GCSE Specification Changes

22 January 2015

It is vital that as teachers we respond rapidly to changes in educational environment. One significant change that we should all be aware of is the upcoming changes to GCSE specification, content and grading. Gone are the As, A*s etc and back we go to numbered levels/grades, and these changes need to be fully understood by your department. However, there are also brand new topics, previously not covered at GCSE that will need to be taught. The final concern for many departments is the increased level of challenge within the questions for a given area of the specification, with an increased literacy focus and problem solving questions.

The transition in grading shouldn’t be particularly challenging to deal with. There is an approximate equivalence between a 4 or 5. Essentially, a 4 is now a ‘low C’ and a 5 is now a ‘high C’. The other change is that an extra grade has been added at the top, creating an A**, to differentiate the top students from those who are merely excellent. One overlooked and extremely interesting issue is the extent to which grade boundaries will be affected. At the moment it really does appear that it’ll be harder to get a 4 than a C, but exam boards are part of a market and as long as that is the case, there’ll be pressure on them to ensure that the exams are prohibitively difficult. The last thing Edexcel want is to set too challenging a paper, with excessively high grade boundaries, in the first year and watch schools swapping to AQA in droves. Other exam boards are available! Secondly, specification papers aren’t always completely reliable and the actual first paper may not be as challenging. Still, we have to prepare for the worst!

So, to the new topics. The clearest change is the alteration of the strands from the current four. We will be covering equations of motion, which will require close checking to ensure your staff are teaching to the same standard as they cover the traditional topic. There will be a knock on effect in your M1 results if topics are rushed or misconceptions not addressed. Departments should start preparing now.

Finally, the altered ‘style’ of questions. We have all adapted to the increased proportion of AO2 and AO3 questions on GCSEs and they seem not to have affected results, in the schools that I’m in contact with at least. The change that seems most prominent in terms of style is the lack of questions simply testing a technique or a single skill. For example, on the specification paper, rather than asking a simple transformations question, students were asked to perform multiple rotations, rolling a rectangle. This is the sort of question I would previously have used as an extension for the most able. Again, this just requires preparation to ensure that more complicated questions are covered in lessons.

Lastly of all, don’t panic! The new specification is in place to start in September 2015, which means the exams won’t be until July 2017. These changes are paradigm shifts, they are an evolution rather than a revolution and can be dealt with by providing a series of CPD sessions, perhaps one each on grading, new topics, and new style questions. Combine that with diligent monitoring and we should be able to adapt, as we always do!

Enjoy your week.

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