French and German GCSE grading to be less severe from 2020

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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This is long overdue and has hopefully resulted from teacher complaints. A Level languages also ...

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Exam boards are to be told to adjust grading standards in French and German because the subjects are being marked too severely.

There has long been concern in schools that the severe and continuing drop in language GCSE entries is because it is harder to achieve the top grades in these subjects.

After investigating the issue, exams watchdog Ofqual this week confirmed that “that there is a sufficiently strong case to make an adjustment to grading standards in French and German, but not Spanish”.

Dr Michelle Meadows, Ofqual’s director of strategy, risk and research, said: “Building on our extensive body of work, we have looked at this issue from a wide range of different perspectives. We are satisfied that a sufficiently strong case exists for us to intervene to adjust grading standards in GCSE French and German. We are talking to exam boards about how best to implement this adjustment.”

Ofqual’s investigation included statistical evidence, scrutiny of students’ work, and judgements from senior examiners.

The watchdog will now work with exam boards to implement these adjustments for next summer’s exams, although changes may be phased in over more than one year.

This year, 42,791 students took GCSE German, compared to 62,932 in 2014 and 76,695 in 2009. In French, 130,831 sat the GCSE exam in 2019, compared to 177,288 in 2014 and 201,940 in 2009.

School leaders, long concerned about the fall in language entries are happy with the outcome of Ofqual’s investigation, although now want to see similar action taken at A level.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have repeatedly argued that modern foreign languages are graded too severely and we are delighted that Ofqual has now decided to take action. The take-up of these subjects has fallen catastrophically over the course of several years and the perception that they are particularly difficult has been one of the drivers of this problem.

“It is by no means the whole solution. There is a severe shortage of modern foreign language teachers and this may become more challenging in the context of Brexit because schools rely heavily on being able to recruit staff from EU countries. And we need a national strategy to enthuse young people about learning languages.

“We will also continue to press Ofqual to tackle severe grading in A level languages where entries in French and German have also plummeted. It will obviously help if we can improve the numbers taking languages at GCSE but the situation is so grave that we believe there is a compelling case for action at A level as well.”


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This is long overdue and has hopefully resulted from teacher complaints. A Level languages also need to be addressed urgently, particularly French where the grade boundaries for AQA French are unacceptably high and penalise able linguists who chose this language.
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