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Last update: 29/09/2013


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Summary of situation regarding “severe grading” in GCSE ML

Please download this page as a word document here.

These documents and many others referred to below relating to “severe grading” are at the ALL London website:  ASCL, ALL (Association for Language Learning) and ISMLA (Independent Schools Modern Language Association) have worked closely together on these matters which affect state and independent sectors.

 The outline proposal from ASCL, ALL and ISMLA is that grading in GCSE ML should be brought broadly into line with traditional academic subjects such as Mathematics, Science, History and Geography


·    Recommendation in Dearing Review (Mar ’07) to investigate and establish facts at GCSE

·    Dr Robert Coe ( CEM Durham University ) (Mar ’07) presents at ASCL Annual Conference “Are some GCSEs harder than others?) – see diagram on right which illustrates 6 different methodologies (the higher the line the more severely graded the subject is)

·    Guardian article (12 Mar 2007) David Willetts, Conservative education spokesman, said:  "If there is evidence modern languages is tougher than other GCSEs, then that is something that has to be corrected. They should be the same level of challenge as traditional academic GCSEs."






·    Alan Johnson asks (Jun ’07) the QCA to conduct a review and is awaiting their advice on whether or not to change grade boundaries.

·    QCA report 'Grade standards in GCSE modern foreign languages' published Feb ’08 accepts the reality of “severe grading” – see paragraphs 11-15

para. 12    To test its practical application we asked AQA, Edexcel and OCR to calculate what changes there would be to their 2007 GCSE French results if the grades were based only on the relationship between candidates’ key stage 3 test scores and their results in GCSE mathematics. The analyses indicated that the changes would be marked at the higher grades. About half the candidates presently awarded a grade B would gain a grade A as the threshold mark or performance standard for a grade A would have to move down by about half a grade width. There would be a similar effect at grade C.

·    Ofqual hold their first Inter-subject comparability seminar (Oct  ’08) with representatives from a range of organisations.  Presentations from ML, STEM and English subject representatives.  Issue of “severe grading” formally recognised, but different views about “next steps”.

·    Ofqual Corporate Plan (Sept '13)

Comparability between subjects (p.16)

There are differing opinions and known concerns about whether some subjects are harder or easier than others at both A level and GCSE. We will consider with experts the available data, information and evidence on comparability between subjects. We will determine whether any changes should be made to the qualifications themselves and if so, when, given other changes to these qualifications.

In 2013−14 we will:


- evaluate the A*/A relationship and also grading concerns in modern foreign languages and determine any action to be taken.



Value-added information (DfE and Ofsted)

Information is now available from the DfE Performance Tables website and the Ofsted/DfE RAISEonline website which shows the performance of all pupils in different subjects in terms of their prior attainment at KS2.

The English Baccalaureate Languages measure combines many languages.   

The individual line below for French is around half a grade lower (similarly for German and Spanish)