Long read: Changes to GCSE exams in bid to create new wave of talent
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 May 2018
It’s the time of the year that every teenager - and their parents - dread: GCSE exams.
The pattern of revising hard, then worrying on the morning that you haven’t revised enough, then discussing the answers with friends and becoming convinced you’ve failed until you pick up the results in the summer and find out you’ve done alright after all is one that is repeated by thousands summer after summer.
But there’s something different about this year’s GCSE exams.
The cohort of Year 11s are the first to take the new-style papers in 20 different subjects, which the government has said will be more rigourous and on a par with the best performing education systems in the world.
Last summer, Year 11 students took the new exams in English, English literature and maths only, while the rest of their exams were under the old system.
Now, though, pupils will be taking them in subjects including the sciences, history and geography, as well as languages such as French, German and Spanish, and creative subjects like drama, art and music.
Further subjects will transition to the new system over the next two years, with all exams being reformed by the summer of 2020.
Examples of the changes, introduced by former education secretary Michael Gove, include space physics becoming part of the science curriculum, while the computer science GCSE will have a greater focus on programming.
The Department for Education has also said that some subjects - those which are either too similar to others, or where exam board proposals were either not submitted or rejected - will be withdrawn.
So how are the new exams different?
Well, other than the grading system changing from letters to numbers, the content will also be made more demanding.
Instead of completing coursework, which was a key part of assessment in some subjects, it will be mainly exam-based, with other types of assessment “used only where needed to test essential skills”.
There will also be an end to foundation and higher tier papers - the former offering a highest grade of C only - except in circumstances where a paper “does not give all students the opportunity to show their knowledge and abilities”.
In addition, November resits will only be possible in English language and maths - compulsory for those getting below a grade 4.
Schools standards minister Nick Gibb has said that the “rigorous, gold-standard” exams “are helping to nurture the next generation of scientists, linguists and historians”.
He added: “Whatever pupils want to do with their lives, these qualifications will prepare them for future success and help deliver the skills Britain needs to be fit for the future.
“Thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers, education standards are rising in our schools and last year, teachers and pupils responded well to the new English and maths exams.”
Figures from the Department for Education show Barking and Dagenham was the lowest of the five east London boroughs, with 63.6pc gaining a 4 or above and 43.1 gaining a 5 or above.
Redbridge pupils in particular did well in the new GCSEs last year.
The proportion of pupils to achieve both a 4 or above and a 5 or above in English and maths were above the London-wide average.
The borough saw 73.2 per cent of pupils gain a 4 or above and 55.8pc a 5 or above, while the capital as a whole saw figures of 67.9pc and 48.2pc respectively.
Havering was also above the London average in the 4 or above marks, with 68.3pc, but was slightly below average in the 5 or above with 46.6pc.
Both Tower Hamlets and Newham recorded 65.2pc of pupils getting 4 or above, with the proportion gaining 5 or above at 44.3pc and 45.8pc respectively.
Whether or not this year’s cohort will do better than their predecessors, as well as how they get on in the other new exams, will only be revealed in August.