GCSEs to be overhauled

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A new shake-up of GCSEs will see most coursework abandoned in place of more advanced algebra, challenging classics and practical experiments.

Education Secretary, Michael Gove's, proposals will see a return to a more traditional syllabus for the exam - with more weight given to 19th century authors like Dickens and Jane Austen, concentration on spelling, grammar and punctuation and a boost to Latin and Greek.

In addition, Ofqual - the exams regulator - is consulting over a radical change to the grading system which would make it harder for pupils to get top grade passes.

Instead of the current A* to G grade system, pupils will be awarded points on a scale of one to eight with six, seven and eight being reserved for those who would have got A* or A grades under the present system.

From 2015, GCSEs will also move from coursework to exams at the end of two years and see the virtual ending of controlled assessment,  whereby teachers mark their own pupils’ work.

The new syllabus will be taught in most core subjects from September 2015 with pupils first sitting the new exams in the summer of 2017.

Mr Gove told the Commons the new exams will be 'more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous'.

He added: "By making GCSEs more demanding, more fulfilling, and more stretching we can give our young people the broad, deep and balanced education which will equip them to win in the global race."

Pupils in England will start studying in September 2015 for new GCSEs in English language, English literature, maths, biology, chemistry, physics, combined science, geography and history. They are due sit the first exams in the summer of 2017.

In English literature, pupils will be asked to study at least one play by Shakespeare, Romantic poetry, a 19th century novel, poetry from the 1850s onwards, and fiction or drama since the First World War, according to documents published by the Department for Education.

The new maths GCSE features advanced algebra, statistics, ratio, probability and geometry, while those students who choose to take geography will undertake two different types of fieldwork which will be assessed in an exam.

And in history, pupils will have to complete an in-depth study based on one of three periods - Medieval (500-1500), Early Modern (1450-1750) or Modern (1700 to present day). The new GCSE history course also contains no controlled assessment - coursework completed in the classroom - with exams based on extended essays and short answers.

New science GCSEs contain practical experiments and extended work on topics such as genetics, ecology, energy and space.

Education minister Liz Truss claimed rising results every summer had disguised the fact that exams were getting easier in a 'race to the bottom' by exam boards.

She said: "We cannot carry on with a system that isn’t delivering, where there has been rampant grade inflation and where international league tables tell us we have stagnated compared with the rest of the world.

"For too long we have pretended that students’ results are getting better, whereas actually all that has been happening is that exams have been getting easier and there has been a race to the bottom between exam boards. We need to stop that happening now."

However, his proposals came in for heavy criticism from teachers’ leaders and opposition MPs.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “The haste with which Michael Gove is pushing through huge simultaneous changes to both exams and the curriculum carries major risks that will put last summer’s GCSE debacle into the shade.

“We particularly feel for the children in their first year of secondary school who are going to be Mr Gove’s guinea pigs. They will have a single year when they are 13 and the move straight into the new and untested GCSE exam syllabus at age 14.”

Shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, said he was worried the assessment of pupils at GCSE would become more unreliable if the Government moved towards focusing on end-of-course exams.

He said: ''Moving towards linear assessment will reduce the reliability of GCSE - less coursework means less assessment time which leads inevitably to lower reliability."

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