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Primary Education News
News GCSE English to drop speaking and listening components
Teachers outraged at move that will mean tens of thousands of students will have worked hard over last year for nothing
Speaking and listening assessments will no longer count towards GCSE English grades, the exams regulator has announced, warning that last year's chaos over the qualification showed that it was impossible to guarantee fair and consistent marking.
Last year, tens of thousands of students received lower grades than expected in English GCSE after the regulator, Ofqual, raised grade boundaries between exams in January and June, saying that too many teachers were overmarking work to ensure pupils achieved crucial C grades. The decision was unsuccessfully challenged in the high court by an alliance of councils and pupils.
The decision to remove speaking and listening from the grading of GCSEs in English and English language next summer, for which students have already been studying for a year, was condemned by teaching unions, which said more than 90% of respondents to a consultation on the subject had rejected the change.
Speaking and listening skills will still be assessed and marked, but these will be listed separately from the overall grade on the GCSE certificate, Ofqual said.
The changes, covering the exam in England, mean the marking balance will change for school-assessed tasks and formal exams. Under the previous system, 60% of the English GCSE grade was made up of so-called controlled assessments, which are made in the classroom, with 40% from exams. The ratio will now be reversed.
Glenys Stacey, Ofqual's chief regulator, said: "We know that this will be unpopular with many teachers, and will affect students who have already completed their first year of studies, but we think it right to make these changes and to act as quickly as possible because the current arrangements result in unfairness.
"Exam boards cannot be sure that speaking and listening assessments are being carried out and marked consistently across all schools, and we have evidence that they are not. That creates unfairness, and that is unacceptable.
"We must stress that the curriculum has not changed, and these skills will be assessed as they are now and the results reported."
Ofqual argues that listing marks for speaking and listening separately will give a more detailed picture of pupils' achievements. Unions representing senior school staff said it was grossly unfair.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the main worry was timing. "Thousands of students are more than halfway through their preparation for taking GCSE English in 2014, but now face the disruption of having to sit a different mix of assessment processes. Those students going into year 11 who were assessed for speaking and listening last year will feel cheated, having already prepared for something they felt was going to contribute to their GCSE grades.
"Teachers will return to school faced with the task of explaining the situation to anxious students and their parents and also with the task of amending the planning of teaching and learning for an as-yet unknown reformed assessment regime. Schools treat the planning of courses seriously and will have written schemes of work with a two-year programme of study in mind, taking account of speaking and listening assessments."
Brian Lightman, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the decision "overrules the responses of a vast majority of teachers to the consultation". He added: "The prime purpose of our qualifications system should be to assess what young people know, understand and can do, not to service the current overinflated, high stakes accountability system."
Ofqual ran a consultation this summer following last year's chaos over English GCSE. It presented a series of options, including the immediate removal of speaking and listening marks from the overall grade. Of the near 1,000 respondents, mainly schools and colleges, more than 90% rejected these options, some arguing the change could particularly affect disadvantaged students or those with special needs.
In its conclusions, however, Ofqual said that while controls had been tightened for other in-school assessments this could not be done for speaking and listening, with only a third of schools visited by exam board moderators in any academic year. In some schools, marks for speaking and listening still appeared "out of line with performances in other units", Ofqual said, but this could not be corrected after results were issued.
Secondary schools are currently ranked according to the percentage of pupils who achieve five or more GCSEs at C or above, including English and maths, focusing intense effort on ensuring pupils achieve certain marks in English. Ofqual's report into the events of 2012 concluded that too many teachers overmarked controlled assessments as a result.
A wider revamp of GCSEs, announced in February by the education secretary, Michael Gove, will see a more exams-based system introduced more gradually, with the first qualifications awarded in 2017. The changes will also see secondary schools assessed on a broader, points based system.