ALL London branch
Last update: 16/07/2013
GCSE Consultations with reference to Modern Languages
Situation as at 13/07/13
See the ALL website page for a very useful summary of the
National Curriculum Review process to date.
This document summarises the current state of play with
respect to GCSE languages and gives a personal commentary on the Modern
Languages GCSE subject content and assessment objectives.
To make it clear, what are formal consultation questions and what are
questions which I am posing for consideration in response, I have labelled the
latter "HEM Questions" to indicate me (Helen Myers) as the
Secretary of State for Education announces that following
evidence gathered through Government's public consultation on reforming KS4
qualifications, GCSEs will be comprehensively reformed
"so that young people have access to qualifications which match and
exceed those of the highest performing jurisdictions"
He also writes to OFQUAL , the examinations regulator, setting
out policy for the reform of GCSEs and asking them to develop revised
regulatory requirements for the qualifications with regard to that policy.
The DfE has "carried out research, consulted with
experts, and drafted subject content and assessment objectives which reflect
the high standards expected of 16 year-olds students in high performing
jurisdictions around the world"
These drafts are the subject of the DFE consultation, but
it is with reference to these drafts that Ofqual have given their response.
(So, although only drafts, they are informing Ofqual's response).
There are currently two consultation documents with
respect to GCSE
The DfE seeks views on
the proposed subject content and assessment objectives for reformed GCSE
qualifications to be introduced for first teaching from September 2015 (i.e
those in Year 8 during 2013-14) English language, English Literature, maths
biology, chemistry, physics, combined science double award, geography and
history) and also draft content framework for Modern languages and ancient
languages, which will be introduced for first teaching September 2016 (Y7 in
Ofqual is consulting in
parallel on the key characteristics of the qualifications e.g. GCSE
assessment arrangements for teaching beginning in Sep 2015 (i.e. not
languages). Languages will be
consulted on subsequently.
Previously there was one body responsible for both
curriculum and assessment (QCA) This
has been disbanded.
important process difference this time from previous changes is the very clear
and distinct separation between the description of the subject content (DfE)
and the way in which it is to be assessed (Ofqual).
While looking at the subject content we need to ask
subject content which is being described, or is it an assumption about how it
is to be assessed?' e.g. it should not include whether the Target language is
to be used or not in assessment.
Everyone needs to be really clear about the fact that
since ML is in the second phase the assessment aspect is not being consulted
on currently for languages.
This is actually very helpful because it allows us to
enter into a constructive dialogue while the thinking is still taking place.
This is an over-arching document.
Within this is a summary chapter
"Subject content and assessment objectives, and standards of
with a set of questions below for consultation.
There is a specific separate document for Modern
Languages, considered in the next section
The over-arching document summarises the main elements of
the subject content and assessment objectives (Para 5.8 = MFL) before posing
the questions for the consultation at the end of the over-arching document.
questions for each subject area (incl ML) are:
There are specific
questions for each of the other subjects, but none for ML.
states the intention regarding progression between stages of study
There are no specific questions for ML.
Here is an analysis and commentary on the proposals, with
reference to the current 2008 version [downloadable from http://www2.ofqual.gov.uk/downloads/category/192-gcse-subject-criteria]
and with other subject responses.
The draft document has 12 headings and subheadings.
Reference to knowledge and understanding required for a GCSE in
languages is made throughout the document.
The following table attempts to bring these together in a
'checklist' which may assist in being able to compare with other documents,
whether former ones in our jurisdiction (e.g. 2008 criteria), or documents in
other high performing jurisdictions.
HEM Comment: No defined
themes were given centrally in response to Dearing recommendation that people
were not motivated by the GCSE topics and the need for flexibility of choice
for productive skills (e.g. to allow for CLIL).
Is there a reason for the variation of settings for different
Is there a reason for not making specific reference to the
target culture when recommending settings, contexts and themes?
Can CLIL be accommodated in the theme of 'current study'?
Would it be useful to define generic functions to be covered?
(1986 GSE criteria)
Do media and authentic texts need to be within the broad themes?
See 'Scope of study' for questions relating to emboldened
'Scope of study' is a term which has not been used
previously in GCSE specifications.
In research terms it means range covered and specific boundaries
I have made a very detailed comparison of the 2008 and
2016 draft in order to identify similarities and changes with respect to the
scope of study. See Appendix:
Detailed Analysis - Working Document
In the 2016 draft, for each skill area there is a series
of bullet points which very loosely appear to describe a hierarchy of level
reached in the skills (more so in listening & reading than speaking &
writing). See tables which follow after the "HEM Comments &
Note that most of the bullet points use descriptions and
terminology from what is written in the 'Grade
A' boundary grade description in the GCSE 2008 specification'.
