UK & World News

  • 11 June 2013, 10:12

GCSE Reforms: Ofqual To Reveal Grade Changes

The GCSE grading system is to be axed in the most radical overhaul of the exam in England for a generation.

The current A*-G grades will be replaced with a numbered system as part of sweeping changes designed to drive up standards.

Coursework will also be axed in almost all subjects, re-sits curtailed and end-of-course exams reintroduced.

Regulator Ofqual will set out the plans in a consultation. Details about the content of the exams are also expected from the Department for Education.

Ministers are expected to announce pupils will study whole Shakespeare plays in English instead of short extracts, at least one 19th century novel, a selection of Romantic poetry and seminal world literature.

Maths courses will feature more advanced algebra and statistics, biology syllabuses will place a greater emphasis on evolution and genetics and pupils will be expected to write longer essay-style answers in history exams.

Education Secretary Michael Gove attacked Labour for overseeing a system that created "chaos and grotesque unfairness" and insisted the plans would make GCSEs "more rigorous and demanding".

He criticised dull exams broken up into modules which encourage "cram-and-forget preparation" and an over-reliance on coursework that has undermined grades.

"Sticking with exams that flattered ministers while failing children is simply not an option," he wrote in The Times.

Mr Gove announced there would be a major overhaul of GCSEs in England earlier this year, after ditching plans to replace them with English Baccalaureate Certificates.

Wales and Northern Ireland still have to decide about reform and differences are already emerging between the nations.

Mr Gove has written to his counterparts in the two countries, suggesting that it is time for them to go their separate ways.

But MPs have raised concerns about a rush towards separate systems, saying such a move would be "regrettable".

All three nations should continue to run GCSEs and A-levels, according to a new report by the Commons education select committee, which urged ministers to "do everything possible to bring this about".

The cross-party group of MPs also said that ministers and Ofqual must pay close attention to expert opinion on exams as they overhaul the system, and not ignore any warnings.

Scottish schoolchildren currently study Standard Grades at age 15 and 16 and are awarded grades from 1 to 7.

Controversy surrounding last year's GCSEs was blamed on poorly designed qualifications and a "series of avoidable errors" made under the previous government when the new courses were being developed.

"Several of the problems with GCSE English can be traced to the qualifications development phase," the report said.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the largest teachers' union the NASUWT, said reform based on proper evidence and consultation was legitimate.

But she said the Government's plans failed "even these basic tests" and accused ministers of undermining the GCSE.

"The Government has tried consistently to portray GCSEs as broken qualifications. The fact is, however, that the GCSE has proved itself to be a robust and reliable qualification," she said.

She also highlighted the select committee's comments about the need to take care when pushing through reforms, calling it a "timely and informed warning".

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) called most of the changes outlined by Ofqual "sensible" but raised concerns about the syllabus.

"Simply making exams harder does not guarantee higher standards or mean that students will be prepared for a job at the end of it," he said.

"There is a difference between an engaging curriculum that stretches and motivates students, and harder exams, which for some students could lead to disengagement, boredom and failure."