Proposal 1: add a requirement for GCSE English and GCSE English Language that the marks for speaking and listening no longer count towards the overall grade
If speaking and listening marks no longer contribute to the overall grade, and therefore the league tables, then teachers will no longer be encouraged to focus on the effective teaching of these skills. Having admitted that the accountability measures skew teaching, the consultation document then does not address this inevitable result. The recent gains in more effective teaching in this area will be lost and speaking and listening will yet again be relegated to the side-lines. This, despite clear evidence of the importance of equipping pupils with these skills: in English; across the curriculum; in the word beyond school.
Speaking and listening used to be assessed separately (1988-93, as mentioned in the consultation document). The reasons for making the change to including this assessment as part of the overall grade have not changed, which is to say: a separate speaking and listening grade is not taken very seriously; a separate speaking and listening grade does not take into account that speaking and listening are integral to the course, not an add on.
Alternative, workable and reliable approaches to assessment exist. For example, the London Board used to have as a major part of its speaking and listening marks a group discussion which was assessed by both the teacher and an external moderator, serving as both check and benchmark for the school’s speaking and listening grades. Alternatively, one or two key speaking and listening assessments could be recorded, with a randomised sample being sent to the exam board, as required for written coursework. In many other high performing jurisdiction, the viva is a significant and highly valued element in final assessment and in these systems reliable and effective forms of validation are well established.
Proposal 2: re-weight the remaining components
If speaking and listening were to be removed from the overall grade, it would seem sensible to go for Option 3, which keeps the current weightings for written papers and controlled assessment the same, but scales them up. This would create the least amount of disruption given that the current GCSEs will shortly change more substantially in any case.
Proposal 3: reporting speaking and listening separately
Why change to a 5 point numbered scale when teachers, pupils and employers are used to the 7 point GCSE grading system? If using a grade would create confusion on a certificate the numbering scale should simply equate to the current grading eg 1= A, 7=G. A completely new numbered scale would require a new mark scheme, training for teachers and information for employers. which seems wasteful when the current GCSEs will shortly change more substantially in any case.
Proposal 4: To what extent do you agree that students should not be required to achieve at least a 5 in speaking and listening to be awarded a GCSE?
While we are not generally in favour of assessment ‘hurdles’, in this case it would seem to be the only way to keep up the profile of speaking and listening if it is to be separately assessed. A qualification in English should take account of all aspects of the subject and we are a little puzzled at the suggestion that speaking and listening should be considered separately for fear of disadvantaging those who are less strong in this aspect of the subject. No-one would argue that, for example, those who were good in other areas but poor at reading, should not be disadvantaged by their reading skills. In this case, asking for at least a 5 does not seem unreasonable, but of course, without having seen the mark scheme for this 5 point scale, it is hard to tell.
5. To what extent do you agree that we should put in place these changes for summer 2014 awards?These proposals should not be adopted for the current cohort. Students currently in year 10 should be allowed to finish their GCSE course as set out when they started it. Teachers are already dealing with a lot of change in the English curriculum. If this change is made at the same time as the move to linear assessment, it will be difficult to unpick the effects caused by the move to linear assessment and those caused by a change in the way speaking and listening is reported, causing difficulties for the comparable outcomes approach to maintaining standards through a period of change.
8. Do you have any other comments you would like to make about any other aspects of these proposals?
The downgrading of speaking and listening by this proposal is a retrograde step, undoing the really encouraging spread of good practice in this area and paying no heed to the clearly expressed needs of employers for candidates with world class skills in speaking and listening. It is a disappointing failure to address the real problems with the accountability culture. The consultation document admits that it is the school accountability measures that put pressure on the grading of speaking and listening. It seems unacceptable that the answer given is to make changes to the structure of the GCSE in a way that will negatively impact on pupils.
In 2011, the National Curriculum Expert Panel reviewed research evidence and found that ‘there is a compelling body of evidence that highlights a connection between oral development, cognitive development and educational attainment’. However, the Bercow report (2008) concluded that ‘Approximately 50% of children and young people in some socio-economically disadvantaged populations have speech and language skills that are significantly lower than those of other children of the same age’. The Commuunication Trust reported in 2012 ‘47 percent of employers in England report difficulty in finding employees with an appropriate level of oral communication skills.’ The teaching of speaking and listening, and the role of assessment in ensuring that this is valued, is of paramount importance.
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