How many degrees in a U turn?

I had the luxury last week of watching the ministerial announcement on education live on TV.  The big question seemed to be how much of a ‘U turn’ this actually was.  In terms of a change of direction, how much of a change?

Well, certainly there are some bodies floating in the water.  There will no longer be a move towards having a single Awarding Organisation commissioned to accredit a particular subject.  I know that there’s been some debate over this but I think a choice is likely to keep the AOs customer focused.  The name GCSE will be retained, instead of being replaced by ‘English Baccalaureate Certificate’ which means that students currently in Years 8 and above won’t be following courses that are being demolished to make way for a shinier replacement.

However a number of developments are still being actively followed up and this is a longer list.

For a start, the timescale: reformed GCSEs in sciences are supposed to be ready for first teaching in 2015 and first examination in 2017.  However Ofqual has since raised concerns over this and remember that they are key players in this.  As expected, assessment will be linear and we can expect fewer questions in exam papers with more marks on each.  Science will be expected to have a greater focus upon quantitative problem-solving.

Controlled Assessments may or may not survive; there’s a case to be made, though I suspect it’s not a done deal that they stay.  However there is an acceptance that different subjects may need to be assessed in different ways.

Expect an end to the tiering of papers, the possible use of a ‘core + extension’ model and continued emphasis upon extended writing.  Don’t assume that new specifications will replace old on a ‘one for one’ basis.  The ‘core + additional’ model may not survive, for example; a two year double award course would only have exams at the end.

What also emerged, though with far less skirmishing, were the draft revised programmes of study for all subjects in KS1-3. The proposed KS3 programme for science bears close reading.  Running to 11 pages, there is significant detail in terms of content; astronomy and geology are out and there is extended coverage of human biology and classical physics.  ‘How science works’ is replaced by ‘Working scientifically’, which is to be delivered through the content.  There are, of course, no level descriptors.

There is also significance in the proposed timescale.  It is suggested that the current programme be disapplied from September 2013 and the new programme applied from September 2014, thus allowing for a phased transfer.  Furthermore it is proposed that the implementation is simultaneous for all years in a key stage, as opposed to being introduced on a rolling programme.  Key documentation is at and the consultation period is open until April 16th.

Is it a U-turn?  Well, it’s a change.  I think the upset last summer showed what can happen if too many factors in an assessment system are changed at once.  We don’t want to go there again.  However there are other features which can be seen as a continuing trend.  Bit of a dodgem car moment perhaps.

Ed Walsh

Ed Walsh is Science adviser for Cornwall Learning. In the past, he has worked extensively with teachers, schools, local authorities and national agencies in relation to science education

What are your thoughts on the upcoming changes to GCSE? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

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