EMC’s Discussion of DfE GCSE Draft Criteria for Language and Literature

GCSE Curriculum Reform Consultations

EMC’s Discussion Points 19th June 2013

 Also available from the Home Page of our main website: http://www.englishandmedia.co.uk

There are 2 separate consultations:

1.  OFQUAL on the regulatory aspects of the changes to GCSE, including tiering, grading, assessment, regulation and so on. – 3rd Sept deadline

2. DfE on proposed subject content and assessment objectives for the 8 first GCSEs to be changed (including Eng Lit and Eng Language)  –20th August deadline

 1 OFQUAL  GCSE Reform Consultation

 1 The shift to a grading system 1-8 with 8 the highest seems to have the sub-text of allowing the system to accomodate future grade inflation. The introduction of the new numerical scale for the first group of subjects means that some students will have a mixture of grade and number results, which doesn’t seem very sensible

 2 Linear courses with no coursework and only end of course exams for English seems to be a response to the pressures of the accountability system rather than a consideration of what is appropriate to test in English. The document talks about ‘pressures on teachers that sometimes lead to over-marking and other practices that distort outcomes’. Surely removing the pressures that distort outcomes would be better than distorting the assessment process? The idea that there will be teacher-marked assessments in English Language that are reported separately and not in final grade (as with Speaking and Listening) isn’t a good one. What value does it place on these assessments, if in fact, they are not assessments at all? They will be given token status. The identification of planning and drafting as key skills for internal assessment fails to take on board the other key elements of English Language that are best assessed by internal assessment – independent study and research.

 3 We are very concerned about the decision to report on Speaking and Listening as a separate assessment that has no contribution to the final grade. This risks making it a token element of teaching. The ‘pressures on teachers’ surely applies here too, in that teachers will be unlikely to emphasise it, if it has no value in terms of accountability.

 4 No tiering except in Maths and Science seems to us to be a positive development, in allowing all pupils to reach the higher grades and avoiding the problems of identifying which tier pupils should sit.

 5 More extended writing in exams and a reduction in structured and bite-sized questions seems like a reasonable aim, particularly if it avoids the dangers of decontextulised testing of knowledge, such as has been seen in the KS2 SPAG test.

 6 On the question of there being no combined English option, we are concerned about the threat to the study of Literature by all students, in moving to a Language GCSE that has no set texts and a Literature course that is not part of the core of required subjects. We would suggest that GCSE English Language and English Literature should become a double award, as part of the core, to ensure that all pupils study whole texts and a wide range of literary texts.

 7 We welcome the fact that the SPAG 20% weighting in English Language appears to be testing these in the context of students’ writing and ability to use them effectively in their own work.

 2 DfE Draft GCSE Documents –

 GCSE Language Consultation

 1 Speaking and listening is compulsory but is not graded and not part of the final GCSE grade. The AO for S&L only refers to presentation and speeches.  There are no references to role-play, drama, or any of the other ways in which speaking and listening is a fundamental language skill, for instance in group interactions and discussion. Listening is only referred to in relation to questions and feedback on presentations, which seems like an extremely limited interpretation of what listening skills might include.

2 Language involves wide reading to be able to respond to unseen texts, but no set texts. All the named texts will be in Literature specifications (whose status as an additional subject for accountability measures is lower than the core subjects.) The obvious worry is that Literature will be sidelined and only studied by some students, not by all and that Language will end up being taught through extracts. There is also a concern that unseen

 3. Both Literature and Language say ‘Digital texts must not be included’ which is not only a weak lack of inclusion but rather a fierce prohibition. The lack of digital texts, multimodal texts and media texts is a significant and worrying issue, failing, as it does, to recognise that most 21st century readers gain access to ‘high-quality challenging texts’ in digital formats, whether it is newspapers and journals online, or books on eReaders. Equally, when pupils are ‘finding, interpreting and using information and evidence’ it seems perverse to deny them access to information in the forms most commonly used by adults in every walk of life, on the internet. The key is for GCSE English Language to be used to teach pupils how to use such sources judiciously and critically, as one of the most significant language skills that they will need in their future lives, both as students and citizens.