It therefore appears to describe the upper boundary
rather than the lower boundary. This
bias is not surprising given the government's published policy objectives in
developing the proposals (expectations to match and exceed those in highest
performing jurisdictions, more stretching for the most able, taken by the same
proportion of students that take GCSE currently).
But the lack of guidance for lower levels will be problematic for
Ofqual and the Awarding Bodies preparing assessments which still have to cater
for the wide range of ability and presumably will have to extrapolate
progression towards the goals and define grades for those who do not match the
upper boundary descriptions.
The description in 2016 draft
appears to describe only the highest boundary. (Strands indicate this).
Is it appropriate to broaden the scope of this skill?
(Ofqual is very clear on its remit to reflect the
objectives of designing an assessment accessible to all: 'we
want to see GCSEs that are accessible to all, using assessments that really
test knowledge, understanding and skills that are essential to the subject and
are designed so that the results are valid and reliable'.)
Within the 'scope of study' there are references to some
contexts and purposes which are not made explicit in section 5.
I have included them in the 'Contexts and purposes' table above.
(Listening and reading contexts require understanding of 'authentic
material addressing a wide range of relevant contemporary and cultural
themes') However, this could
be a description of the broad themes.
Is there a reason for defining the themes of the authentic
materials, or could this be re-worded to 'authentic material addressing the
broad themes of the specified context''?
What is the definition of 'more abstract material'?
Reference to 'range
of SPECIFIED contexts' [2008: no
specified contexts defined in response to Dearing recommendation to allow
flexibility and choice of contexts]
HEM Question: Is there
going to be guidance to boards as to breadth of specified contexts beyond the
headings? (Note that other subject
areas maths, science, history, geography have extremely detailed specific
content regarding contexts for the skills)
Explicit reference to recognising three tenses [the 2008
criteria deliberately omitted reference to this in response to evidence that
people distorted exam preparation and lessons n order to 'tick the tense box'
at the expense of developing other higher level language which would have been
more appropriate to the contexts.]
HEM Question: Is there a danger of reverting to the artificial
situation where, for example, in
order to reach a higher level in the speaking test within a 7-minute speaking
test, all three tenses need to be covered?
Reference to authentic texts [In the past this has caused
problems for Awarding bodies - a constraint on stimuli].
Here there seems to be a practical solution to previous problems by
allowing for 'abridged / adapted' texts. This
of course means they are no longer 'authentic' but this is a necessary
Nature of response defined, requiring higher processing skills
(so not sufficient just to understand the language):
listening: summarise, evaluate (L/BP5)
reading: organise and present relevant details, summarise
HEM Question: Is this going to interfere with assessing pupils'
skills in the target language?
The descriptors for listening and reading are fairly matched.
There are occasional differences.
there a reason for the slight differences? (e.g. reading = 'high frequency
familiar language' (R/BP2); listening = 'familiar language' (L/BP2) +
reference to abridged / adapted authentic sources (L/BP5
ad R BP5) /+ final bullet point (L BP5, L BP6)
Specific requirement to ask and answer questions (S/BP2; W BP2)
HEM Comment: Good
Use appropriate style and register formal / informal [This used
to be part of former specifications] (S BP8. W BP5)
HEM Comment: Good
Specific reference to making creative use of language and using
language for 'new purposes' (S/BP3 & W/BP5,) and 'independent ' language
(W BP6) [in2008 a discussion
about the definition of 'creative language' was lengthy and controversial and
the word was deliberately not used]
How can 'creative language' be
defined? (It is difficult enough to define creative language in your own
mother tongue, let alone in a second language.)
What is the definition of 'new purposes'?
[The criteria set out the contexts and purposes …do we deliberately
have to make pupils face purposes outside the criteria for which they have not
What is the definition of 'independent' language?
Still the requirement to deal with the 'unexpected' (S/BP4, W [2008:
the term 'Unpredictable' used].
How can this be tested to ensure fairness?
A student who has come across the 'unexpected' language recently [e.g.
the teacher by chance happened to
spring the same unexpected scenario on them in a recent lesson] to is going to
be at a clear advantage over a student who has not come across it. They
may have equal language skills. Perhaps
access to the vital key vocabulary to cope with the unexpected situation may
help to make it a level playing ground?
