The GCSE reform process
The then Secretary of State for Education proposed to replace GCSEs with a new qualification, English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs). The GA made a number of significant objections to these proposals (see Reforming key stage 4 qualifications - consultation response from the Geographical Association, December 2012). We argued, for example, that a change in qualification alone was unlikely to raise standards and that significant attention should be paid to supporting schools and teachers through training and guidance to ensure effective qualification reform.
Proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates were abandoned and on 7 February 2013 the Secretary of State for Education announced a reform of GCSEs instead. The GA published a Key stage 4 qualification reform guidance document in March setting out the implications for teachers.
The GA advised the Secretary of State on the content of the new qualification, as part of the Department for Education (DfE’s) expert subject group. During this period, we also highlighted the importance of geography and argued that humanities subjects should be compulsory at KS4, in response to a government Secondary School Accountability Consultation (GA response May 2013).
In June, the DfE published reformed GCSE subject content criteria and launched a consultation whilst Ofqual revised its regulatory requirements for reformed GCSEs in the same month. As always, the GA made a full response to the draft geography subject criteria (consultation response from the Geographical Association, July 2013). Following this public consultation on the draft, the DfE published a government response (November 2013).
The GA ran a concerted campaign in defence of fieldwork throughout this period. We described terminal exams as an inadequate means of assessing rich learning processes such as fieldwork, and therefore fundamentally disagreed with Ofqual’s proposal to assess fieldwork in this way. We sent this letter to the Secretary of State in July 2013, which stressed the importance of non-exam assessment and advised the Secretary of State to re-consider plans for exam only approaches. A further letter was sent to Elizabeth Truss, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, in December 2013 reinforcing the Association’s view. The GA’s position was not to advocate internal assessment but rather a form of assessment which would allow candidates to apply the knowledge, skills and understanding they have developed through their first-hand experiences.
The DfE published the final version of the new content criteria for geography GCSE on 9 April 2014. The revised qualification included a number of significant changes, including a rebalance between physical and human geography content and requirements for all students to study the geography of the UK in depth and use a wide range of investigative skills and approaches, including mathematics and statistics. At least two examples of fieldwork outside school were also required. This strengthened requirement arose from the principled stance on the importance of fieldwork taken by the GA.
Ofqual proposed new draft assessment objectives for the new Geography GCSE in the same month.
The Secretary of State argued that reformed GCSEs would remain universal qualifications accessible to the same proportion of pupils that currently sits exams at the end of key stage 4. He noted that the level of what is widely considered to be a pass would be made more demanding, and that at the top end these qualifications should provide preparation for A level, through a balance of more challenging subject content and more rigorous assessment structures, which include fewer modules and a focus on final exams.
Ofqual consulted on its plans for completing GCSE, AS and A Level reform – which included the new assessment objectives – in July 2014. Download the consultation response from the Geographical Association here.
Ofqual ran a consultation on the conditions and regulations for GCSE geography (which covered technical aspects such as how fieldwork might be assessed through examinations) in January 2015. Find their proposals here and the GA’s response here.
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