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GCSE grades to be axed in shake-up

Traditional GCSE grades are to be axed and coursework drastically cut under a major shake-up which will also see teenagers study 19th-century literature and more British history.

The Government has revealed the latest stage of its plans for GCSE reform, setting out information on the content of new GCSEs in key subjects including English, maths, science and the humanities.

At the same time, England's exams regulator, Ofqual, published proposals to revamp the structure of GCSEs which will see coursework severely curtailed in most subjects, and a brand new numerical grading system.

Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted the new GCSEs, due to be introduced in September 2015, will be "more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous". But one teachers' leader raised concerns that the first group of teenagers to sit the "new and untested" exams are being treated like "guinea pigs"

Under the Government's proposals, teenagers in England will study the likes of Austen, Dickens, Shelley and Wordsworth in English Literature, advanced algebra, statistics and probability in maths and complete an in-depth study of one of three historical periods in history.

Ofqual's report confirms plans to grade GCSEs on a scale of 8 to 1 replacing the current A*-G system and examine pupils at the end of their two-year-courses, abolishing the modular system which allows pupils to take papers throughout the course. Exams will only take place in the summer, except for in English language and maths, where November re-sits will be allowed.

The GCSE name is now likely to be kept. It was recently reported that proposals were under consideration to call the qualifications "I-levels".

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Gove insisted that there is now a "widespread consensus that we need to reform our examination system to restore public confidence." The GCSEs will be "universal qualifications" accessible to the same proportion of pupils who sit the exams now," Mr Gove said.

Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: "Ofqual's role is to make sure that qualifications are of high quality. GCSEs are important and valued qualifications, but we have seen over the last two years that they can be improved. We have a real opportunity here to put in place reformed GCSEs which are engaging and worthwhile to study and to teach."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) raised concerns about the pace of the Government's reforms. She said: "We want all children to succeed in education, and we need exams that are rigorous. However, 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 English GCSE debacle into the shade."

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