In response to the Ofqual consultation, we argue for the continuation of the Ebac, and recommend more opportunities for extended writing, maths and statistics work in GCSE geography. We also express concern over lower grades generally awarded to early entry students in 2013
Response submitted 2013
1. The proposed primary purposes of the reformed GCSEs will be to provide evidence of students’ achievements against demanding and fulfilling content and a strong foundation for further academic and vocational study and for employment. The reformed GCSEs should also provide a basis for schools to be held accountable for the performance of all their students. These proposed purposes are consistent with the purposes set out in the Secretary of State’s letter2 . To what extent do you agree with these propositions?
2. Do you have any comments to make on these propositions?
The Society would strongly argue for the continuation of the EBac as one of the measures by which schools report on their pupils’ achievements and that the EBac should be on equal terms with the ‘Best of Eight’ measure. The introduction of the EBac has underpinned significant uplift in the numbers of pupils studying core academic subjects at GCSE, and this trend is welcomed by the Society.
3. To address concerns that tiering can limit students’ ambitions we propose to apply the principle that qualifications should only be tiered if:
manageable assessments cannot be designed that would both allow students at the lower end of the ability range to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding in a subject, and that would stretch the most able students; and
content that would be exclusive to the higher tier can be identified.
To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
8. The reformed GCSE Geography should be untiered. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
9. The reformed GCSE History should be untiered. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
Note: Because GCSE geography and history are recognised as humanities options within the EBac both subjects should be treated in a comparable way i.e. both should be untiered examinations.
12. The default position should be that the reformed GCSEs are assessed by way of externally set and marked examinations, except where subject content cannot be validly assessed in this way. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
13. Where the final grade is based on externally set and marked exams only, there should be a minimum total exam time (the total time could be divided between different papers). To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
14. The proposal is for a minimum total exam time of 3.5 hours for subjects where the final grade is based on externally set and marked exams only. That is English language, English literature, mathematics, geography and history.
Is 3.5 hours … About right.
16. For subjects in the first tranche where there are other forms of assessment undertaken in addition to exams the proposal is for 3 hours as the appropriate minimum amount of exam time.
Is 3 hours … About right.
17. Reformed GCSEs will be linear; with all exams taken at the end of the course (non-exam assessments may be completed at different times). To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
18. All reformed GCSEs will include an element of synoptic assessment. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
As a discipline geography spans the study of the social and physical sciences and at its heart provides a synoptic analysis and understanding of the world’s people, place and environments. The assessment of GCSE geography should include an appropriate element of synoptic assessment.
19. Externally set and marked assessments should normally only be taken at one point during the year – in May and June. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
21. November re-sits should be restricted to students in Year 12 and above. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
22. In the reformed GCSEs in English literature, geography and history we propose 5 per cent of the marks should be allocated to spelling, punctuation and grammar, as for current GCSEs in these subjects. To what extent do you agree with these propositions?
23. In the reformed GCSEs in English language, 20 per cent of the marks should be allocated to spelling, punctuation and grammar. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
24. If marks are to be allocated for spelling, punctuation and grammar in English literature, geography and history, are 5 per cent of the marks the right amount? And in English language are 20 per cent of the marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar the right amount?
Geography 5% is...about right.
History 5% is...about right.
25. Do you have any comments on the proposed assessment arrangements for the reformed GCSEs?
Additional comments in relation the proposed assessment arrangements for reformed GCSE geography:
In its response to the DfE consultation on GCSE Subject Content and Assessment the Society highlighted the need for additional opportunities for extended writing in geography. The inclusion of more and longer ‘essay based’ questions in GCSE geography would be a welcome development and support the more accurate application of spelling, punctuation and grammar by pupils.
The Society has also recommended that the mathematical and statistical elements of GCSE geography be made more explicit within the subject criteria. This would provide greater demand at GCSE and also consistency with how mathematical requirements are expressed within the proposed subject content for sciences.
The Society welcomes the inclusion of a specific assessment weighting provided for the assessment of geographical fieldwork within the DfE’s proposals for GCSE subject Content and Assessment Objectives (June 2013). This weighting corresponds to 15% of the overall marks. It provides for 5% of marks to be allocated to the assessment of fieldwork skills and 10% of marks to be allocated to the application of geographical knowledge to fieldwork context(s).
26. Student performance in the reformed GCSEs should be reported using grades (rather than marks, scaled scores or percentile scores). To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
27. If grades were not used, which of the alternatives would you prefer?
28. Grades could be used alongside marks, scaled scores or percentile scores. Would you like to see grades and more granularity of reporting as well?
Grades with marks.
29. Eight grades would allow for sufficient differentiation of performance between students. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
30. The number of grades at the higher and middle performance range should be increased to allow for greater differentiation. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
31. The number of grades at the lower end of the performance range should be reduced. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
32. Grades should be described using a new system to differentiate them from current GCSEs. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
34. If grades are described using numbers, the highest numbered grade should signify the highest level of achievement. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
35. What information would students and users of qualifications find valuable in addition to the overall grade about students’ performance?
The Society would welcome the publication of the overall distribution of grades in that subject for the yearly cohort as an additional contextual framework alongside a student’s specific grade.
36. How would any additional information about students’ performance be used by students and users of qualifications?
The provision of the additional information (outlined in 35 above) would provide the means to place a student’s individual performance within the overall context of the results, by subject, for a particular year.
38. Do you have any other comments about reporting student performance?
The Society believes that the publication of the additional information proposed in 35. would represent only minimal or no additional costs to the Awarding Bodies. It is information that they are already required to collect.
