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Is it time to scrap GCSE English language?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by TES_Rosaline, Sep 11, 2019.

  1. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member

    Critics say the current GCSE English language qualification is not fit for purpose and is part of a system that is ‘designed to ‘fail’ one-third of young people every year’. But are you convinced that a new qualification is needed to better represent the English skills students gain?

    ‘GCSE English language is not "fit for purpose" and should be replaced with a new qualification that better assesses pupils’ language skills, according to a new report.

    The report of the Commission of Inquiry, set up by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), says that GCSE English Language is too focused on literary analysis and sidelines pupils’ skills in spoken language.

    And it wants to see GCSE English replaced by a "Passport in English" that assesses a range of skills. It adds that a companion "Passport in Maths" should also be considered.’

  2. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    I don't know. The GCSE assesses some skills in understanding and creating written English.
    If we assess more skills some people will grumble about assessment overload including people where I work because we have vulnerable children who can't cope with stress.
    Having said that, the needs of the many should not be governed by the problems of my learners.
    A "Passport for English" might be good . It might have elements in common with functional skills. What I do know is that if pass rates rise, those who work with more fortunate children will grumble about "dumbing down".
    The Daily Beast will publish the easiest question and thunder "LOOK AT HOW EASY IT IS NOW. BRING BACK O LEVELS ".
  3. sabram86

    sabram86 Occasional commenter

    I'm not sure that reinventing the wheel again would help anyone. GCSE English works for most people and it is the social standard for essential skills in the written language. If you move the goalposts, then the new standard will simply alter to reflect that reality. The Passport, or whatever modish name it takes, will be inferior to English literature, etc. It'd be more fruitful to deal with the lack of reading among many young people and adults.
  4. gainly

    gainly Lead commenter

    I don't really know anything about GCSE English (I teach maths and science) but yes the current system is designed to fail about one third of students. After more than 20 years of grade inflation, Gove put a stop to it in 2010. Since then the percentage of students getting each grade is pretty much constant from year to year, which is how it used to be before GCSEs were introduced. So, unless there is a change of government policy, about a third of students will continue to get below a grade 4. I don't see anything wrong with that, there is no point in an exam which everyone passes.

    I think the problem is forcing those who don't get a grade 4 in English or maths to repeat the exam until they do. Some near the borderline might fluke a pass next time, but they are not actually going to improve. They will just hate the subject even more.

    Incidentally when GCSEs were introduced it was intended that every grade from A to G would be a pass. A grade C was originally meant to be equivalent to an old O level pass and it was expected that about 25% of the cohort would get grade C or above. It was never intended that grades below C (now grade 4) would be a fail.
    Catgirl1964 likes this.
  5. CalypsoDalma

    CalypsoDalma New commenter

    I agree with those who perceive the new GCSE English Language as 'too literature based.' I also feel that the syllabus and analytical skills required for the higher grades are too advanced for GCSE level.

    I'm not adverse to change when it's necessary and suitable, but, in my opinion, the old GCSE syllabus and grading system were far more appropriate and fair. Precocious students requiring 'more of a challenge' can always be entered early for GCSEs and A Levels.
    alexmurraybrown likes this.
  6. PeterQuint

    PeterQuint Lead commenter

    Surely, the whole concept should be parked.

    We should aim for ALL students to leave with a qualification showing basic literacy, numeracy and IT skills.

    Then, if you want a GCSE in English, maths or computing you can opt for it, much like you opt for drama or graphics.
  7. sabram86

    sabram86 Occasional commenter

    Oh dear. More dreams about helping 'every student' despite the sheer, hard and cold brutality of laziness, stupidity and the tragic aspect of life. You cannot build utopia.

    It suffices to have English qualifications that introduce pupils to the literary Canon and which test their ability to read and write in Standard English. If they cannot do these things to an acceptable level, they should fail. The qualifications seem to do this tolerably well.

    Enough with teachers' ego trips and messiah complexes.
    Catgirl1964 likes this.
  8. PeterQuint

    PeterQuint Lead commenter

    Complete tosh.

    Education has several different jobs, not one.

    When we teach people how to drive, and have a driving test, the idea is that eventually almost everyone passes. It’s nit a test to see who’s the best driver, or measure one against the other, but to ensure everyone with a licence comes up to a minimum standard.

    Whilst education is about much more than just training people up for work/society, that is one part of what it’s about.

    We need not just a workforce, but citizens capable of accessing society. That involves everyone but the least able being able to read, write, do sums, and find their way around word, excel, and so on.

    This should be one of our aims. I’m not talking about everyone passing a GCSE in any related subject, I’m talking about basic skills.
  9. sabram86

    sabram86 Occasional commenter

    Why should something as important as reading literature and learning to write well cater primarily for the needs of the least able? Basic and functional skills qualifications already exist and they are not worth much and I doubt they ever will be.

    It would be better to focus efforts on having more reading and comprehension throughout schooling, rather than having worthless tests for when it has all failed. The approach I suggest is the one taken by Michaela and its results have been remarkable.
    Catgirl1964 likes this.
  10. PeterQuint

    PeterQuint Lead commenter

    You’re getting yourself confused.

    These qualifications exist, but aren’t worth much because few employers know about them, they’re not compulsory, and most will look at GCSE English and maths.

    If everyone were set a benchmark of basic skills and expected to get that qualification as a minimum, all of that would change.

