Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Exams revamp sees 15 poems at GCSE

Traditional GCSE grades will be replaced by a numbered scale under new reforms
Traditional GCSE grades will be replaced by a numbered scale under new reforms

Teenagers will have to study at least 15 poems at GCSE, including works by authors such as Wordsworth, Byron and Keats, under a major shake-up of the exams.

In future, pupils taking GCSE English literature will be required to learn poems by no fewer than five poets - and to study 300 lines of poetry at a minimum.

Youngsters will also be told they must "broaden their knowledge of literature" and read widely to prepare for unseen texts in exam papers.

Details of new GCSEs in English and maths - due to be taught in England's secondary schools from September 2015 - were published by the Department for Education (DfE).

It comes as the exams regulator Ofqual confirmed that t raditional GCSE grades are to be scrapped and replaced with a numbered scale.

The move will see o ne more grade added into the system as part of a bid to distinguish between the brightest students.

According to newly published details of the revamped English literature GCSE, pupils will have to study at least one play by Shakespeare, a 19th century novel, fiction or drama since the First World War and poetry from 1789 onwards - including works by Romantic Poets.

Exam boards will be told that their English literature courses must include a selection of no fewer than 15 poems by at least five different poets totalling at least 300 lines of poetry. They will them be able to ask questions on many of these works in an exam paper - meaning pupils must study this amount of poetry at a minimum.

Unseen texts in exam papers can be by authors that pupils have not studied, the DfE said.

All of the texts in GCSE English language exam papers will be unseen, the Government said, with the course designed on the basis that pupils will have studied works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

These texts must include literature and non-fiction and other writing such as essays, reviews and journalism.

Schools will be encouraged to offer at least one extra maths lesson a week to put England on a par with other countries like Australia and Singapore, the DfE said.

The new maths GCSE will be "bigger in content" and more challenging, it added, and will include a new section on ratio, proportion and rate of change.

Teenagers will also have to learn key formulae such as how to calculate the area of a triangle off by heart.

In a written ministerial statement, Education Secretary Michael Gove said the new GCSEs in English and maths "set higher expectations".

"They demand more from all students and provide further challenge for those aiming to achieve top grades," he said.

Ofqual said that under the changes to GCSE grades, pupils will be marked from one to nine - with nine the highest mark available. There are currently eight grades - A*-G

Currently, in some subjects such as maths and science, high numbers of pupils achieve A* and A grades which makes it difficult to pick out the top students, it was suggested.

Chief regulator Glenys Stacey said that in these cases "you then begin to question whether the qualification is doing its job in differentiating sufficiently your most able students."

In a report on the changes, Ofqual said: "Currently there is a 'bunching' of grades as most students are awarded grades B, C and D. Adding in an extra grade will improve the spread of grades in this area."

As now, in future youngsters who fail an exam will be given a "U" for unclassified.

Ofqual said that the move to a numerical system will also signal that the revamped GCSEs are a new qualification, which it said would be less apparent if the grading system remained the same.

Further reforms include removing coursework from English language GCSE, with the qualification assessed entirely by exam. A fifth of marks (20%) for the written exams will be dedicated to spelling, punctuation and grammar.

English literature will also be assessed wholly by exam, with 5% of marks given to spelling, punctuation and grammar. Maths will continue to be assessed by exam only.

"Tiered" papers - which allow some pupils to take an easier exam while others sit a harder one - will be axed for both English subjects but kept for maths.

The exams will also be "linear" - meaning that they will be two-year courses with all exams taken at the end, rather than in bitesize chunks.

Ms Stacey said: ''You don't get many opportunities to radically reform qualifications and make them the best they can be, and this is a once in a decade opportunity.''

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "We agree that qualifications need to be rigorous, but making them harder, more narrowly focused and more challenging will not benefit the majority of pupils. Once again the Government is totally neglecting the 40% of young people who don't manage to pass five GCSEs at grades A* to C.

"We are pleased the Government has made some minor changes to the content of English and maths GCSEs in response to concerns raised by teachers, subject associations and academic experts. However, we believe pupils need a greater breadth of content and a blend of theoretical and applied knowledge and skills which the new look GCSEs lack."

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