DfE launch consultation on GCSE reform

03 July 2013

Last month the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, announced plans for the first waves of GCSE reform.

As expected, these plans are almost precisely similar to the ones that were allegedly ‘U-turned’ in February. The name ‘English Baccalaureate Certificate’ has been dropped, but the rubric and ideas behind the reform have not. It is important to note that we are in almost exactly the same position as we were last autumn – particularly as the EBacc itself is still in place as a school performance measure.

The consultation and plans for GCSEs have been split into two – with OFQUAL leading on the overall design and the DfE leading on the content of specific subjects.

Ofqual and GCSE design

The proposed new model for GCSEs is as follows:

  • All GCSEs become linear in design, with examinations only taking place in the summer (excluding November re-sits in English language and maths).
  • A reduction in the number of subjects where there is tiering.
  • GCSEs graded on a scale of eight to one with a different distribution of grades.
  • Internal assessment only used where exams cannot validly assess the skills and knowledge required. Any alternative to exams must be fit-for-purpose, directly assess what they claim to assess, and designed to be resilient to pressures from the wider system.

This model will be applied first to the EBacc subjects (though not, seemingly Computer Science) and these new qualifications will come on stream in 2015. Other subjects will be introduced in 2016.

Ofqual is running a consultation on the general design of new GCSEs which closes on the 3rd of September.

Key points to consider
It is essential that the GCSE model that is agreed is flexible enough to accommodate the arts and cultural subjects. Arts subjects need absolute parity in the education system to other disciplines and need to remain as GCSEs. There must not be any suggestion that they should be relegated to a different kind of qualification – lest we risk a two-tier system where the arts are seen as a second-class option.

It is also worth noting that whilst Wales and Northern Ireland plan to keep the GCSE system, they currently have no plans to adopt these changes, meaning that a GCSE would mean something completely different, depending on which country you took the qualification.

DfE and GCSE content

The DfE has launched a consultation on the content of criteria for GCSEs for the English Baccalaureate subjects (once this criteria is agreed the Exam Boards will use the criteria to create their own specifications).

The draft criteria has been published for consultation on the DfE website. The deadline for this part of the consultation is the 20th of August.

The BBC reported the following headlines on the drafts:

  • History will require more study of British history. Pupils will have to write an in-depth study of a 25-to-50-year period within a range of eras stretching from 500AD to the present day.
  • There will be a less prominent world history section and pupils will be asked to study a theme such as changes in politics, religion or culture across the medieval, early modern and modern eras.
  • In English literature, exam questions will be designed to ensure that pupils have read the whole book.
  • The course content will include at least one play by Shakespeare, a selection of work by the Romantic poets, a 19th Century novel, a selection of poetry since 1850 and a 20th Century novel or drama.
  • For both English language and literature, digital texts are excluded.

Responding to these consultations
As the consultation runs across school holidays we know it’s going to be really difficult for people to respond to these consultations, but do get back to us if you have comments you would like us to include in our submission, and if you can, do respond yourselves. As ever, we will be working with our partners, particuarly the Specialist Subject Organisations (who are each already working on this) to put together our response.

There are some excellent resources already emerging, for example, the English and Media Centre have published guidance and notes on both the English Language and English Literature criteria on their website , and the Historical Association is running this survey on the History criteria.

What's happening with arts subjects at GCSE?

Arts Council England and CCSkills are currently looking at the existing specifications for Dance, Drama, Art and Design and Music GCSEs, with a view to developing some new draft criteria.

They are asking both students and teachers to complete surveys to tell them what they think of the current qualifications.

Once they have new drafts in place (probably in September), the CLA will run a number of consultation sessions and will publish an independent report on the sector's response. We'll let you know how to get involved once we know more.

Arts Council will then need to present the new qualifications to Ofqual and the DfE, who will decide whether to adopt them as GCSEs.