As you will know by now, GCSE specifications will change next year, for first teaching in September 2015. The English and Media Centre will be running courses in the autumn term to support you in choosing a specification (further information at the bottom of the page), as well as publishing resources. In the meantime, in this post we highlight for you some of the key changes and give some first impressions of the draft specifications released recently by the Awarding Bodies.
The New Requirements
The stand-alone ‘English’ specification has disappeared and there are, once again, only two ‘subjects’: English Language and English Literature. English Literature will not be compulsory, but there are various strong incentives within the new Progress 8 accountability measures to encourage schools to teach it.
All courses will be linear, not modular, and assessed by terminal, externally assessed exam – a minimum of 3 hours of exam for English and 4 hours for literature. (If students take both, this adds up to two hours more than the minumum requirement for an A Level in one of the Englishes!) Grading will be numerical from 1-9, with 9 being the highest score.
The key points from the Ofqual requirements all Awarding Bodies must adhere to are as follows.
- Spoken language (similar to what is currently called speaking and listening) will be compulsory, but assessed and certificated separately.
- 20% of the marks must be awarded for spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence structure
- Students must respond to texts from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, with at least two unseen texts and a comparative element.
- Students must respond to whole texts including a Shakespeare play and a 19th century novel, plus a selection of post 1789 poetry including ‘representative Romantic poetry’ (whatever that means!)
- Students must also respond to either a modern prose or a modern drama text, both must be by a British writer.
- Students must respond to at least two unseen texts and compare them.
- Exams will be ‘closed book’.
The Draft Specifications
The final specifications should be in schools early next term, but all the Awarding Bodies have put out their draft specifications to give a sense of where things are heading. These will be available on our homepage shortly.
The introductions to the specifications present what each board considers to be distinctive about their offer. AQA emphasises their consultations with teachers and the support they will provide, OCR has a new ‘ExamCreator’ tool you can use to make customised practice papers using past paper questions, Edexcel talks about being ‘future-oriented’ with the ‘learner at the heart’ of the specification, while WJEC mentions its reputation for ‘clear, reliable assessment.’
However, once into the content, there is not much to separate the specs. This was expected. The Ofqual requirements, outlined above, combined with the new rules on how many drafts can be submitted for comment (only one) were always going to leave little room for exciting innovation or risk taking.
English Language – the draft specifications
All the awarding bodies have decided to have two exam papers, both with a reading and writing element.
AQA and OCR have both chosen to weight each exam equally, while Edexcel and WJEC have gone for a 60/40 split. AQA has two papers of one hour 45 minutes. OCR allows 2 hours for each. WJEC and Edexcel have allowed 1 hour 45 minutes for the paper worth 40% and 2 hours for the paper worth 60%.
All the awarding bodies have gone for non-fiction as the 19th century text, apart from Edexcel which will set 19th century fiction. There is an initial appeal to the Edexcel approach, but until the sample assessment materials are ready it’s difficult to make a judgement about which students and teachers will respond to most positively.
English Literature – the draft specifications
Again, the specifications are very similar due to Ofqual’s requirements. In addition, the more challenging requirements, such as the need for a closed book exam on a whole text, tend to lead to similar approaches.
All the awarding bodies will set two exam papers. AQA and Edexcel both have one exam of 1 hour 45 minutes worth 40% and one of 2hours 15 minutes worth 60%. OCR has two evenly weighted exams of 2 hours each. WJEC has the longest exams. One is two hours for 40% of the marks and the other 2 hours 30 minutes for 60%. If the longer exam time puts you off, it’s worth bearing in mind that longer exams doesn’t necessarily mean higher demand. If a specification crams too much into short exams, that can make it very hard for students to do justice to themselves in a very limited time.
The Proposed Set Texts
Click here for a chart detailing the Set Texts each Awarding Body proposes. These differ from specification to specification, but not by much.
To examine Shakespeare and the 19th century novel, all the awarding bodies have gone down the route of having at least one question that asks students to respond to an extract printed on the exam paper, with students required to look closely at the extract and then relate it to the whole text. AQA have gone a step further in saying that they will announce a ‘set act’ and ‘set chapter/s’ in the spring term and the extract on the paper will be drawn from the selected section. If this is approved by Ofqual, this may be a significant draw for this specification, though it may also encourage more teaching to the test, which in the end isn’t necessarily great either for students or teachers and might have a negative impact on students’ preparedness for A Level.
The main differences between the literature specs are in where and how students are asked to compare and to respond to unseen texts.
- AQA and Edexcel will set two unseen poems and pupils will be asked to compare them.
- OCR set comparison on both exam papers. Students will link a modern text to an unseen modern prose extract on Paper 1, and an unseen poem to a poem from the OCR anthology on Paper 2. Two bites at the cherry? Or double jeopardy?
- WJEC will ask students to compare poems from their anthology on Paper 1, and to compare poems again, but this time unseen texts, on Paper 2.
As with the last round of big changes in 2010, the devil’s in the detail when it comes to picking the right specification for your department. For this reason it’s worth holding off on a final decision until everything has been approved and then looking at the fine detail, not just in the specifications but in the sample assessment material, teacher guidance and so on. Look hard at what’s expected in the time and decide whether that’s well-judged by the Awarding Body. We can highly recommend ‘sitting’ some sample exam papers and putting yourself in the students’ shoes. Doing this does highlight exactly what they are being asked to do in the time given, particularly important when weighing up, for example, whether WJEC’s longer exam times in Literature would help or hinder your pupils or whether they will do better answering on 19th century non-fiction, or the Edexcel question on 19th century fiction.
You might like to know:
The English and Media Centre will be running the following courses to help you to choose your new GCSE and A Level Specifications:
- Choosing and Planning for the New A Level Literature 2015 Thursday 18th September and Thursday 18th December
- Choosing and Planning for the New GCSE English Specifications for 2015 Thursday 23rd October