Latest proposals for reforms to GCSE and A-level qualifications

As part of the on-going reforms to GCSEs and A-levels, OFQUAL has just released details of all the subjects which still need to be reviewed.  Some of these subjects will cease to exist in their own right, with their content either being transferred into other specifications or dropped from the curriculum.  Anyone can comment on these proposals as part of a consultation progress which will end on July 30th.  If you wish to take part in this, or simply want to know more about it, click here.

GCSEs which still need to be reformed, and will still be offered:

GCSEs up for reform

GCSEs which OFQUAL proposes to discontinue:

GCSEs under threat

AS levels which still need to be reformed, and will still be offered, with teaching starting in Sept 2017:

AS levels up for reform (1)b

AS levels up for reform (2)

AS Levels which OFQUAL proposes to discontinue:

AS levels under threat (1)

AS levels under threat (2)

Full A-levels which still need to be reformed, and will still be offered:

A levels up for reform (1)

A levels up for reform (2)

Full A-Levels which OFQUAL proposes to discontinue:

A levels under threat



ON THE LEVEL # 4 – The NAHT principles

In ON THE LEVEL # 1, I suggested that we establish a few key principles which would underpin our new approach to assessment. In ON THE LEVEL # 3, I pointed out that we should have an agreed set of principles written into our assessment policy by this September.  I also promised to summarise what NAHT had to say on this, so here are three key points from their report:

1. Assessment must inform planning for future learning by providing appropriate, meaningful and clear information to pupils, parents, teachers, school leaders, governors and government. Assessment should involve no more administration than is required to fulfil this aim.

2. Assessment should set high expectations yet still be inclusive of all abilities. Feedback should draw on a wide range of evidence to provide a complete picture of student achievement. Feedback should also inspire greater effort and a belief that, through hard work and practice, more can be achieved.

3. Assessment must be open and fair, and should place achievement in the context of nationally standardised criteria. From time to time, judgements should be moderated by experienced professionals in order to check their accuracy and to ensure that the school’s results are capable of comparison with other schools, both locally and nationally.

Bearing all this in mind, it is now time to start devising our new approach to assessment.  This Tuesday I will be meeting with representatives from other local schools to begin work on this.  More to follow in due course!

ON THE LEVEL # 3 – Those who cannot assess, cannot teach!

When the government announced that that National Curriculum levels would cease to be used in school assessments, the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) set up a commission to establish some new national principles for assessment.  It has just published its conclusions, opening with the remark in the title of this post!


The full report can be found here.  It offers a reminder that assessment is constantly used by every good teacher to evaluate the progress of pupils, and that the feedback from these assessments enables not only teachers but also pupils, parents and school leaders to plan future learning.  The report also points out that in modern education, assessment is inextricably linked with accountability: feedback from assessments should enable parents, governors, local authorities and government to check that schools are delivering a high standard of education.

In this and the following ON THE LEVEL articles, we will provide some simple summaries of the report.  We start with its main recommendations …

Schools cannot simply carry on using the old National Curriculum levels for assessment purposes, because the new National Curriculum is not in alignment with them.  Instead they must develop, implement and embed a robust new framework for assessment.   However, schools should be allowed to use suitably modified National Curriculum levels as an interim measure whilst this new framework is being developed.

Any new system of assessment should be based on a clear set of principles.  These principles should have been agreed upon by all staff no later than September 2014.  They should be supported by school governors, and should make sense to parents, other stakeholders and the wider school community.  A detailed assessment framework should be in place by 2016, and the timescale for developing this should be outlined in the school development plan.

It is essential that pupils are assessed against objective criteria rather than ranked against each other.  Therefore the NAHT should develop and promote a set of model assessment criteria based on the new National Curriculum.  This will also enable pupil progress to be communicated effectively in terms of descriptive profiles rather than being reduced to numerical summaries (although schools may wish to use numerical data for internal purposes).

Schools should work together to ensure a broadly consistent approach to assessment, and should be prepared to submit their assessments to external moderators with no vested interest in the outcome.  This will help to ensure objectivity and to deliver consistency across schools.  To support this, schools should identify and train a member of staff to lead on assessment and to work on moderation activities with other local schools and nationally accredited experts.

All those responsible for children’s learning should regularly undertake rigorous training in formative, diagnostic and summative assessment in order to reinforce their understanding of how assessment supports teaching and learning for all pupils, including those with special educational needs.

Ofsted should check that schools put into place rigorous assessment systems, and should examine how effectively schools are using pupil assessment information and data to improve learning.

In the next ON THE LEVEL article, we will look at the NAHT’s proposed principles for assessment.

GCSE English & Maths: new subject content


If you have not already seen the guidelines for teaching GCSE English Language and GCSE English Literature from September 2015, they are available here. The new subject content for GCSE Maths is available here, also for teaching from September 2015.

ON THE LEVEL # 2 / A few questions to consider

In this post you will find an update on developments since post # 1, followed by a few thoughts and a few questions to consider.

So, here’s the update:

1. Several of our Loreto colleagues have commented on the last post, emailed me, or chatted with me.  You can read the comments for yourself at the bottom of that post.  There is a strong desire to keep assessment simple, and many seem keen to report attainment in the form of percentage marks.

2. On Monday an officer from OFQUAL gave a presentation to our Heads of Department, and left us under no illusion that there are challenging times ahead.  Amongst other things, he reminded us that for a while some GCSEs will be graded 1-9 whilst others are still being graded A*-G, that the ideology behind the change is to get away from the “bulging” of grades in the C-A* region and instead spread attainment evenly across the available grades/numbers.  He also confirmed that we will not find out the criteria for awarding these grades until after we have introduced a new system for reporting attainment in KS3.  For the same reason, he also agreed that for a while it will be very difficult for anyone to “predict” GCSE attainment.  The upshot of all this is that it will actually be very hard to construct an approach to KS3 assessment which dovetails in with KS4 assessment.

3. Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that plans to award a “decile” ranking to all Y6 students have now been dropped and instead they will be given a scaled score between 80 and 130.  Look familiar?  I suspect we will find that a score of 100 will represent the average level of (expected?) attainment.

And next, some thoughts and questions:

1. We need a system which incorporates two different types of assessment.  We must produce “quantative” data which gives everyone a basic snapshot of progress and ensures that any underachievement is spotted and addressed.  At the same time we also need to provide “qualitative” feedback which informs everyone about how further progress can be achieved.  Percentage marks could well serve the first of these two aims, but how would we ensure that these were standardised across the school, so that a score of 90% in one subject represented the same level of learning as a score of 90% in another subject?  And how would we relate this to expected progress?  By setting a target percentage?  How would this be arrived at?  How often would we award these percentage marks?  Would we share them with the pupils, or only ever give pupils qualitative feedback?  It might help to consider how our own performance as teachers is rated: would feedback on lesson observations or OFSTED inspections be more welcome if we were told what was good and what needed to improve, but not labelled “good” or “outstanding” in the process – would the feedback be more welcome if such  a crude verdict were not shared with us, or not even formed in the first place?  Or would we feel disappointed that we could not easily keep track of whether we were improving, and could not look at the achievements of others and start to identify potential sources of guidance and support?

2. If we can’t introduce a system that anticipates an end point (in terms of GCSE attainment) and measures progress in relation to this, should we consider one which instead monitors progress in relation to the starting point (the scaled score between 80 and 130 now due to be awarded at the end of Year 6)?  Or do we simply measure attainment in terms of what is expected at that particular time in the pupil’s education?

That’s more than enough to be going on with.  Once we clarify our thinking on some of these issues, we will start to make some progress.

Any comments?