More robust qualification?


New-look GCSEs for schools in England are being unveiled, with exams graded from eight to one rather than A* to G. From 2015, GCSEs will move from coursework and continuous assessment to exams at the end of two years.Pupils will face more rigorous content, with those studying English, for example, having to read a 19th-Century novel and a whole Shakespeare play.

The Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote in todays Times :

‘For years our exam system has been designed to serve the interests of one group of adults: ministers. Under Labour, they boasted about ever increasing numbers of passes and took the credit for themselves. But children have been let down. They’ve been working harder than ever. But the exam system hasn’t worked for them. Thanks to changes introduced under the previous Government, exams became duller for students and less informative for colleges and employers. Tests have been chopped up into disconnected modules that encourage cram-and-forget preparation. Teaching has, in some cases, been twisted into an exercise in passing on exam technique. An over-reliance on coursework has corrupted the credibility of grades. And the bunching of our young people around A and A* grades makes it more difficult to identify the genuine spread of talent.’

Gove sees himself as attacking the ‘enemies of promise’ ,while  raising pupils aspirations.

 Key changes from autumn 2015

Changes will initially be for nine core GCSE subjects

Grading by numbers 8-1 rather than by the current letters A*-G

No more modular courses, instead full exams taken at the end of two years

Controlled assessments (coursework done under exam conditions) will be scrapped

Exams to be based on a more stretching, essay-based system

Pass mark to be pushed higher

The changes to GCSEs in England are being presented today in two reports. Exam regulator Ofqual will explain how the exams will be structured and ministers have given details of the course content.

The reforms will initially apply to a group of core subjects – English language and literature, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, combined science, history and geography.


The Ofqual consultation recommends:

All GCSEs become linear in design, with examinations only taking place in the summer (excluding November resits in English language and maths).

A principled approach to whether there should be tiered assessments, which will lead to 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.


Ofqual says ‘The intention is that reformed qualifications in English language, English literature, mathematics, the sciences, history and geography would be ready for first teaching in September 2015.  Other subjects would be introduced from 2016.  We will also plan further consultations, in particular on how we will set and maintain standards and the title and scope of the reformed qualifications.’


A parallel consultation on curriculum content for the reformed qualifications has been  launched today by the Department for Education, reflecting the proposed new National Curriculum. The link to the  consultations can be found below.


Note 1

The GCSE changes being announced will only apply to pupils in England. Scotland has its own exam system, but Wales and Northern Ireland also use GCSEs. And the more that the exams are redesigned in England, the more that the idea of a common exam is stretched to breaking point.


Note 2

Meanwhile, MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee warned the plans showed relations between ministers in England and Wales were “clearly under strain”, and called for the continuation of “three-country qualifications and regulation”.Chairman Graham Stuart said members were “concerned that there is a rush towards separate exam systems for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, without careful reflection on what might be lost, or consensus that this is the right thing to do”.The education select committee has published a report on the controversial results of last summer’s GCSE English results, which ended in a legal challenge.It concluded that the “poor design” of the modular exam was the underlying cause of the problems. But there was a warning of the risks of introducing too many changes when working to a “tight timetable”.

Note 3

Ofqual Consultation

Note 4

Reformed GCSE-Subject content consultation launched


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