There is a goal
that candidates can follow and understand
'clear standard speech at normal speed' with respect to familiar
contexts over a range of contexts (L/BP2). This statement is worrying.
Firstly, even with familiar contexts, it is usually accepted that in a 'real'
situation where a non-native speakers is interacting with a native speaker,
speakers will be considerate (and sympathetic) enough to slow down or adapt
their speech in order to aid
understanding. Secondly, it
implies that for the other statements, clear standard speech is not required.
To what extent
will the selection or production of listening sources be expected to take
account of the fact that candidates are not at an advanced stage of language
Specific reference to 'interaction' (heading)
[Discussed at 2008 review .. acknowledgement that interaction is
testing listening skills]
How can interaction be assessed without penalising for
quality of listening skills?
Is there a difference between 'a variety of purposes' and
'different purposes'? [I assume 'different' suggests a narrower range?]
How will 'increasing' accuracy and fluency' be measured? (BP5) (Suggest
omit the word 'increasing')
The function of writing is defined in BP6, requiring higher
processing skills (so it is not sufficient just to be able to write the
language): summarise information in order to interest, inform or convince.
Is this going to interfere with assessing pupils' skills in the target
Translation in to the target language (BP7) requires access to a
dictionary in order to be a valid and reliable test of applying grammatical
knowledge and structures, rather than a test of memorising an infinite number
of words. Not knowing specific
words (a lower level skills) could
prevent a candidate from demonstrating what they know, understand and can do
with respect to manipulation of language (a higher level skill).
Can the requirement to be able to use a dictionary and demonstrate
language learning skills be included in the scope of study in order to address
this need? [This has been included in previous criteria]
In the tables
which follow, I have identified 'strands' which define elements of the skill
scovered, and may be useful for comparison with previous criteria
Tables summarising "Scope of Study"
BP = bullet point
Listening: understand and respond to spoken
Cross reference with 2016 to highlight changes / additions etc
(grey) = hierarchy within each row; emboldened
= same or very nearly the same language;
black = new (2016)
Description of assessment objectives all imply mixed
skills testing: 'and respond to,
Comment: This is Ofquals' remit.
If this stands, it will seriously constrain the means, validity and
reliability of the assessment.
to' / 'and interact effectively' - does this dictate the nature of
the assessment? (Comment:
beware that this lead to double penalty if for example a question is not
understood and they cannot demonstrate what they can say)
How can Ofqual ensure that assessments are fit for
purpose and fairly test the targeted skill effectively without penalising if
the task set involves another skill?
Description of assessment objectives specifies the level
reached in the skills 'understand
an respond to different types of
language / communicate and interact effectively
Is there a reason for including reference to the quality
of the skill in the assessment objective?
Is there a reason why it cannot simply be stated as an objective to
assess the skills of listening / speaking / reading / writing?
The skills are equally weighted.
Note that 2008 had
a constraint of 25/60 rule for
practical skills + Dearing recommendation about S & W led to requirement
that writing and speaking should be tested under controlled assessment
conditions. There was an
expectation that boards might take
advantage of flexibility to
introduce 'mixed skill' testing (e.g. speaking test where 20% - speaking, 10%
- listening) however this did not occur.
In AO2 and AO4 at least 10% of the marks available must
be allocated to knowledge and
accurate application of the grammar and structures of the
language prescribed in the
HEM Comment: (No change from 2008
Assessment objectives will be fully assessed through external
organisations can require teachers to conduct the oral
exams, and then send recordings
to the awarding organisations for marking. They are
internally conducted, but not
Is this not the remit of Ofqual to decide the best means
It is the expectation that questions and rubrics for the
majority of modern languages will
be set in the assessed language, except where tasks focus
on assessing the candidate’s
understanding of the use of the language (grammatical and
lexical knowledge) or in tasks where the candidate is translating from the
assessed language into English or from
English into the assessed language. It is more
appropriate that the instructions for these
tasks should be set in English.
HEM Comment: It is
the job of the regulator with the boards to determine what is the best way of
assessing in the most valid and reliable way. Is this not the remit of Ofqual
to decide the best means of assessing?
I am aware that this is a controversial area, but I am
extremely concerned about the prospect of a return to target language testing.
In my view, target language testing leads to convoluted, artificial
test types which confuse the candidates in high pressure test situations,
and do not allow them to demonstrate what they know, understand and can
do with respect to the assessment objectives.
Valid reliable forms of testing leading to fair judgements of
candidates' skills are vital for this high-stakes examination.
