UK's GCSE Exam System Overhaul In Turmoil

UK's GCSE Exam System Overhaul In Turmoil
By C Hoppe
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The current UK shake-up of the GCSE exam system has yet to gain professional and public confidence, a report found yesterday.

A recent survey by YouGov for the exam regulator Ofqual, found that teachers, parents and students felt the changes to the GCSE exams were happening too fast, that confusion remained concerning the new grading system and that the reliability of marking was questionable.

According to the Guardian, "more than a third of parents thought that increasing the importance of final course exams, at the expense of in-course assessment, was a bad thing at GCSE level. Among teachers, 42% disagreed, compared with 41% who agreed it was a bad thing."

In addition, four out of ten teachers, two thirds of students and over half of parents are still failing to grasp the new grading system which will replace the traditional A to G, 'letter grading.'

The Guardian went on to note, "a majority of parents, employers and – worryingly – higher education institutions said they did not understand the new scale."

Ofqal responded to the news by issuing an 'easy to digest summary' of the changes to the GCSE system.

Interestingly, although 40 percent of all respondents stated they felt the GCSE system required change, the majority said there was currently- 'too much change.'

Most respondents agreed that, “compared with last year I am less confident in the GCSE system'. While the majority of headteachers surveyed said they strongly agreed that the 'accuracy of GCSE marking had deteriorated since the previous year.'

The survey also highlighted that headteachers from independent schools were significantly more likely to agree that the GCSE system needed reform, than headteachers from state academies or free schools.

A DfE spokesperson said, “the changes we have made to these qualifications are vital to ensuring that young people leave school prepared to succeed in modern Britain and with knowledge and skills that universities and employers need."

“Parents, teachers and young people need to have confidence that the grades they receive are an accurate reflection of a pupil’s performance. That’s why we’re pleased that the regulator is taking steps to improve the quality of marking and strengthening its oversight of awarding organisations,” he went on to say.

The New GCSE English Exam Stirs Controversy

Speaking to TES, blogger and teacher Mary Meredith claimed that the new English GCSE showed, 'breathtaking ignorance' on the government's behalf and that the new exam actually contravenes the 2010 Equality Act.

Ms Meredith, a Lincolnshire senior leader in charge of inclusion, believes the new English GCSE will not allow pupils with special needs “to fully demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding”.

She believes the new closed-book element included in the English GCSE exam, which expects students to have memorised 15 poems, “in complex and often ambiguous language, and drawn from a range of socio-historical contexts, is a difficult task for all, an impossible one, for the minority we ought to be more concerned about.”

According to the the terms of the 2010 Equality Act, Ofqual must allow children with disabilities 'adjustments' when they are placed at a disadvantage in an exam. In the case of the English GCSE, this would obviously involve allowing children with SEN to have a copy of the text with them in the exam.

Ofqal has refused this request and Ms Meredith is concerned as to why the body has not yet given a satisfactory reason for its refusal of the adjustment.

“Crucial here is the fact that Ofqual has not given an explanation as to why the provision of the text in full would be an unreasonable adjustment,” Ms Meredith says.

“The explanation given is that closed-book assessment is the only way the regulator can be confident that the whole text has been read. Again, I’m sure you can see the flaws in this logic. If, indeed, it can be called logic,” she says.

The government’s report, she says, “reveals breathtaking ignorance about the nature of this type of disability. We are reminded that rest breaks and access arrangements such as extra time can be put in place to level the playing field.”

The New GCSE Maths And Science Exams

The new GCSE maths exam has fared little better, with the news from Ofqual that standards for the reformed exam have been set at the wrong level, and the body has urgently instructed exam boards ( OCR, Pearson Edexcel and WJEC Eduqas) to draw up new questions, before work begins on the new curriculum in September 2015.

The watchdog’s chief regulator Glenys Stacey said, “this is really making sure that standards are raised in a sufficient, even-handed way...And it doesn’t stop here. There will be further work done in the lead up to 2017 [when the exams are first sat] to have as much confidence as we can, like never before, in the standard being set.”

Last week, TES also revealed that Ofqual will be running extra checks on the level of difficulty for the reformed science exams.

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