MPs say GCSE English 2012 problems came from poor design

11 June 2013

The original design of new English GCSEs led to the problems in 2012, say MPs on the Education Committee in a report published today. The Committee calls on the Government, the regulator Ofqual, and others responsible for public examinations, to learn lessons from errors made during the time of the last government and ensure that such errors are not repeated by the Coalition.

The 2012 GCSE English results prompted significant controversy, which ultimately resulted in an application for judicial review. The Committee’s report sets out the background to these events. It describes what went wrong and identifies lessons to be learned at a time when further exam reform is under close consideration.

The problems with GCSE English can be traced back to the 2007-09 development phase of the qualification– in particular the turbulence which resulted from the shift away from a mostly linear to a modular system, combined with a high proportion of controlled assessment and generous marking tolerances. Exam board experts raised concerns at the time, but these were not acted upon by the regulator (the then-interim Ofqual).

Further difficulties arose because of pressures from the school accountability system. The problems experienced with GCSE English in 2012 highlighted serious weaknesses in the moderation of speaking and listening, with consequences for grade awarding.

Launching the report, Graham Stuart MP, the Chairman of the Education Committee, said:

“The turmoil surrounding last summer’s GCSE English results highlights the importance of carefully developing new sets of exams.

“A series of avoidable errors were made when the current GCSE English was being designed under the previous Government. Failures in the modular approach, and the moderation of internal assessments, led to a highly unsatisfactory level of confusion.

“When pursuing future reforms, it is crucial that ministers and Ofqual pay careful attention to expert opinion and don’t ignore warning voices. They must understand how much pressure schools and individual teachers are under to deliver results, and ensure that the exams children take are robust enough to withstand that pressure.

“We believe the current status of Ofqual, as an independent regulator accountable to Parliament, is the right one. However, the Coalition Government is bringing in wholesale changes to GCSEs and A levels, to a tight timetable and at the same time. Ofqual must have systems in place to anticipate problems, and be prepared to step in if it believes it necessary.

“Public confidence has taken a knock, as a result of GCSE English in 2012. Future reforms need to rebuild public trust, put children’s interests first and deliver truly world-class examinations.

“The Education Committee is also concerned that there is a rush towards separate exam systems for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, without careful reflection on what might be lost, or consensus that this is the right thing to do.”

Further information

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