Ofqual confirms assessment arrangements for a number of new GCSE, A level and AS qualifications that will be fairer for students.

Ofqual today (Wednesday, April 9) confirms assessment arrangements for a number of new GCSE, A level and AS qualifications that will be fairer for students, free teachers to teach and provide results that will instil greater confidence.

Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey said: “We are putting in place arrangements that will allow teachers to focus on teaching their subjects and not just constant assessments.

“For the new GCSEs and A levels, assessment will be by exam only, except where the essential skills for a subject cannot be tested in an exam.

“Non-exam assessments do not always test the skills they are meant to assess, they can disrupt classroom time better spent on teaching and learning and may provide limited evidence of performance across a group of students if they all get similar marks. Importantly, non-exam assessments can narrow the focus of what is taught, and can be vulnerable to malpractice, meaning the playing field is not level for all students.

“Where there are subjects that include skills that can’t be assessed by exams, we have looked at them individually to develop approaches that best support teaching and learning and that will provide valid and reliable results.”

In a package of announcements today, Ofqual:

  • Confirms assessment arrangements, to be introduced for first teaching in 2015, for new A levels in:

    • the sciences: biology, chemistry, physics
    • psychology
    • English language
    • English literature
    • English language and literature
    • art and design
    • business
    • computer science
    • economics
    • history
    • sociology
  • Confirms the regulatory arrangements for new AS levels

  • Confirms assessment arrangements and structure of GCSEs in geography and history, and confirms intention to re-consult on assessment arrangements for GCSEs in the science subjects

  • Launches a new consultation on the structure and assessment of GCSEs in Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) and Ancient Languages, which are due to be introduced for first teaching in 2016

We have produced documents summarising the decisions for GCSE and A level and AS qualifications:

As well as Ofqual’s announcement, the Department for Education (DfE) has also today published the revised content requirements for GCSEs in:

  • science
  • history
  • geography
  • languages

And content requirements for A levels in:

  • English literature
  • English language
  • English literature and language
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • physics
  • psychology
  • history
  • economics
  • business
  • computer science
  • art and design
  • sociology

DfE has announced details of further subjects it wants developed for first teaching in 2016. For GCSE these subjects are:

  • religious studies
  • design and technology
  • art and design
  • drama
  • dance
  • music
  • physical education
  • computer science
  • citizenship studies

For A level they are:

  • religious studies
  • design and technology
  • drama
  • dance
  • music
  • physical education

DfE will lead on a consultation on the content for these subjects. At the same time, Ofqual will consult on the structure and assessment arrangements for them. An exchange of letters between DfE and Ofqual on this can now be found on our website.

Subject specific information

To support today’s announcements, Ofqual has published a number of documents.

Science practicals

The new science A levels will enable teachers to carry out more practical work than the current versions, says Ofqual.

The exams regulator today confirms that two grades will be awarded for the A level science subjects, an exam grade and a pass or fail grade for practical skills.

Students will be required to carry out a minimum of 12 practical activities across the two year course. The exam papers will include questions that test their knowledge and understanding of practical work.

Glenys Stacey said: “The new A level sciences will give teachers the opportunity to carry out much more practical work than they do now. They will be able to help students develop those vital skills across a range of activities and experiments.

“The current arrangements don’t work as they should. Universities tell us that students starting their courses don’t have the practical skills they need.

“We found that under the current arrangements, assessments are predictable, leading to narrow teaching. We also found that students tend to get similar results, all bunched around the top of the scale, making it difficult to differentiate between them. It is also difficult for the exam boards to make sure all of the assessments across all schools are run consistently and securely, due in large part to the need to allow a window of time for schools to take them.”

Ofqual has previously consulted on proposals for the GCSE science subjects to be tiered and for 90 per cent of marks to be allocated to exams and 10 per cent non exam assessment. We have confirmed that they will be tiered qualifications, but want to look again at the assessment arrangements following the consultation responses and the insights gained in the work on A levels.

Fieldwork in GCSE geography

Ofqual today confirms that the new geography GCSE will be exam only. Fieldwork will be compulsory, with skills such as data manipulation, interpretation and analysis tested on the exam papers.

A review of controlled assessment carried out by Ofqual, found a good deal of agreement that carrying out fieldwork is essential for students of GCSE geography.

However, there was less agreement about whether it is possible to assess fieldwork skills as part of GCSE geography assessment, although there was a view that some of the skills can be assessed through written exams.

There were many concerns about the nature of school fieldwork exercises which many schools complete in a single day. Even the most capable students are unlikely to have the time during one day of fieldwork to experiment with alternative approaches to data collection, which means that they are not able to reflect on, further analyse and evaluate their work.

The review also identified concerns over fairness for all students. It found that if teachers designed poor fieldwork exercises, it could prevent students from performing well, or from accessing all of the marking criteria.

Glenys Stacey said: “Fieldwork is clearly an integral part of geography, and will play an important role in the new GCSE. Schools and colleges will have to confirm to the exam boards that fieldwork exercises have taken place.

“We have looked at the evidence from our review of controlled assessment and put in place arrangements for the new qualification that will support teaching and learning of fieldwork and assess the key skills required while providing a more level playing field for students.”

The introduction of the new A level geography qualification has been put back to make sure it builds appropriately on the new geography GCSE. It will be introduced for first teaching in 2016. Ofqual has not made any final decisions on the assessment arrangements for the A level. We have consulted on proposals to reintroduce fieldwork for the A level qualification, counting for 20 per cent of marks.

This reflects the different nature and cohorts of the A level and GCSE qualifications. Smaller numbers of students take the A level qualification, and they are working at a more advanced level, with a possible view to further study at university. This means that it is more manageable for schools and colleges to design, administer and assess high quality fieldwork activities. If the proposal were to go ahead, Ofqual would also be working with the exam boards to make sure that the non-exam assessment elements were designed to test the appropriate skills, be fair across all students and be robust against malpractice.

Assessment in A level English subjects

Ofqual today confirms assessment arrangements for A levels in English literature and English language that provide greater consistency across the different exam boards.

Under current arrangements, exam boards can design their qualifications with non exam assessment counting for anything between 15 and 40 per cent of marks. For the new A levels in the English subjects, the proportion of non-exam assessment, focusing on extended writing, will be fixed at 20 per cent.

Glenys Stacey said: “There are skills in the English subjects that cannot best be assessed in the exam room. But we must make sure that the way the alternative assessments are carried out properly tests the skills we need to test, provides good information to help people differentiate between candidates and is robust against malpractice so they are fair for all students.

“We have found that in the English subjects, the marks for non-exam assessments can be bunched around the top of the scale. Students tend to get better results for their non-exam assessments than for their exams. It is also difficult for exam boards to check that all of the work has been completed by the student alone and that, across all of the schools and colleges, it has been done with the same interpretation of and compliance with the rules.

“That is why we think 20 per cent is an appropriate proportion for the non-exam assessment, and why we will continue to work with exam boards to consider ways to improve how it is designed and implemented.”

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