Seven reasons why we face exam reforms ‘turmoil’


School leaders have launched an attack on the new national curriculum, labelling it 'nebulous' and lacks rigour. At the same time, they have warned that delays and poor planning in seven key areas are obstructing preparations for the examination reforms.

Secondary school leaders have predicted three years of “turmoil” because of delays to key decisions in the government’s examination reforms.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has published a list of seven areas in which it says poor planning is causing problems.

The list, which is published below, raises issues with the implementation of new performance measures, the grading and awarding for new-look GCSEs, and SEN reforms, among other areas. It includes decisions or announcements which have yet to be made by either the Department for Education (DfE) or exams watchdog Ofqual.

At the same time, ASCL has also said that large parts of the new national curriculum lack rigour and will not be fit-for-purpose.

The stark warnings came at the union’s annual conference which took place in Birmingham last week. ASCL, which represents 18,000 secondary school and college leaders, says that if these issues are not tackled it will lead to “three years of turmoil for students and teachers”.

The delays are already “obstructing teachers’ ability to plan and prepare students”, it adds, and has called on the government to respond urgently.

Schools are due to begin the teaching of reformed GCSEs in maths, English language and literature from September 2015, with other subjects to follow in 2016.

ASCL’s curriculum and qualifications specialist, Sue Kirkham, said: “We don’t yet know what format these examinations will take, what the precise content of the syllabus will be in most subjects, or what kinds of questions will be asked.

“All of this needs to be known before teachers and school leaders can plan effectively. Also, awarding bodies need to be trusted to brief teachers ahead of the changes so that teachers can begin to prepare.”

Meanwhile, in his address to the conference on Saturday (March 22), general secretary Brian Lightman said that despite rigour being at the heart of education secretary Michael Gove’s argument for curriculum reform, this had not been achieved.

Speaking to around 1,200 delegates, Mr Lightman said: “Despite all of the rhetoric about rigour, large parts of this secondary curriculum are so vague and nebulous as to be meaningless and impossible to implement.”

He cited the example of languages, which says that pupils should be able to “listen to a variety of forms of the spoken language and respond appropriately”, but asked: “Which forms? Post-graduate lectures? Political speeches? Announcements at railway stations?”

After listing a range of other examples, he asked: “What has happened to the rhetoric about defining the core knowledge that people should have? Where is the guarantee of rigour? 

“This curriculum is like the Emperor’s New Clothes. It is a hyped package which does not bear close scrutiny. There is no evidence whatsoever that following this curriculum will position us in a better place than the one it replaces, which allowed us plenty of flexibility and could easily have been improved.”

Mr Lightman said it would be down to teachers to “put rigour back into the curriculum”. He continued: “The challenge for school and college leaders is to rescue the curriculum before it withers away, bringing it back to life with a vision and values which inspire and motivate our young people.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Our new national curriculum was developed following extensive consultation with a wide range of experts. It sets out very clearly what pupils are expected to learn, while giving teachers the freedom to use their expertise and creativity in the way it is taught.

“We have provided funding to Teaching Schools to help prepare the schools they work with for the new curriculum. There is also a wide range of resources available that are free for all schools to use, including in mathematics, science and computing.”

Exam reform: ASCL’s seven fears

  • Key stage 2 tests: Pupils’ progress in secondary school is based on how they do in these tests yet the way these will be assessed and graded has not yet been decided, even though the consultation was held last year.

  • New GCSE grading and awarding: English and maths are supposed to be ready for teaching for September 2015 but we don’t know yet what the new grades will mean. For example, what will be the equivalent of a current grade C or an A*. The Ofqual consultation on this has been delayed. 

  • GCSE subjects other than maths, English and the EBacc: We do not yet know when other subjects will be redeveloped into the new structure and what their assessment will look like.

  • Progress 8: This will become the new performance measure in 2016 but it will take several years before this gives a clear picture of performance. 

  • Vocational courses: These are also under redevelopment but there is still uncertainty over which will exist in the longer term, particularly post-16. 

  • Post-16 performance tables: These determine how 6th forms will be judged but we still await decisions following a consultation in the autumn. 

  • New SEN Code of Practice: The changes are due to be implemented in September 2014 but the final version of the code has not yet been agreed.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Claim Free Subscription