Michael Gove, UK secretary of state for education, made a statement today regarding the reform of GCSEs

Michael Gove, UK secretary of state for education, made a statement today regarding the reform of GCSEs. The Government also published its response to the consultation on Key Stage 4 (KS4) reforms and released new draft programmes of study.

Initially billed by the media as a complete u-turn on his proposed English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBC), his speech confirmed that the title EBC is to be dropped, but many of the other proposals remain.

Speech bubble

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So, what does this mean for GCSE science?

The new 'reformed' GCSE science qualifications (rGCSEs) will be introduced for first teaching from 2015. They will include an increase in demand, more challenging subject content and more rigorous assessment structures. The programme of study for science at KS4 has been published for information, however, by May 2013 the Government will publish for consultation the requirements for rGCSE subject content.

The Government say that rGCSEs should avoid tiered papers as they 'place a cap on ambition'. But they acknowledge that the 'appropriate approach to assessment will vary between subjects and a range of solutions may come forward, for example, extension papers offering access to high grades alongside a common core'. What this means for science, it is currently uncertain if either Ofqual or the exam boards will be responsible for addressing this matter.

Plans to move to a single exam board for each qualification have been abandoned at present.

Will there be a dual/single award option?

Dual award science will continue to be offered, but not single award. The combined science course will cover a narrower range of material than the individual sciences, but at the same depth. 

What about practical exams?

Internal assessment will be kept to a minimum, and only used 'where there is a compelling case to do so'. The Government say that 'certain aspects of assessment, such as the assessment of practical science [.] lend themselves less easily to externally marked examinations.' Ofqual and the exam boards will be expected to decide where controlled assessment is absolutely required, or 'where alternative, more innovative approaches to assessing candidates' abilities may be possible.'

Periodic tables

The Government believes that the use of examination aids 'should be restricted where possible', but that 'access to the periodic table during examinations in science allows testing of a pupil's ability to apply the table rather than his or her ability to memorise it.'

What happens next?

The changes will apply to rGCSES in science from September 2015. A formal consultation on the KS4 programmes of study will take place later this year.

League tables and accountability

The Government also launched a consultation on secondary school accountability. While the concept of the EBC has been dropped, the EBacc as an accountability measure for schools has been retained.

The standard 5 A*-C measure will be replaced with a system that looks at the percentage of pupils that achieve a pass in English and mathematics, and a progress measure based on pupils' average scores across a suite of eight qualifications: eligible subjects will include EBacc, other academic, arts and vocational qualifications.

 GCSE Reform 

Government response to the KS4 qualifications reform consultation

Draft National Curriculum programmes of study for KS4 English, maths and science 

Published for information and discussion