Speaking and listening axed despite strong opposition

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The exams regulator is facing an outcry from teachers and professionals after it confirmed plans to stop speaking and listening assessments from counting towards final grades in GCSE English and English language.

The exams regulator is facing an outcry from teachers and professionals after it confirmed plans to stop speaking and listening assessments from counting towards final grades in GCSE English and English language.

Despite chief regulator Glenys Stacey admitting the move would hit students who have already completed their first year of study, Ofqual confirmed its intention to go ahead in a statement last week.

The move is also being made despite 92 per cent of respondents to Ofqual’s consultation on the issue disagreeing with the removal of speaking and listening marks from grades.

An open letter from the Communication Trust and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists this week said the move was “wrong” and would have a ”negative impact on pupils”.

Meanwhile, headteachers said that year 11 students who were assessed for speaking and listening last year will feel “cheated”.

Ofqual, however, maintains it has evidence that speaking and listening assessments are not being carried out consistently, which it says “creates unfairness”.

The decision means that students’ speaking and listening skills will now be reported separately on the GCSE certificate alongside their GCSE grade. This will come into effect for awards made next summer (2014).

Ms Stacey said: “We know that this will be unpopular with many teachers, and will affect students who have already completed their first year of studies, but we think it right to make these changes and to act as quickly as possible because the current arrangements result in unfairness.

“Exam boards cannot be sure that speaking and listening assessments are being carried out and marked consistently across all schools, and we have evidence that they are not. That creates unfairness, and that is unacceptable.”

It follows last year’s English GCSE grading fiasco which saw grade boundaries moved mid-year, meaning students sitting in the summer had to score more marks to achieve a C than those sitting in January.

An Ofqual investigation blamed the “poor design” of the qualification which made it “vulnerable to the pressures of the accountability measures for schools”. Ofqual also says it found evidence of over-marking of controlled assessments. The Ofqual statement this week said: “Tighter controls have already been introduced for written controlled assessments, but speaking and listening cannot be covered by those arrangements.”

In their open letter to Ofqual, Anne Fox, director of the Communication Trust, and Kamini Gadhok, CEO of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, offered to help Ofqual find a solution to the issue. 

They wrote: “Removing the speaking and listening element of the English/English language assessment is likely to reduce its importance and lower its status among teaching professionals, who will inevitably focus on those aspects of the assessment that they are held accountable for. 

“Our strong fear is that if speaking and listening does not contribute to the school accountability measure, then there will be no incentive for it to be taught in schools.

“The removal of speaking and listening from grading will reduce the focus on, and quality of, the teaching and learning of speaking and listening in schools and will have a negative impact on pupils.

“We believe this decision is the wrong one and that insufficient attention has been paid to developing an alternative workable solution. We are again offering our assistance, and that of our sector, in helping to shape a solution.”

School leaders also expressed dismay at the move. The National Association of Head Teachers said the decision “flew in the face of reason”.

General secretary Russell Hobby added: “Thousands of students are more than halfway through their preparation for taking GCSE English in 2014, but now face the disruption of having to sit a different mix of assessment processes. 

“Those students going into year 11 who were assessed for speaking and listening last year will feel cheated, having already prepared for something they felt was going to contribute to their GCSE grades.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “The prime purpose of our qualifications system should be to assess what young people know, understand and can do, not to service the current overinflated, high stakes accountability system.”

Ms Stacey stressed to schools that speaking and listening skills are still required to be taught. 

She said: “We know there are concerns that these skills will not be taught if they don’t count towards final grades and accountability measures.

“We must stress that the curriculum has not changed, and these skills will be assessed as they are now and the results reported,” she warned.

The change also sees the balance of the GCSE changed. Currently, controlled assessments make up 60 per cent of marks (20 per cent speaking and listening and 40 per cent reading and writing), with written exams counting for 40 per cent. 

In future, written exams will count for 60 per cent of marks and the reading and writing controlled assessments for 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has pledged to stick with the speaking and listening assessments. For more on this, see our story here.


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