Policy

Schools and college qualifications and curriculum

Issue

Employers, universities and colleges are often dissatisfied with school leavers’ literacy and numeracy even though the proportion of young people achieving good grades has gone up in recent years. Around 42% of employers need to organise additional training for young people joining them from school or college.

We believe making GCSEs and A levels more rigorous will prepare students properly for life after school. It is also necessary to introduce a curriculum that gives individual schools and teachers greater freedom to teach in the way they know works and that ensures that all pupils acquire a core of essential knowledge in English, mathematics and sciences.

Finally, we need to address literacy standards in schools and make sure pupils develop good reading skills early.

Actions

National curriculum

To give teachers more freedom over their teaching, we are:

  • introducing a slimmed-down national curriculum for 5- to 16-year-olds to be taught in maintained schools from 2014

National curriculum assessment

To improve literacy standards early so all pupils develop their enjoyment of reading and are able to access the rest of the curriculum, we will:

  • make sure all pupils take a statutory phonics screening check at the end of year 1 to identify those that need additional support
  • from 2013, introduce a second phonics screening check in year 2 for pupils whose results were below the level expected in the year 1 check

To raise standards for all children, we will:

To give schools greater freedom, we will:

  • remove the current system of national curriculum levels so that schools have the freedom to design their own assessments against the new national curriculum

Key stage 4 (GCSE) and key stage 5 (A level) qualifications

To make sure school leavers are better prepared for life after school, we will:

  • reform GCSEs so they provide a strong foundation for further academic and vocational study
  • reform A and AS levels to better prepare students for higher education
  • encourage more 16- to 18-year-olds to take up mathematics and science subjects

Background

National curriculum

On 20 January 2011, Education Secretary Michael Gove announced a review of the national curriculum in England. In December 2011 we published ‘The framework for the national curriculum: a report by the expert panel’, which made recommendations to the review. The government’s response to this report was published in June 2012.

The draft national curriculum was subject to a public consultation between February and April 2013, and a revised version was published on 8 July 2013. It was subject to a final public consultation in July and August 2013. We published the new national curriculum on 11 September 2013, and it will be taught from September 2014. The new curriculum for all subjects contains the essential knowledge that all children should learn, but will not dictate how teachers should teach.

Phonics screening check

The phonics screening check was developed by phonics experts with headteachers, teachers and other interested specialists. It was piloted in around 300 schools during 2011 and was independently evaluated.

The first statutory phonics screening check for all year 1 pupils took place in June 2012. From 2013, pupils who have not reached the required standard at the end of year 1 should receive extra support from their school so their phonic decoding skills can improve. They will then retake the screening check in year 2.

Key stage 2 national curriculum assessment

In 2010, the Secretary of State commissioned Lord Bew to undertake an independent review of testing, assessment and accountability at key stage 2. Lord Bew published the final report of his review in June 2011.

Following Lord Bew’s recommendation, from 2013 there will be no externally marked test of English writing. Pupils’ ability in the composition element of writing will be subject to teacher assessment only. The new grammar, punctuation and spelling test will assess pupils’ ability in these skills.

Key stage 4 qualifications (GCSEs)

Following a public consultation, the Education Secretary announced proposals for comprehensive reform of GCSEs on 7 February 2013.

In November 2013, we published the subject content for reformed GCSEs in:

These GCSEs will be taught in schools from September 2015.

In April 2014, we published the subject content for reformed GCSEs in:

These GCSEs will be taught in schools from September 2016.

In January 2015, we published the subject content for reformed GCSEs in:

These GCSEs will also be taught in schools from September 2016.

In February 2015, we published the subject content for reformed GCSEs in:

These GCSEs will also be taught in schools from September 2016.

On 16 January 2015 we announced that first teaching of design and technology would be delayed to 2017.

We will develop subject content for GCSEs in the remaining subjects for teaching from 2017.

Key stage 5 qualifications (A levels)

On 22 January 2013, the Education Secretary wrote to Ofqual to confirm that A levels would be reformed and that universities would be more closely involved in their development. He also announced that AS levels would become standalone qualifications.

Between April and July 2013, Professor Mark E. Smith, Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, led an independent review of A level subject content. Following a public consultation, Professor Smith submitted his final recommendations on subject content in a report to the Secretary of State, who accepted them.

In April 2014 we published content for revised A and AS levels in:

These A levels will be taught in schools and colleges from September 2015.

