Tightening of GCSEs in four subjects ordered

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EXAM boards have been ordered to tighten up GCSEs in four subjects over fears that they have become easier for pupils to pass.

Exams regulator Ofqual has announced changes to English literature, maths, history and geography GCSEs to ensure that students cover the whole of the curriculum.

It comes after concerns were raised that pupils were sitting papers after only studying topics that were likely to come up in the exams, rather than the entire course.

Ofqual chief executive Glenys Stacey said: “We are tightening GCSEs in these key subjects to make sure students cover the whole curriculum.

“We want our young people to have the best possible educational experience, with qualifications that prepare them for the future.

“The exam boards have welcomed this steer from the regulator and are to look again at these qualifications and how the rules are interpreted to make sure that young people taking them have to study an appropriate range and depth of the subject.”

The announcement is thought to be part of an attempt to move away from teaching to the test and to encourage a wider level study where pupils learn about every aspect of a subject area.

Ofqual said GCSE geography will be improved for from September, maths will change from this November, while history and English literature papers will be changed from September next year.

In December last year video footage emerged of a conversation between an undercover reporter and a chief examiner at Edexcel who claimed the company’s GCSE geography tests were not as difficult as those from other exam boards.

Speaking at an Edexcel seminar in Birmingham in November, Edexcel’s Steph Warren said teachers should choose their exam because “you don’t have to teach a lot”.

Edexcel later announced that an internal review, analysing data from all five awarding bodies for GCSE geography, history and English had found that candidates were “no more or less likely” to achieve certain grades with its exams compared with other boards.

Appearing in front of a select committee this week, Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board suggested that examiners which have seen questions relating to future exams could be banned from attending seminars with teachers. The move was a “sacrifice” that may need to be made to regain the public’s trust in the exams system, he said. His comments came in the wake of controversy over allegations that examiners had been secretly advising teachers on how to boost GCSE and A-level results.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are pleased Ofqual is taking action to ensure that GCSEs in these subjects are more challenging, requiring students to demonstrate that they have covered the whole curriculum. We want all exams in England to stand comparison with, and be as rigorous as, those in the best-performing education jurisdictions.”

Last month the president of a major education conference, held in Leeds, blamed Government pressure to improve results for creating a “toxicity” in the exams system.

In his opening address Prof Mick Waters, the president of this year’s North of England Education Conference, told delegates the “door to examination scrutiny is now ajar”, following the undercover filming of exam board staff briefing teachers on A-level exam content.

He said: “You’ll have seen the footage. What that light falls upon might still be the gold standard but it is slightly tarnished because there’s something toxic in the air inside that room.

“The high stakes testing regime that drives diligent and professional teachers and examiners creates a toxicity in the system that leads many young people towards a lacklustre, rather than a golden learning experience.”

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