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Design details of new GCSEs in England

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Ofqual today (1st November 2013) confirms some of the key features of new GCSEs in English literature, English language and maths to be introduced in England for first teaching from September 2015. New GCSEs in other subjects will be introduced from the following year.

Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey said:

“The evidence is clear: GCSEs need to change if they are to remain respected qualifications and support a world class education system.

“In recent years we have been taking action to improve the current GCSEs.

“But further changes are needed if GCSEs are to be more engaging and worthwhile to teach and study. The changes being made will make sure they are better qualifications: better assessed and more resilient so that everyone can have greater confidence in the results.

“The new GCSEs will have new content and will be structured, assessed and graded differently from the current GCSEs.

“As well as being better qualifications from a standards point of view, they will meet Ministers’ policy ambitions, to prepare young people better for the next steps in their education or employment.

“We know that there has been some concern in recent days about whether some subjects will continue to be available. We plan to consult in the new year on principles for allowing subjects to be included as GCSEs. The aim is not to stop important, established subjects, but rather to make sure everyone is clear about what a GCSE is and is not.”

Today’s announcement follows a consultation between June and September on proposals about the key design characteristics for reformed GCSEs. In September, Ofqual announced a revised timetable for the reforms, meaning new GCSEs in English language, English literature and maths will take priority and will be introduced for first teaching from 2015.

The Department for Education will today be confirming the subject content for these subjects, following a separate consultation.

Key features of the new GCSEs in England will include:

  • A new grading scale that uses the numbers 1 – 9 to identify levels of performance, with 9 being the top level. Students will get a U where performance is below the minimum required to pass the GCSE
  • Tiering to be used only for subjects where untiered papers will not allow students at the lower end of the ability range to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, or will not stretch the most able. Where it is used, the tiering model used will be decided on a subject-by-subject basis
  • A fully linear structure, with all assessment at the end of the course and content not divided into modules. This is to avoid the disruption to teaching and learning through repeated assessment, to allow students to demonstrate the full breadth of their abilities in the subject, and to allow standards to be set fairly and consistently
  • Exams as the default method of assessment, except where they cannot provide valid assessment of the skills required. We will announce decisions on non-exam assessment on a subject-by-subject basis
  • Exams only in the summer, apart from English language and maths, where there will also be exams in November for students who were at least 16 on the preceding 31st August. Ofqual is considering whether November exams should be available in other subjects for students of this age.

Glenys Stacey said:

“For many people, the move away from traditional grades, A, B,C and so on, may be hard to understand. But it is important. The new qualifications will be significantly different and we need to signal this clearly. It will be fairer to all students that users of the qualification will be able to see immediately whether they did the new or a previous version of the GCSE. The new scale will also allow better discrimination between the higher performing students.

“I know people will want to make comparisons between the new and old grading scales, and to know which new grade is the same as an existing C grade, for example. Our next big piece of work will be a conversation with the public, employers and the education community about where and how standards should be set for the new GCSEs. We will be publishing proposals for discussion in December. When we have completed that, we will be able to provide answers.

“We realise introducing the new GCSEs alongside other changes will be challenging for schools, teachers and students. But the prize – qualifications that are better to teach, better to study, better assessed and more respected – will be worth it.”

Today’s announcement also confirms specific decisions about the GCSE subjects to be introduced for first teaching in September 2015:

English language: Untiered and fully assessed by an external exam with, as now, a speaking assessment that will be reported separately.

English literature: Untiered and assessed by external exam only;

Maths: Tiered with an improved overlapping tiers model. A foundation tier will cover grades 1-5 and the higher tier will cover grades 4-9. Assessed by external exam only, as now.

Full details of the design characteristics for the new GCSEs announced today can be found at http://comment.ofqual.gov.uk/gcse-reform-june-2013/


Notes to editors

  • In a tiered system, differentiated question papers (tiers) are used for targeting different levels of achievement.