We are working with universities to reform the content of remaining A levels. The Russell Group of universities set up the A Level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB) to review subject content for ancient and modern languages, maths, further maths and geography. We accepted ALCAB’s final recommendations in December 2014.

As a result, in December 2014 we published content for revised AS and A levels in:

These A levels will be taught in schools and colleges from September 2016.

In January 2015 we published content for revised A and AS levels in:

These A levels will also be taught in schools and colleges from September 2016.

In February 2015 we published content for revised A and AS levels in:

These A levels will also be taught in schools and colleges from September 2016.

In December 2014 we also published content for revised AS and A levels in:

These will be taught in schools and colleges from September 2017.

Who we’ve consulted

National curriculum

The ‘National curriculum review: call for evidence’ ran from 20 January to 14 April 2011. The call for evidence received 5,763 responses.

On 7 February 2013, we launched the formal ‘Consultation on reform of the national curriculum in England’. It sought views on the draft national curriculum, including proposals to give teachers greater flexibility with the current curriculum to prepare for the new one. The consultation closed on 16 April 2013 and received over 17,000 responses.

On 8 July 2013 we published our response to that consultation and a revised version which is subject to a short further consultation. The consultation ended on 8 August 2013. We published the summary of responses on 11 September 2013.

National curriculum assessment

The consultation ‘Year 1 phonics screening check’ ran from 22 November 2010 to 14 February 2011. It was aimed at all those with an interest in literacy teaching and learning and received 1,071 responses. We used the consultation responses to develop the pilot and the final phonics screening check.

On 17 July 2013 we launched a consultation on primary assessment and accountability. We are seeking views on the best way to measure pupils’ progress through primary school, including the possibility of introducing a test in reception year. This consultation runs until 11 October 2013.

Key stage 4 qualifications (GCSEs)

The consultation ‘Reforming key stage 4 qualifications’ ran from 17 September to 10 December 2012. We sought the views of schools, further and higher education institutions, employers, awarding organisations, curriculum and assessment experts, and the general public. We published our response to the consultation on 7 February 2013.

On 11 June 2013 we launched a consultation on subject content and assessment objectives of the new GCSEs. The consultation closed on 20 August 2013.

In parallel with our consultation, Ofqual ran a consultation on the regulatory requirements for the reformed GCSEs which closed on 3 September 2013. Ofqual published its response to the consultation on 1 November 2013.

On 16 July 2014 we launched a consultation on GCSE content for:

  • art and design
  • computer science
  • dance
  • music
  • PE

The consultation runs until 19 September 2014.

Key stage 5 qualifications (A levels)

Ofqual ran the ‘A level reform consultation’ from July to September 2012 and received over 1,000 responses from parents, students, schools, colleges, higher education institutions and employers. Ofqual published a report on the consultation in November 2012.

Following the Mark Smith review, we ran a consultation on the content of reformed A levels between October and December 2013. We published the consultation response on 9 April 2014.

Ofqual ran a consultation in parallel on the proposed changes to the assessment objectives and assessment arrangements for each of the subjects covered in this consultation and on the regulatory aspects of the reformed A levels. Ofqual published the consultation results on 9 April 2014.

On 16 July 2014 we launched a consultation on A level content for:

  • ancient languages
  • modern languages
  • geography
  • mathematics
  • further mathematics
  • dance
  • music
  • PE

The consultation runs until 19 September 2014.

Impact

There is evidence on the potential of phonics to help a large proportion of disadvantaged pupils, including boys and pupils with special educational needs or disabilities.

In April 2014 we published impact assessments looking into the possible negative impacts the reformed GCSEs and reformed A and AS levels might have on students because of their age, religion or belief, pregnancy or maternity, sexual orientation or as a result of gender reassignment.

Bills and legislation

Legislation for the phonics screening check forms part of the Education (National Curriculum) (Key Stage 1 Assessment Arrangements) (England) Order 2004 (SI 2004/2783) made under the Education Act 2002.

The National Curriculum review is working within existing legislation, within the Education Act 2002, part 6.

Who we’re working with

We will be working closely with the independent regulators Ofqual and with exam boards in the reform of GCSEs and A level examinations. Ofqual will be considering the arrangements to regulate the new qualifications effectively.

We are also working with the A level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB), set up by The Russell Group of universities, who will advise us on the content of reformed A levels in mathematics, further mathematics, geography and languages.