An examination should not be used to promote a pedagogical ideal. I
know that this view is shared by significant
people working for awarding bodies who have had the task of setting
exam questions and who in the past
had to spend inordinate amounts of time and effort finding pictures to
represent lexical items clearly in order to avoid the use of English.
Languages using logographic systems or characters such as
Mandarin Chinese and
Japanese may set all questions and task instructions in
English, as the sole use of hanzi or kanji is deemed too challenging for this
Given the acknowledgment of relative difficulty in these
languages, should not other aspects of the criteria be similarly adapted?
(Allowance made for this in 2008)
Lists of grammar requirements will be drawn from the
existing lists produced in the
Ofqual GCSE Subject Criteria. There will be some relevant
categorisation according to
core and more complex language use. There will also be an
indication of structures that
students will be expected to recognise only and not
specfication grammar list categorises and distinguishes core / more complex
grammar, though requirement to do
so not specified in its criteria. Good
idea to include as a requirement.
Elements which appear in 2008 criteria but not
here, are those relating to the assessment regulations.
The numbers refer to the points in the 2008 criteria.
2008 GCSE subject criteria for modern foreign languages -
ORIGINAL FROM HEM!
Grade descriptions are
provided to give a general indication of the standards of achievement likely
to have been shown by candidates awarded particular grades. The descriptions
must be interpreted in relation to the content specified by the specification;
they are not designed to define that content. The grade awarded will depend in
practice upon the extent to which the candidate has met the assessment
objectives overall. Shortcomings
in some aspects of candidates’ performance in the assessment may be balanced
by better performances in others.
Cross reference with 2013 to highlight changes /
emboldened = same
or very nearly the same language
black = new
In summary, Ofqual is addressing these 6 issues:
Modularity - decision already taken that assessment will all be at
the end of the course
Reliability of non-exam assessment (Currently favour approach of
ensuring used only if absolutely necessary, be manageable, appropriate
weighting, [so no longer contrained by the 25%/60% rule],
not distorted by external pressure. En;gish
solution = separate certificate, not part ogf grade)
Addressing criticism of predictable / formulaic exams
Assessing the benefits / drawbacks of tiering [models of
differentiation: overlapping tiers / core plus extension / non overlapping (or
adjacent) tiers. Ofqual currently
favour overlapping tiers.
Consider alternative ways of reporting results (Currently favour
grading on a 1-8 scale aiming to get more even distribution)
Addressing issue of grade comparability between subject (research
findings that grades are not comparable )
Design principles proposed for reformed GCSEs:
7 Subject-specific features of the reformed
We have set out in the
earlier sections of this consultation the design principles we propose should
apply to the reformed GCSEs, namely:
the qualifications will take about the same time to
study as current GCSEs
the qualifications will 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 the subject, and that would
stretch the most able students, and
content that would be exclusive to the higher tier
can be identified
the qualifications will be linear and will include
assessment will be by way of exams, set and marked
by the exam boards, where exams can validly assess the intended outcomes
where assessment arrangements other than exams are
used, the balance of assessment types will reflect the learning outcomes for the
where a subject is assessed only by exam, the total
examination time will be a minimum of 3.5 hours
assessments will be taken in the summer only –
with the exception of re-sits in English language and mathematics
students’ achievements will be reported using
grades 8−1 or U
short courses of the qualifications could be made
available but must not drive the design of the full qualification.
We have reviewed
controlled assessment used in current GCSEs, focusing on the subjects in the
first phase of reform, and we have published our findings separately.
As part of that review, and drawing on the findings from across the full
range of subjects, we propose that in future the decisions about whether or not
to include non-exam assessment in a qualification should be based on a set of
principles, as follows:
non-exam assessment should be used when it is the
only valid way to assess essential elements of the subject;
non-exam assessment must strike a balance between
valid assessment of essential knowledge and skills, sound assessment practice
any non-exam assessment arrangements should be
designed to fit the requirements of the particular subject including the
relative weighting of written exams and other components assigned to it; and
non-exam assessment should be designed so that the
qualification is not easily distorted by external pressures from the wider
We have used these
principles to guide the proposals on whether the reformed GCSEs in each subject
should include non-exam assessment alongside written exams.
The table below gives an overview of the proposals.
Ofqual (2013) Review of Controlled
Assessment in GCSEs. See www.ofqual.gov.uk/files/2013-06-11-review-of-controlled-assessment-in-GCSEs.pdf
(accessed 11th June 2013)
Assessment of spelling, punctuation and grammar