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GCSE overhaul in England made final

Source BBC News@

Exam roomMany changes are planned and underway for England's exam system

Exams regulator Ofqual has confirmed the changes it is making to GCSEs, in what it calls the biggest shake-up in exams in England for a generation.

A new grading system will use numbers instead of letters and coursework is being scrapped for most subjects.

The changes will be in stages, starting with pupils taking GCSE exams in 2017 - those who will be 13 before the end of the current school year.

English and maths will be the first subjects affected.

Pupils will begin studying the new courses in English language, English literature and maths from autumn 2015.

And about 20 other popular GCSE subjects will be revamped in the same way, ready for teaching a year later, in 2016, with the first exams for those taken in 2018.

'Fresh content'

The changes apply to England only. Wales is planning its own GCSE shake-up, but Northern Ireland is not planning any changes. Scotland has its own exams system.

While they come in, pupils in England will have some exams graded with numbers and some with letters, leading teaching unions to warn this will be confusing for pupils, parents and employers.

Around the UK

The GCSE changes being announced will apply only to pupils in England.

Scotland has its own exam system, but Wales and Northern Ireland also use GCSEs.

Wales is also planning a shake-up, bringing in its own new GCSEs in maths, English and Welsh, which will be taught from autumn 2015.

In Northern Ireland no changes to GCSEs are planned. A recent review concluded there was "no case for replacing A-levels or GCSEs in the short- or medium-term".

Exams will be graded from one to nine, with nine being the highest. Pupils who fail will be awarded a "U" for an "unclassified" result.

All exams will be taken after two years of study, rather than in modules taken at various stages over two years, meaning a return to the format of O-levels, which pre-dated GCSEs.

And there will be more marks awarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar.

The head of Ofqual, Glenys Stacey, said the changes were "fundamental".

"This is the biggest change in a generation," she said. "They [GCSEs] have been around for over 25 years but now we are seeing fresh content, a different structure, high-quality assessment coming in.

"It's a significant change for students and for schools."

Ms Stacey said the move to a numerical system meant a new grade was being added and that would help examiners distinguish between candidates' performance - especially at the top grades.

She suggested that the move away from traditional grades might be hard for some people to understand, but was important.

"The new qualifications will be significantly different and we need to signal this clearly," she said.

At the same time, the government is confirming changes to what has to be studied in English language, English literature and maths, because the overhaul in exams covers both what is studied and how it is assessed.

Key Changes - Autumn 2015

  • Changes will initially be for English language, English literature and maths

  • Grading by numbers 9-1 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 for most subjects

It says in English literature, students will have to "study whole texts in detail, covering a range of literature including Shakespeare, 19th Century novels, Romantic poetry and other high-quality fiction and drama".

The new maths exam will cover more topics and be more challenging, the government says.

Ofqual is keeping the present arrangement where pupils can be entered for either a higher- or lower-tier paper in maths, depending on their ability.

But in English, that division has been scrapped and one exam will be taken by all.

At the moment, students who are entered for easier papers can be awarded only the maximum of a C grade.

'Cautious welcome'

Head teachers' representative, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), gave what it said was a "cautious welcome" to the changes.

Deputy general secretary Malcolm Trobe said: "There is much to welcome in today's announcement, especially the measured approach Ofqual has taken to this significant task.

"We have always agreed that GCSE can be improved to better prepare students to meet the needs of the world we live in today. But the constant tinkering with GCSEs we have had in the past has not been helpful."

But the National Union of Teachers said the move to a numerical system would be confusing and that there had not been enough consultation with teachers.

General secretary Christine Blower said: "Tiering, re-sit opportunities, modules and coursework all have their role to play in getting the very best out of all learners.

"We are glad that Ofqual hasn't ruled out tiering and non-exam assessment altogether and will monitor closely the subject-by-subject decisions that Ofqual now makes."

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