    Why would enjoying literature change? Why is it catering for the least able?
    phlogiston and CalypsoDalma like this.
  11. CalypsoDalma

    CalypsoDalma New commenter

    PeterQuint, I completely agree.

    I'm an English/literature nerd and studied English literature at BA and MA level, but I don't believe that someone with otherwise adequate or strong abilities at English language should have to demonstrate fairly advanced literature analysis skills to attain a good grade at GCSE English Language.

    While there's some overlap between the two subjects, they're not and shouldn't be treated as virtually synonymous. I feel that the old versions of GCSE English Language and GCSE English Literature were more successful at doing 'what [they] say on the tin'-and in incorporating tasks that required skills pertaining to this overlap-without giving disproportionate focus to literature at the expense of other skills that are (arguably) more 'English language' orientated.

    Furthermore, what's wrong with offering a methodical and structured approach to studying that teaches the basics first, provides an appropriate amount of support and scaffolding for that level, and allows for a more logical, systematic progression onto the next stage? Surely that's what teaching and learning are largely about?

    When I read through the re-designed GCSE English Language syllabus, I felt that this new version of the English Language General Certificate of Secondary Education was too advanced for this level and required students to demonstrate skills and understanding that are more commensurate with A Level and even degree-level studies of literature.

    GCSEs should prepare those students with an aptitude for/interest in the subject for beginning the next stage of their studies; it shouldn't require the kinds of skills and knowledge that are tested during the final stages of A Level and above.

    As I stated above, precocious students who find GCSEs too 'easy' at the age of 16 could easily be given the opportunity to study their qualifications at an earlier age.
  12. moscowbore

    moscowbore Lead commenter

    The problem I have had for many years is that A level students cannot write cohesive English. Despite having a GCSE English.
    I have taught many students who have English as a second language who have much better written English than your average native English speaking A level student.
    I suggest changing the qualification so that students need to be able to write English to pass. Sounds obvious really.
    CalypsoDalma likes this.
  13. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    Back in the 1960s, when I was a secondary school student, there was a sort of advanced English Language paper called "Use of English" for Upper Sixth Formers. It was quite a challenging exam with extended non-fiction texts to assess reading comprehension. I wonder whether it still exists in any form.

    Speaking from the perspective of a retired MFL teacher, am I right in saying that neither the use nor the understanding of spoken English is formally assessed in any GCSE exam, while the French and German candidates I taught were obliged to take listening and speaking as well as reading and writing tests in those languages? The oral communication skills of secondary school students would surely be boosted if they were formally assessed across the curriculum and not just in MFL. My understanding is that many subject knowledge tests in continental European schools are, or used to be, conducted by word of mouth.
  14. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    Agreed. This is a minimum not a maximum expectation.

    I think if you look carefully, you'll find that this already happens. You probably don't even need to look carefully. Any primary school in the country any morning (along with maths).
  15. sabram86

    sabram86 Occasional commenter

    Whatever they're doing, it's not good enough. The Pisa 2015 results show a decline in reading scores compared to strong increases in Anglophone territories such as Singapore and Hong Kong. Cf. https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf Pass rates for GCSE English Language are more or less stagnant.

    The Michaela Community School suggests what can be done with excellent schooling. Why do teachers resist their approach?
  16. DrJay

    DrJay Occasional commenter

    Completely agree with the embolden and italicised words.
  17. nemo.

    nemo. Occasional commenter

    Time to scrap ALL gcses. Waste of time testing them at 16. England needs a proper education system fit for the 21st century.
    michelle_turner57 likes this.
  18. CalypsoDalma

    CalypsoDalma New commenter

    There's some truth in this. I've worked with students (native English speakers) who are generally intelligent, have good ideas and do very well on the reading aspect of Functional English. Sadly, a number of them have underdeveloped skills in punctuation and sentence structure. A younger friend is doing a foundation year for a literature/creative writing degree at university. He writes beautiful, eloquent prose and has a real talent for writing, but he is having to do some remedial work on punctuation because his schools placed little emphasis on punctuation and grammar.

    I understand that schools now give greater focus to grammar, punctuation and sentence structure than when many of my adult learners attended, and these aspects of English frequently account for the gaps in my students' subject knowledge. While the Functional English syllabus arguably lacks scope for creative expression, I like its methodical approach to teaching the aforementioned areas.

    ESL students have probably received more explicit instruction around technical written English. Conversely, it seems that a significant portion of native English speakers have been expected to 'pick up' this knowledge from reading and speaking/listening (bearing in mind how many people speak regional dialects that have different grammatical structures from 'Standard English'.) This might account for the trends noted above by Moscowbore.
  19. moscowbore

    moscowbore Lead commenter

    Moscowbore: OK A-level class of native English speakers, now write a description of the steps you followed to create the working spreadsheet

    A-Level students: How do you do that?

    Puzzled Moscowbore: Well you write down each step which you followed beginning with reading the requirements

    A -Level Students: Then what?

    Slightly Irritated Moscowbore: OK, let's list the steps on the board ......

    Every one of them had at least a C in gcse English.
  20. CalypsoDalma

    CalypsoDalma New commenter

    ^ I would expect students with a C or above in English to be able to cope with listing the steps they had taken to accomplish a task...

    Maybe they didn't quite understand what you were asking of them...? :confused:

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