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GCSE English To Contain Less Coursework In Bid To Overhaul Exam, Ofqual Announces

26/04/2013 09:22 BST | Updated 25/06/2013 10:12 BST

GCSE English will contain less coursework in the future under new proposals to overhaul the qualification, it was announced on Friday.

From next summer, teenagers' speaking and listening skills, which are assessed by teachers, will no longer count towards their final English grade, the exams regulator Ofqual said.

The move follows last summer's controversy over the grading of GCSE English.

student writing

Students will have less coursework in their GCSE exams, Ofqual has announced

Under the plans, published by Ofqual for consultation today, from 2014, final GCSE English grades will be based on written exams and so-called "controlled assessments" in reading and writing.

"Controlled assessment" is coursework completed in the classroom under strict supervision, and marked by teachers.

Students will still be assessed on their speaking and listening abilities, but these results will be reported separately and shown as an endorsement on GCSE certificates.

The current GCSE English qualification is made up of 60% controlled assessment and 40% written exam - but a report by Ofqual following last year's GCSE English row raised concerns about the high level of controlled assessment, and about how the speaking and listening part was moderated.

In a consultation document setting out the changes Ofqual warned that results in GCSE English are likely to fall as a result as pupils generally do better in speaking and listening than other parts of the course. It added that it will be using a system known as "comparable outcomes" to ensure like-for-like results with previous years.

This could mean that grade boundaries are more generous next year to prevent a large drop in results.

The document says that removing speaking and listening could mean an estimated drop of between four and 10 percentage points in the proportion of students gaining at least a C in GCSE English. The biggest drop is likely to be at the C/D border.

It adds that using "comparable outcomes" to prevent this could mean that grade boundaries for grades A and C "would have to be set one or two marks lower than would otherwise be the case".

Ofqual said it is proposing the change to speaking and listening in a bid to make the qualification "more robust, and more resistant to pressure from school accountability systems".

Chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: "Speaking and listening are, of course, very important skills. The proposals should not change what is taught in schools. These skills will still be assessed and the results will still be reported.

"But we have found that the design of the GCSE English qualification is seriously flawed. The proposed changes will make it more robust and will help protect against any repeat of the problems experienced last year. They will also mean

a better balance between controlled assessment and written exams for the qualification."

A major row broke out when last summer's GCSE results were published, with school leaders claiming that tens of thousands of teenagers unfairly received lower-than-expected grades in the subject after grade boundaries were moved between January and June.

A report by Stacey concluded that teachers in some of England's secondary schools were guilty of ''significantly'' over-marking pupils' GCSE English work in order to boost results - a finding denied by school leaders and teachers.

She laid blame for the controversy on intense pressure on schools to reach certain targets, which led to over-marking, as well as poorly designed exams and too much of an emphasis on work marked by teachers.

An alliance of pupils, schools and local councils later took their case, against two exam boards - AQA and Edexcel - and the exams regulator Ofqual, to the High Court, calling for the grade boundaries to be changed.

In February, a High Court judge ruled that, while teenagers who fell foul of changes to GCSE English were treated unfairly, the exam boards and Ofqual did not act unlawfully, and dismissed the alliance's challenge.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: "The problems with GCSE English assessment are well known and we understand why Ofqual wants to do everything it can to prevent these from recurring.

"Confidence amongst teachers in the assessment of GCSE English is at an all time low after the events of 2012 and there is an urgent need for continuity and stability in order to redress this. The changes proposed by Ofqual are understandable and we will consider them carefully.

"Speaking and listening are vitally important skills and any changes to their assessment must not undermine their importance in the curriculum. This is a risk if the grade is separated.

"We would also have serious concerns about the timing of changes to assessment structures. As a matter of principle, changes to assessment should never be introduced after students have started a course."

Ofqual also says that it proposes to "reweight" the remaining parts of GCSE English so that written exams account for 60% of the final marks, and controlled assessments count for 40%.