General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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New GCSE: bite-sized exams and no coursework


21/12/2007 :: UK :: The Times

Pupils will be able to retake GCSE modules to improve their grades under an overhaul of the qualification that will also end coursework in most subjects.

Up to 60 per cent of GCSEs will be completed before the end of the courses through module examinations or "controlled assessments". The reforms bring GCSEs closer in format to A levels, which have been modular since 2000.

The controlled assessments will be supervised under strict conditions at school. Although pupils will still be able to consult the internet and other source material, teachers will be on hand to ensure that work is suitably referenced and not simply copied.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which published the new GCSE criteria, said that officials expected modular or "unitised" exams to be available in all main subjects. Pupils would be allowed to resit an exam unit if they were unhappy with their marks.

It is now up to the exam boards to draw up detailed courses. The new rules apply to 28 GCSE subjects, including history, geography, classics, law, engineering and languages. Maths and English will be reviewed next year.

Critics had said that GCSEs could become "fragmented" if pupils were allowed to take exams in small bites.

In a consultation on the reforms, a third of respondents expressed concerns over modularisation. More than 70 per cent said "at least 50 per cent of all assessment should be at the end of the course".

Critics have claimed that the decision to divide A levels into modules - with the option of repeated resits - made the exams easier to pass.

Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham, said: "The possible advantage is that young people can be motivated by clocking up credit as they go along. But the big disadvantage is that modular exams turn the subjects into bite-sized bits, rather than a rounded idea."

The QCA said that exam standards would be maintained under the new system.



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