GCSE and A-level reforms timetable delayed

Ofqual has published an exchange of letters with the Secretary of State about the next  steps for A level and GCSE reform. In short, Glenys Stacey, Ofqual’s chief regulator, told the education secretary that new A-level examinations in Mathematics and Further Mathematics would not be ready until 2016.Regarding GCSEs, she wrote:
It is clear that the amount of work needed on GCSEs, including the development of strengthened regulator arrangements, means we cannot be confident that new, high-quality GCSEs in all subjects could be ready in good time for first teaching from 2015″ …
We have therefore decided that we should focus the GCSE reform programme initially on English language, English literature and mathematics, which are the subjects where there are the biggest concerns.

Ofqual has also published the report by Professor Mark Smith on the exam boards’ subject-by-subject review of A level content requirement:


Schools ask pupils to sit GCSE maths exams twice

From The Independent:

Thousands of teenagers are being put in for multiple GCSE maths exams in the hope they will get crucial C grade passes in at least one of them.

The practice is exposed by the exams regulator Ofqual today as it reveals that 15 per cent of candidates sitting GCSEs  – around 90,000 candidates – were last year submitted for maths exams with more than one board. Ofqual officials believe there will be a repeat this year because the pressures that drove schools to do it  – including boosting performances in league tables – are still there.

Read the full article.

Russell Group universities ‘to review new A-level exams’

From ‘s article in The Telegraph:

The Russell Group, which represents 24 leading institutions including Oxford and Cambridge, is to launch an immediate review of exam questions and course syllabuses […] The sciences, maths and foreign languages could be subject to the biggest changes. […] Maths professors have become increasing alarmed at the “overly structured” and “formulaic approach” to the subject at A-level […]

Prof Nigel Thrift, vice-chancellor of Warwick, said it would form an independent company – [Alcab],  the A-level Content Advisory Body – to represent the views of Russell Group universities and consult other higher education institutions and learned societies.

It will focus on the “facilitating subjects” seen as essential in the sixth-form – maths, further maths, English literature, physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history and both modern and classical languages.

In a letter to Mr Gove, Prof Thrift, who will lead the board, said it would review these A-levels between now and the autumn to “identify where changes are required to ensure the subjects are fit for purpose”.

It will mean delaying the introduction of new-style A-levels in these subjects from 2015 to 2016 if changes are needed, he said.

Prof Thrift also said that the advisory body would contribute to Ofqual’s “longer-term” monitoring of A-levels “to make sure that new qualifications are reviewed each year”.

Mr Gove welcomed the intervention, adding: “Strong leadership from Russell Group universities, and engagement across the wider higher education sector, is critical to the future development of A-levels.”

Read the full article.

Gove reveals rethink on grades in new GCSE

From The Independent (not in Hansard yet):

[Mr Gove, speaking to Education Select Committee on 15 May) indicated he was]

planning to scrap the present grading system entirely and replace A* and A grade passes with a one, two, three or four pass. […]

He said it could well be the case that the “band of achievement that is currently A* and A” was replaced by a new one, two, three or four pass. The new-style GCSEs will start to be taught in schools in September 2015.

Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the committee, also argued that Mr Gove could be “deliberately” paving the way for “grade deflation” in the exam system through the changes.

He said that the pass rate could also go down in the first year of pupils sitting the new exam (2017) – “because schools don’t know how to work the system”.

Students who previously were awarded an A grade pass could be awarded a four  under the new system (a one or two would be roughly equivalent to an A* while three or four would equate to an A grade). Academics argue a four would not be seen by employers and universities as a top grade pass.  Numbers are likely to replace grades throughout the system so instead of A* to G grade passes students would be awarded one to 10 passes.

However, Mr Gove replied that that the current exam system meant teachers were spending “too much time on exam technique and not enough on content”.



More on A Level reform

From THE:

[T]he group of 24 large research-intensive universities will seek to establish an advisory body on 10 A-level subjects to help maintain standards.

The working group on the new standards body will be chaired by Nigel Thrift, vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick, and will focus on A levels in maths, the sciences, languages, geography, history and Classics.

Read the full article.

A major A-level overhaul

From The Telegraph, by  :

[…] on Wednesday Mr Gove will set out a further reform of the qualification – effectively turning the clock back to the 90s before exams were overhauled by Labour.

[…] under the new plan:

• AS-levels will become a standalone qualification with results no longer counting towards final A-level marks;

• Pupils will be able to take new-style AS-levels over one or two years, with qualifications covering exactly half the content of the full version;

• Full A-levels will be completely separate from AS and turned into “linear” qualifications, with all exams sat at the end of the two-year course.

[…] The move is likely to prove controversial among some universities because it will stop them using AS marks to award provisional places on degree courses.

[…] the Russell Group […] would form a new academic board to advise Ofqual on the content of A-levels.

Read the full article.

More on ban of calculators in tests for 11-year-olds

Press release from DfE and discussion of underlying statistics in fullfact.org. A table from fullfact.org

based on Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS):

From TIMSS 2007: England rank bottom of all sampled countries for restricting calculator use in the maths classroom


Ofqual announces changes to A levels

A press release from Ofqual:

Ofqual has today (Friday, 9 November) announced that from September 2013 students in England will no longer be able to sit A level exams in January, after the proposal received strong support following a three month consultation into A level reform. The change will also address recent concerns over how many times students can sit their exams by reducing resit opportunities. […]

Key findings from the consultation are published today and show support for:

  • the principle of higher education engagement with A level design, however there was less support for universities “endorsing” each A-level
  • students being assessed at the end of each of their first and second year of study
  • the removal of January exams and reduced resit opportunities
  • increasing synoptic assessment in A levels, allowing students to integrate and apply their skills, knowledge and understanding with breadth and depth
  • reducing internal assessment.

Full text of the press release. Related reports:


Calculators banned in primary school maths exams

By  in  The Telegraph:

Calculators are to be banned in primary school maths exams as part of a Government drive to boost standards of mental arithmetic, it was announced today.

Pupils will be required to complete sums using pen and paper amid fears under-11s in England are already more reliant on electronic devices than peers in most other countries.
The change – being introduced from 2014 – coincides with the publication of a draft primary school curriculum that recommends delaying the use of calculators as part of maths lessons.
Currently, children are expected to use them at the age of seven, but this is likely to be put back to nine or 10 under the Coalition’s reforms.
Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister, said that an over-reliance on calculators meant pupils were failed to get the

rigorous grounding in mental and written arithmetic that they needed to progress onto secondary education.
Pupils should not use the devices until they know their times tables off by heart and understand the methods used to add, subtract, multiply and divide, she said.

Read full article