Curriculum coverage fears ahead of GCSE and A level exams

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Only 29% of teachers working with pupils due to sit GCSE or A levels this year say they have covered more than 90% of the curriculum content.

Research evidence from the National Education Union (NEU) has revealed concerns about a lack of preparedness ahead of this summer’s exam season because of the disruption to learning caused by the pandemic and on-going problems with pupil and staff absence.

A survey involving around 1,800 NEU members asked them how much of the original curriculum content they thought most of their students will be able to “adequately cover” before GCSE and A level examinations take place.

While 15% said most pupils would cover all of the required content and a further 14% said most pupils would cover 90-99% of the content, a significant number – 25% – believe that two-thirds or less of curriculum content has been adequately covered, including 6% who said that most pupils would cover less than half of the curriculum.

A common theme among respondents was the lateness of the publication of advanced information about the content of this summer’s exams. One respondent said: “It would have been better for the advanced information to come out earlier … we could have planned to effectively teach everything with an emphasis on what would be in the exam.”

Some exam content, texts, topics and sub-topics, themes and skills due to be assessed have been available for the majority of GCSE, AS and A level subjects, but this information was only published in February.

The aim was to help students focus their revision without providing exact questions that will appear.

Other adaptations include a choice of topics in GCSEs like English literature, history and geography, and support materials in maths and some science exams such as formulae or equation sheets. There are changes to the requirements for practical assessments in sciences and art and design, too.

Ofqual’s chief regulator Jo Saxton has previously confirmed that grading this year will be more generous than pre-pandemic in order to “recognise the challenges these students have faced”.

However, when asked if the government has done enough to support schools and curriculum recovery ahead of national assessments, 68% of the NEU’s respondents said “no”.

The survey findings were published to coincide with the NEU’s annual conference in Bournemouth over Easter. Commenting, Dr Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, said: “The government has failed to get a grip on exams for two successive years. It appeared determined to achieve the hat-trick when it spent months dragging its heels on the publication of advice for 2022.

It is inevitable that school leaders, teachers and support staff feel the strain. Their work is made harder by this government, and as this survey shows very many of them feel let down and abandoned.

“The NEU always argued that advanced information must come at the start of the academic year. Instead, it came just in time for revision. This does little or nothing to help students and teachers prioritise their teaching and learning and therefore mitigate the differential lost learning. The gaps in content coverage are now down to chance, with the government being the sole architect of this lottery.”

  • Ofqual: Guidance: Subject-by-subject support for GCSE, AS and A level students in 2022, February 7, 2022: https://bit.ly/3LkTbFa
  • Ofqual: Collection: GCSE, AS and A level qualifications in 2022, last updated February 2022: https://bit.ly/3uCSlO6
  • Saxton: Ofqual’s approach to grading exams and assessments in summer 2022 and autumn 2021, September 2021: https://bit.ly/3386PKB


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