Fury at plan to ‘downgrade’ speaking and listening skills

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The English subject community has reacted angrily to proposals that would mean speaking and listening assessments no longer count towards students’ final GCSE grade.

The English subject community has reacted angrily to proposals that would mean speaking and listening assessments no longer count towards students’ final GCSE grade.

Exams watchdog Ofqual has launched a consultation on changes to GCSE English and English language which would see final grades calculated from the written papers and the reading and writing controlled assessments only.

The National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE), said the proposal was “essentially a downgrading of the importance of speaking and listening skills”, while former children’s laureate Michael Rosen labelled it a “massively backward step”.

The proposals, which apply in England only, include a requirement for exam boards to report speaking and listening achievement separately on the GCSE certificate.

 It is intended these changes will take effect from summer 2014, meaning they could affect students currently in the first year of their GCSEs.

Currently, controlled assessment makes up 60 per cent of the marks for GCSE English (20 per cent speaking/listening, 40 per cent reading/writing), with written exams counting for 40 per cent. 

The changes would see written exams counting for 60 per cent and controlled assessments for 40 per cent.

NATE co-director Jo Walsh said: “This would certainly be a retrograde step given what employers have said about the crucial importance of these skills for the future employability of young people. 

“Simply to say that it will be ‘certificated separately’ is not good enough. Everybody knows that it is the overall English grade that will matter most to the students, to their parents, to the teachers and to the schools.”

Writing in his blog, Mr Rosen said the plan was “a clear attempt to say to teachers, parents and students that ‘English’ equals writing”.

He added: “The curriculum, the teachers, the students and the parents will be squeezed into a process in which sitting on your own writing is the sole marker of your abilities. This is a massively backward step to take.”

Ofqual said the reason behind the proposals was to protect against a repeat of the problems with GCSE English grading last year, when grade boundaries were moved meaning it was easier for January entrants to get higher grades than summer entrants.

Chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “Speaking and listening are, of course, very important skills. The proposals should not change what is taught in schools. These skills will still be assessed and the results will still be reported. But we have found that the design of the GCSE English qualification is seriously flawed. The proposed changes will make it more robust and will help protect against any repeat of the problems experienced last year. They will also mean a better balance between controlled assessment and written exams for the qualification.”

Ofqual’s investigation into the GCSE English fiasco last summer concluded that the qualification was poorly designed, with this structure particularly vulnerable to the pressures of school accountability measures. 

However, Mr Walsh added: “It is unclear how this will address the issue which Ofqual claims to have identified, that GCSE English is ‘vulnerable to the pressures of the accountability measures’ – something which reveals the issue (whatever the problems with the design, marking, etc) to be a wider one of pressure on schools, competition and targets.”

The Ofqual consultation document is online at http://comment.ofqual.gov.uk/speaking-and-listening/


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