June 2013 - Ofqual GCSE Reform Consultation

Download NGA's response

Key proposals:

  1. Controlled assessment will be removed from all subjects except for science, where assessment of practical skills will count for 10% of the overall grade.It is considered more difficult to ensure reliability in non-exam assessments, as demonstrated by last year’s GCSE English results controversy.Ofqual also argues that in some subjects there is little to distinguish the written controlled assessment from the written examination. Furthermore it says that controlled assessment does not always differentiate well enough between students of different abilities, and the need for high levels of control can make them ineffective in assessing intended elements such as re-drafting and evaluation skills in English. Ofqual therefore concludes that controlled assessment should only be used where absolutely necessary, in practical subjects such as science.
  2. Courses will be linear, with all assessment taking place at the end of the two years of study. The modular nature of the current GCSE has been blamed in part for the problems with the 2012 GCSE English results. Ofqual also believes that synoptic assessment (which tests candidates’ understanding of theconnections between the different elements of a subject) at the end of the course will allow students to develop a deeper understanding of the subject.
  3. Grading will use the numbers 8 - 1 instead of A*- G(8 being the highest). Ofqual considered a number of alternatives to grades, including using students’ actual marks, scaled scores or percentile scores. It concluded that, although they are not perfect, using grades strikes the best balance between providing sufficient information to differentiate between students, without suggesting unrealistic levels of precision.Ofqual proposes using a new scale for the grades in order to differentiate it from the current system. This is important because one of thecomplaints about the current GCSE grading is that there is insufficient discrimination between grades at the top end of the scale and a view that a disproportionate number of students are being awarded the top grades. Conversely, a very small proportion of students are awarded the bottom grades: in 2012 across all subjects there were more students achieving grade D (16%) than grades E-G combined (14%). As well as differentiating between the old and new systems, using a numerical scale has the advantage of making it easier to add grades at the top level, e.g. 9 or 10 as opposed to the somewhat ridiculous A**.
  4. Tiering (where exam papers are offered in the same subject at more than one level e.g. foundation and higher) will only be used in maths and science GCSEs. Ofqual argues that tiering can lead to a “ceiling effect” in which students taking a foundation tier exam are limited in the grade they can achieve. The current accountability measure of 5A* - C grades puts an emphasis on schools ensuring all students gain C grades. As it is perceived to be easier to gain a C grade in the foundation tier, schools are given a perverse incentive to push ‘middling’ students into taking these, thus risking limiting opportunity. To prevent this ceiling effect, Ofqual proposesusing tiering only in subjects where it judges that a single assessment would fail to meet the needs of both the highest and lowest ability students, and where material that would be exclusive to the higher tier can be identified. It concludes that the only subjects where this is the case are maths and the sciences.
  5. Ofqual has considered three tiering models that could be used: overlapping tiers (the current system), core plus extension and non-overlapping tiers. It concludes that an improved version of the overlapping tiers model is the best option, as it has the fewest manageability concerns; fewest potential technical issues; and is the easiest to understand because the grade is not based on combining performance at different levels.
  6. Assessment of speaking and listening will no longer count towards the grade for English language. Ofqual notes that speaking and listening cannot be assessed by external examination, and that the DfE’s consultation on subject content requires students to demonstrate presentation and listening skills in a formal context. Therefore it proposes that exam boards design an assessment for spoken language skills, to be administered and marked by teachers. However, it expresses concern that internal assessment is not sufficiently reliable and a national standard could not be assured. It, therefore, proposes that the mark from this assessment will not count towards the overall grade, but will instead be reported separately on the GCSE certificate. Ofqual has recently closed a consultation on making the same change to the current English language GCSE and will consider issues arising from that consultation when coming to a final decision on the reformed GCSE. Since the consultation closed, Sue Hackman, former lead adviser at DfE (who you will remember spoke at our summer conference in 2012), has spoken out against Ofqual’s proposal to report speaking and listening separately. In particular, she warned that downgrading speaking and listening would disadvantage EAL students.
  7. Ofqual expects exam boards to set the amount of assessment time needed for each qualification, but it proposes setting a minimum for each subject. This would be:
    • 3.5 hours of exam time for subjects in which the final grade is based on external, written exams only;
    • 3 hours of exam time when additional forms of assessment contribute to the final grade.
  8. This time is expected to be spread over more than one exam, and the time limits would be doubled for the double science award.
  9. All externally set and marked assessments will be taken only once a year in May and June, except for English language and maths which will be available to re-sit in November. These November re-sits will be restricted to students in year 12 and above to dissuade schools from entering pupils for these exams early. 

Published: 06/09/2013, by Ellie Cotgrave
Last Updated: 27/01/2016, by Sam Henson