In early October TES described the factors which led to the 2012 GCSE fiasco
. But there were some missing. In November at the London Festival of Education, Tina Isaacs, Institute of Education (IoE), described further factors which contributed to problems with GCSE English. These included:
1 Increasing the English exam syllabi from two to three.
2 Changing the weighting of internal assessment from 40% to 60%.
3 The addition of functional skills.
4 The modular structure of the exam.
5 A subtle shift from comparable performance to comparable outcomes.
6 Because it was a new exam there was very little evidence from January to set standards.
7 Teacher behaviour: entering pupils early and mistaking “cut” scores for grade levels.
8 Migration of pupils in independent and selective schools to iGCSEs.
Some are described in more detail on the IoE blog
Isaacs feared that many of these factors could contribute to another perfect storm when EBC is first examined. The only definite factor is that EBCs will not be modular – but modules are on their way out in any case. These factors are unknown:
1 The English National Curriculum for Key Stage 4 hasn’t been published.
2 The consultation paper says the intention is to assess EBCs 100% by externally marked exams. However, the consultation hasn’t ended. It’s not known whether internal assessment will remain and, if so, how it will be weighted.
3 Whether functional skills will be included or not.
4 Whether independent and selective schools would use EBCs or iGCSEs. Geoff Barton, also contributing to the debate, said heads should have nothing to do with EBCs and choose more appropriate exams for their pupils even if it meant the exams didn’t count towards league tables. The take-up of the exam is in doubt.
With any exam there is the difficulty of setting standards when there is no prior evidence. Examiners would face this problem when EBCs were first assessed.
Added to the unknown factors are two known: the ridiculously short time-scale before pupils start preparing for EBCs in 2015. Ideally, the English EBC syllabus with details about which board will set the exam should be in schools one year before implementation to allow for planning – that is, September 2014. It is now nearly the end of November 2012. The second known factor is that reforming English examinations at 16+ will not bring England in line with most other developed nations who have graduation at 18. Setting externally-assessed, high-stake exams at 16+ is an anachronism.
A larger perfect storm is brewing which threatens to be even more devastating that the one of August 2012. And that isn’t over yet.