Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Ofqual Consultation: Suggested Changes for the Assessment of A Levels and GCSEs in Modern Foreign Languages in 2021

Ofqual is currently conducting a very important consultation including proposals tomodify the assessment requirements for some GCSEs, AS and A levels in response to disruption to education caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In the face of “lost” teaching time during lockdown, the proposals aim to free up teaching time and, in some instances, reduce what needs to be taught and take account of any public health restrictions relating to coronavirus (COVID19) that might be in place during the next academic year.

A “recovery” curriculum?

There have been lots of discussions about how current Year 10 and Year 12 pupils have been affected by the pandemic in the preparation for next year’s exams as they have had limited access to face-to-face teaching since the end of March. In particular, the debate has been around the need of a possible “recovery” curriculum or at the very least a “responsive” curriculum to deal with the knowledge gaps that may have developed and that could hinder students’ further progress. This has highlighted the differences between school settings and the pressure on some schools to narrow the curriculum for some pupils to ensure standards in Maths and English were not put at risk.

Consultation about assessment NOT Curriculum review

What this consultation is not, is some kind of a statement about the importance of subjects and their respective content and skills. However, you would be forgiven for believing this was the case, reading some of the online debates it has created.

Suggestions for Languages A Level and GCSE 2021 exams

Whereas no modifications have been put forward for A Level, the proposals for Modern Languages GCSEs are quite controversial : the Speaking examination would be replaced by a teacher “endorsement” for Speaking but it would not actually count in the exam, with the overall grade only taking Listening, Reading and Writing into account.

Although there is no denying that cancelling speaking exams would result in gained teaching time, this proposal also causes a number of issues:

Students do usually well in speaking even though it can be stressful for some ;

There would be a noticeable imbalance in the overall grade between the productive and receptive skills ;

Although speaking would still be taught, it may lose its priority in the face of further time constraints and the pressure of imposed subject targets ;

The class focus moving away from speaking would particularly affect pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have opportunities for further practice ;

The decision would most likely impact on A Level recruitment for 2021-22 as the perceived success in speaking the language is key for motivation and enjoyment. However, given that the basis for the decision to carry on with languages for many students is still “success” measured by exam outcomes, ensuring a fair exam and best outcomes might be just as important for A Level recruitment ;

There is also a worry that dropping the speaking exam could have a negative impact on attitudes towards speaking and languages in general in the future.

So, what is the way forward?

Look at the coverage of topics? The teaching of the Social Issues topic is usually kept at the end of the course and maybe could be scrapped to make up for lost curriculum time during the pandemic.

Go the “Welsh way”? Keep the assessment standards in all 4 skills and at the same level but make amendments such as streamlining the coverage of some of the topics or skills assessed. For instance, no translation in the reading paper or no Role-Play and Photocard in the speaking exam. I would still be against using dictionaries in any of the exams as I feel this could be very distracting for students.

We will all agree that students must not have their qualification devalued and it is important that the standards remain the same even if some aspects of the assessment are simplified. For this reason, I believe that the overall standard of GCSEs in modern languages cannot be maintained without any speaking being counted at all in the overall mark.  

Want to share your own views? Have your say and respond to the consultation before 16July at 11.45pm

Now is the time to join ALL, the Association for Language Learning, our subject association, to make sure our voice is heard.  

ALL is also organising a consultation webinar on Friday 10 July for all language teachers. To register, please click here.

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