39. The time it will typically take a student to complete a course of study for one of the reformed GCSEs should be the same as or similar to the time required for one of the current GCSEs (double award science will be the same as or similar to two current GCSEs). This means, as is the case with current GCSEs, that students would normally study reformed GCSEs over two years. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
Note: the Society has no ‘in principle’ objection to pupils studying a full GCSE course which has been compressed into one year of study. However, this is with the proviso that the teaching time has to be equivalent to the usual two full years of study.
However, the Society is concerned about early entry. The scale of this may be more of an issue for other subjects (such as English and mathematics), however, we note that the numbers of pupils taking GCSE geography aged 15 or under rose from 8,462 in 2012 to 11,105 in 2013.
The Society also notes with concern the marked difference in the grades awarded to pupils aged 15 and under, or aged 16 shows.
2013 results GCSE Geography, combined male and female entries, cumulative percentages by grade (JCQ 2013)
The Society is concerned that ‘early entry’ in geography may be limiting the opportunity of younger pupils to reach their full potential in geography.
We would welcome further research into this area and guidance provided to schools about the potential impact of early entry on their pupils’ performance.
Awarding organisations should be able to offer stand-alone short courses of the reformed GCSEs which will not contribute to a full GCSE. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
The Society believes that it is more desirable for pupils to study a full GCSE course in geography, rather than a short course. The former clearly provides a broader and more comprehensive overview of this subject and also enables a pupil to count their full course geography GCSE against the EBac and ‘Best of Eight’.
40. Awarding organisations will be required to use and assess the subject content requirements as set out by the Department for Education in the development of reformed GCSEs (for those subjects for which the Department for Education consults on and publishes subject content requirements). To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
41. Exam boards should be required to develop assessment strategies for their reformed GCSEs. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
42. Exam boards should be required to review systematically the effectiveness of their assessments for each of their reformed GCSEs. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
43. The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, requires us to consult before we impose an accreditation requirement on exam boards. Do you agree that the reformed GCSEs should be subject to an accreditation requirement, that is, that they must be checked by Ofqual before they can be made available?
Yes. The Society would recommend that Ofqual draw on the expertise of the relevant subject communities, especially the subject specific learned societies, in its undertaking of the accreditation of reformed GCSEs.
44. Do you have any other comments on the regulation of the reformed GCSEs?
The Society has made Ofqual aware that the Society’s Director and Head of Education are members of the DfE Geography Expert Group. This group has contributed to the drafting of the DfE’s proposals for the new Subject Content and Assessment for GCSE Geography (June 2013), alongside the reviews of the geography National Curriculum and A Level.
The Society has previously been invited by various AO’s to join their internal review groups/consultation committees in respect to their review of GCSE (and GCE) geography.
However, given the Society’s role with DfE it has felt it inappropriate to join, and be party to, these AO’s discussions. As a result none of the Society’s paid staff or trustees have accepted such invitations.
The Society would welcome the opportunity to provide its independent expertise and advice in support Ofqual’s review of GCSE (and GCE) specifications and sample materials.
45. Please indicate whether you have read the Department for Education’s subject content consultation document and associated documentation.
Have read: English Literature; English language; Mathematics; Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics and double award science); Geography; History
58. The Department for Education’s draft geography GCSE content includes a fieldwork element. The outcomes in the draft content can all be assessed by an external written exam only. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
59. Do you have any comments – other than about the detailed syllabus, which is being dealt with through the Department for Education’s consultation – about the proposed design requirements for the reformed GCSEs in geography?
For further details on the Society’s comments please see the Society’s consultation response to DfE on the review of GCSE subject content and assessment in geography.
The Society strongly supports the explicit inclusion of a requirement for fieldwork within the GCSE subject content, and that this fieldwork take place in ‘two contrasting environments’. In addition, the Society supports the proposal for an annual ‘fieldwork declaration’ to be made by a school, (to be signed by the head teacher and head of geography) to its AO outlining what fieldwork has taken place for GCSE (and similarly GCE) geography.
The Society believes that together the fieldwork requirement and declaration, should addresses any concerns that the move to 100% terminal examinations will reduce geographical fieldwork. However, the Society does request that the level and range of geographical fieldwork at GCSE be monitored so that evidence can be collected about any unintended consequences of the removal of internal assessment.
The Society does not support the argument that the removal of controlled assessment will necessarily reduce the opportunities for geographical fieldwork.
In short, the Society believes that the new GCSE criteria and accompanying specifications will be sufficient in making explicit what teachers should teach and which highlight the necessity for geographical fieldwork – not the style of assessment.
Assessment in GCE geography. However, as discussed with both DfE and Ofqual, the Society has argued strongly for the role of an (internally assessed, externally moderated) extended piece of individual project work at GCE geography. The Society believes that at GCE there are significant elements of the required geographical knowledge, skills and understanding which can only be adequately assessed in this way. This should be through a piece of writing, ideally of 4,500 words in length. The Society does recognise the issue of validity in such work, and indeed our university colleagues have been dealing with similar issues for a number of years. However, we feel there are practical and cost effective models which would address this issue which have been proposed to Ofqual previously.
60. The Department for Education’s draft history GCSE content can all be assessed by external written exam only. To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
61. Do you have any comments – other than about the detailed syllabus, which is being dealt with through the Department for Education’s consultation – about the proposed design requirements for the reformed GCSEs in history?
As identified above the Society strongly recommends that the assessment of GCSE geography and history are developed in a comparable way
62. We have identified a number of ways the proposed requirements for the reformed GCSEs may impact (positively or negatively) on persons who share a protected characteristic. Are there any other potential impacts we have not identified?
63. Are there any additional steps we could take to mitigate any negative impact on persons who share a protected characteristic resulting from these proposals?
64. Taking into the account the purpose of qualifications, could the proposed design of the reformed GCSEs be changed to better advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and those who do not?
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