 4 We note with disappointment the loss of the analysis of spoken language, which both provided pupils with an excellent focus for developing their knowledge about language (including grammar) and a chance to explore the key issues around the use of Standard English in spoken language, improving their knowledge of how and when to use it, in what contexts and for what purposes.  This element of ‘knowledge’ in the Language curriculum has been well received and has been excellent preparation for progression to Language A Level.

 GCSE English Literature Consultation

1 Use of the terms ‘high quality’, ‘classic literature’, ‘best that has been thought and written’ are presented as uncontentious and unproblematic, as though there is a consensus about which these texts are.

 Subject aims and outcomes

2 While some of the subject aims and learning outcomes seem sensible (e.g. develop the habit of reading widely and often and read in depth, critically and evaluatively), others seems not only oddly phrased but also odd as an aim or outcome (e.g. appreciate the depth and power of the English Literary Heritage). Appreciation of depth and power is hard assess!

 3 The connection between what the specifications should cover/enable students to do and how this is to be assessed is not always clear. For example, without a coursework or extended project, how is the ‘habit of reading widely and often’ to be assessed?

 Scope of study

4 Broadly speaking the scope of study seems manageable, though the requirement to read a nineteenth century novel may be daunting for less able pupils and risk Literature becoming a course only for the more able. The balance of pre-twentieth century to twentieth and twenty-first century texts seems too heavily weighted towards earlier texts for a GCSE course, which is intended to encourage pupils to read widely, introduce them to a range of literary texts from a range of periods and fuel their continuing interest in reading Literature, whether they go on to study it for A Level or not.

 5 Absence of any texts beyond those written in English is a significant omission, particularly given the inclusion of world literature in the draft KS3 curriculum and given the aim of this set of criteria to provide students with ‘knowledge to support both current and future study’.

 6 It’s not clear why ‘To achieve balance not more than two texts from the great tradition of English literature should be selected from each of prose, poetry and drama’ needs including, given this is already precluded by the Detailed study requirements. The wider reading to prepare for the unseen is presumably not included in this restriction.

 7 It is not always clear what ‘understanding’ and ‘knowledge’ is being developed (‘Within the range of texts above, the emphasis should be on deepening students’ understanding’ and ‘The texts should be chosen with the key aim of providing students with knowledge to support both current and future study’). Is it understanding of the particular set texts? Or the literary heritage? Or understanding of the literary concepts? Or understanding and knowledge of the skills needed to read, discuss and write about literary texts.

 Reading comprehension and reading critically

Critical reading

8 Strangely specific and very unhelpful detail is given here – what is meant by distinguishing between main and subsidiary themes? This is not a conventional literary critical activity at any level, including Higher Education. Having a grasp of key broad concepts in each genre and the ability to use these to analyse the texts would be helpful (e.g. voice/point of view, structure).

 9 We welcome the fact that GCSE students are to be encouraged to recognise different possible responses to a text and to use contextual knowledge to inform evaluations, with the proviso that both the critical and contextual is seen as illuminating/adding to the understanding of the text.

 Comparing texts

10 We have some concern over the requirement to compare 2+ unseen texts in examination. This is currently a feature of some A Level specifications, at A2 level and seems like a particularly challenging assessment.

Assessment Objectives

AO1 Reading comprehension


11‘Show understanding of a word, phrase or sentence in context’ suggests short answer questions will be required at least for the first bullet point.

 AO2 Reading critically

12 If response to unseen texts is the predominant mode of assessment of reading in Language, how will unseen response in Literature be different?

 AO3 Writing

13 The suggestions for what students writing about literary texts will be tested on seem both weak and limited. There are only two requirements, one of which is very specific and one of which is very broad: while one focuses solely on the use of textual evidence to support evaluation, the other is a sweeping statement about ‘writing effectively’.

* A literary style is not the most appropriate for writing about literary texts



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