GCSE & KS4 reform

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Ofqual Consultation - July 2014

Completing GCSE, AS and A Level Reform - Consultation Response Submission from the Geographical Association

New GCSE announced - 09.04.14

The Department for Education announced the new content criteria for geography GCSE on 9 April 2014, for first teaching in September 2016. The revised qualification includes a number of significant changes, including a rebalance between physical and human geography content, a requirement that all students study the geography of the UK in depth and use a wide range of investigative skills and approaches, including mathematics and statistics. There is a requirement for at least two examples of fieldwork to be undertaken outside school. Ofqual has also confirmed assessment arrangements for the new Geography GCSE.

Whilst the GA has been active in advising the DfE on the content of the new GCSE, we have also been steadfast in our opposition to Ofqual’s proposal that fieldwork be assessed solely through terminal examinations. We regard these as an inadequate means of assessing rich learning processes such as fieldwork, and we therefore fundamentally disagree with Ofqual’s decision to assess fieldwork in this way. Once the new GCSE is underway, we will be monitoring the impact on the provision of GCSE fieldwork carefully, in order to protect the quality of the experience students receive. We hope our members will, as always, help to keep us informed of developments in schools and be willing to share examples of best practice. We will continue to share our views and evidence about quality fieldwork with both the DfE and Ofqual.

Curriculum reform

Over the next few years there are going to be significant changes made to curriculum and assessment. This page has been designed to provide you with a quick and handy guide to the changes that are taking place in qualifications and assessment at key stage 4 in England with links to websites and documents that will provide you with further information.

What's changing?

Following Michael Gove’s announcement of an overhaul to GCSEs, the Department for Education (DfE) is seeking views on the proposed subject content and assessment objectives for new GCSEs through a public consultation.

The proposals by the Secretary of State for Education, which are planned to take effect in 2015, include a numerical grading system and an end to controlled assessment (CA) or coursework in favour of end of course exams.

On 7 February 2013 the Secretary of State announced a reform of GCSEs, a move which replaces earlier plans to introduce new qualifications called English Baccalaureate Certificates.

Read the announcement here

The Government stated that the reformed GCSEs will remain universal qualifications accessible to the same proportion of pupils that currently sits GCSE exams at the end of key stage 4. The Secretary of State noted that the level of what is widely considered to be a pass will be made more demanding, and that at the top end they will provide proper preparation for A level. This is to be achieved through a balance of more challenging subject content and more rigorous assessment structures, which look set to include less modules and a focus on final exams.

The changes will apply to GCSEs in English language, English literature, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, combined science (double award), history and geography for first teaching from 2015. Changes to other subjects will follow as soon as possible after that, with the aim that new qualifications are in place for teaching from September 2016.

The Government's intention for these changes is to raise standards, restore rigour, end grade inflation, and to better prepare students for future studies and employability. The Government also intends these qualification reforms to help us match the achievements of those in the highest-performing jurisdictions around the world.

What is the GA's position?

The Geographical Association (GA) supports the desire to raise standards but has previously advised on a number of points, notably that a change in qualification alone is unlikely to raise standards and that significant attention should be paid to supporting schools and teachers through training and guidance to ensure effective qualification reform.

The GA also believes all students should be challenged and rewarded with a clear, precise and widely-understood measure of achievement, and advise that if CA is removed from geography there should still be a specific requirement for fieldwork to be included in all GCSE courses.

We consider rewarding students with highly-developed fieldwork skills to be an important aspect of assessment in geography. We sent this letter to the Secretary of State in July 2013, which specifically addresses the importance of coursework and advises the Secretary of State to re-consider plans for exam only assessment in GCSE geography.

A further letter was sent to Elizabeth Truss, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, in December 2013 expressing the Association’s view that fieldwork in geography should not be assessed purely through theoretical examination questions. The GA’s position is not to advocate internal assessment but rather a form of assessment which will allow candidates to show evidence of the applied knowledge, skills and understanding they have developed through their first-hand experiences.

In the Reformed GCSE Subject Content Consultation document by the DfE (June, 2013), the subject content, attainment objectives and standards of achievement for geography reads:

“The proposals for geography focus on essential subject knowledge in: human and physical geography (including people and environment); location and place knowledge; and geographical skills and fieldwork. Students will need to apply their geographical knowledge, skills and understanding to real world contexts, including fieldwork, and to contemporary situations and issues; and develop well-evidenced geographical argument drawing on their deeper knowledge and understanding of geographical issues.

“Students must carry out fieldwork studies in at least two contrasting environments beyond the classroom and school grounds. Assessment of fieldwork will be by means of an externally marked examination.” (pp.7-8)

GA consultation responses

Reformed GCSE subject consultation - GA response to DfE following feedback from GA groups and committees. (16.07.13)

The DfE consultation will run from 11 June until 20 August. (25.06.13)

In parallel with this consultation Ofqual, the examinations regulator, are consulting on the revised regulatory requirements for the reformed GCSEs in a separate consultation. (June 13)

The GA's response to the Secondary School Accountability Consultation The GA highlights the importance of geography and argues that humanities should be compulsory at KS4. (02.05.13)

DfE key stage 4 qualification reform GA guidance document Information about the reformed Key Stage 4 qualifications and the implications for teachers. (12.03.13)

Reforming key stage 4 qualifications consultation response - Submission from the Geographical Association In 2012 the GA provided a response to a consultation on the proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates held by the DfE. Although these new qualifications have now been abandoned, the response is still very much relevant to the new GCSE reforms. (2012)

What Next?

In brief, we intend to:

  • continue to advise the DfE on the views of our members in order to influence the outcome of the consultation process and the impact of this on final decisions
  • ensure our principles for a broad and balanced curriculum, providing choice and challenge for all, are shared
  • continue to work closely with Ofqual and awarding bodies to ensure that the value and distinctive nature of geography 14-16 is recognised
  • work hard to ensure that 14-16 students are offered a world class geography curriculum experience, based on an outstanding curriculum in which teachers are richly supported.

Links and resources

DfE - Latest news and information about Key Stage 4 qualifications on the DfE website

GCSE reforms Q&A - Very useful Q and A on the Guardian website

Comment on this page

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1 Comment

Isobel George

Isobel George GA Member

There is no rational for using a numerical system; it is change for the sake of change.

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