Summary of ‘Preparing to teach the new GCSEs’ – conference held by DfE, Ofqual and key partners

The following summary of a recent DfE/Ofqual conference on preparing to teach the new GCSEs has been prepared for secondary school leaders and teachers by Learning Exchange consultant Elspeth Davis…

  • The DfE has, so far, consulted on and confirmed the new content for English, mathematics, the sciences, history, geography and modern foreign languages.
  • Ofqual has confirmed the overall approach in relation to grading and non-examination assessment.

The timeline for GCSE reform is as follows:

Academic YearEvent
2013-14 - All students completing GCSEs in summer 2014 take exams at end of course
- Confirmation of content and regulatory requirements for English, English literature and mathematics
- Confirmation and regulatory requirements for for other Ebacc subjects
- Confirmation of process for reform of other subjects
2014-15 - Specifications for English Language, English literature and mathematics available
2015-16 - First teaching of reformed GCSEs in En Lang, En Lit and maths
- Specifications for geography, history, sciences, languages, art and design, dance, drama, PE, design and technology, citizenship, religious studies, computer science and music available in schools
- New secondary accountability framework in place for 2016 results
2016-17- First teaching of ‘second tranche’ GCSEs
- First exams for new GCSEs in En Lang, En Lit, and maths (summer 2017)
- Specification for remaining GCSEs available in schools
- 2017 KS4 and 16-19 performance tables report results of reformed GCSEs

The essential elements of the reform

  • New GCSEs remain universal qualifications, accessible, with good teaching, to the same proportion of students as now
  • Increase in demand at what is generally considered to be a pass, to reflect international expectations
  • Linear, with exams in the summer at the end of the course (November resits for maths and English language for those aged 16 plus
  • Grading – numbered scale from 1-9, 9 is the highest
  • Non-exam assessment kept to a minimum
  • Tiering only where necessary for valid assessment.
  • Maths – exam only, tiered
  • English literature – exam only, not tiered
  • English language – exam only, speaking assessment reported separately, not tiered
  • Propose MFL GCSE – 25% non-exam assessment (to test speaking skills), tiered
  • History and geography – assessment by exam only
  • Will consult on assessment arrangements for science

Key features

  • English language  a robust foundation of reading and good written English with skills required for further study
  • Twenty per cent of marks awarded for accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar
  • English literature encourages students to read, write and think critically – range of challenging and substantial whole texts, and unseen texts
  • Mathematics – focus on ensuring students master the fundamental mathematics that is required for further education and careers
  • Demands deeper and broader mathematical understanding
  • Larger than the current mathematics GCSE – implications for teaching time and assessment.
  • Other Ebacc subjects -Sciences – New content including the human genome, life cycle analysis and space physics.  A greater level of mathematical challenge across the three sciences.
  • Modern languages – greater demand including new stipulation that most exam questions are asked in the respective foreign language.
  • History – A wider range of historical periods than now and will cover three eras: medieval, early modern and modern. Stronger emphasis on British history.
  • Geography – better balance between human and physical geography, greater use of maths and statistics and geography of the UK in greater depth.  At least two pieces of fieldwork outside the classroom.

Consultation events for standard setting

12 half day events (morning or afternoon )

  • 3 June Manchester
  • 5 June Exeter
  • 6 June London
  • 11 June Newcastle
  • 17 June Birmingham
  • 18 June Cambridge

(More information at )

Standard setting proposals

  • Same proportion of students who would have been awarded C or above should be awarded 4 or above
  • New grade 5 = approximately half to two thirds of a grade higher than that required for current grade C, benchmarked internationally
  • Same proportion who would have got A and A* should be awarded grade 7 or above
  • New grade 9 awarded to smaller proportion than currently get A*
  • National reference test to help identify changes in performance between cohorts.

Consultations available on Ofqual website

Other key points

  • Vocational qualifications already being reformed, criteria based list published every Nov/Dec with those that count as equivalent to one GCSE
  • Secondary schools Performance measures from 2016, Progress across 8 subjects (Progress 8), attainment across 8 subjects (Attainment 8), Percentage of pupils achieving grade C or better in both GCSE/iGCSE English and maths, The English Baccalaureate.
  • Schools may offer other qualifications not in performance tables if in best interests of the student
  • Schools must have tracking and reporting process that supports the curriculum, tracks progress against expectations, supports teacher planning, enables reporting to parents, includes formative and summative assessment.
  • No more assessment levels and single attainment target for all subjects, no statutory teacher assessment reporting requirements end of KS3 (except to parents)
  • SEN Bill awaiting royal assent, with new Code of Practice for September 2014 for all children and young people 0-25, changes to assessment, identification, statements replaced by plans.

Elspeth Davis, May 2014

Download a PDF version of this summary to share with your colleagues here: 

For more information or if you have any questions on this or related school improvement and professional development issues please contact the Learning Exchange advisers on 01934 427508 or send us a quick email using this form.

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