursework all have their role to play in getting the very best out of all learners." ·