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Gove: new GCSEs 'more challenging'
New GCSEs will be "more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous", Michael Gove has said.
The Education Secretary has published details of the content of new GCSEs in key subjects including English, maths, science and the humanities. Under the proposals, teenagers in England will study the likes of Austen, Dickens, Shelley and Wordsworth in English literature, advanced algebra, statistics and probability in maths and complete an in-depth study of one of three historical periods in history.
England's exams regulator Ofqual also published a separate report setting out proposals to overhaul the structure of GCSEs.
It confirmed plans to grade GCSEs on a scale of 8 to 1, and to examine pupils at the end of their two-year-courses, abolishing the modular system which allows pupils to take papers throughout the course. Exams will only take place in the summer, except for in English language and maths, where November re-sits will be allowed. The number of subjects which have "tiered" exams - papers aimed at high and low ability students - will be cut, and coursework will only be allowed where exams cannot test certain skills or knowledge.
The GCSE name is likely to be kept. It was recently reported that proposals were under consideration to call the qualifications "I-levels".
In a statement to the Commons, Mr Gove said: "In line with our changes to the national curriculum, the new specifications are more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous. That means more extended writing in subjects like English and history; more testing of advanced problem-solving skills in mathematics and science; more testing of mathematics in science GCSEs, to improve progression to A-levels; more challenging mechanics problems in physics; a stronger focus on evolution and genetics in biology; and a greater focus on foreign language composition, so that pupils require deeper language skills."
New qualifications in English language, English literature, maths, biology, chemistry, physics, combined science, geography and history are due to be introduced in England in September 2015, with teenagers sitting the first exams in the summer of 2017.
The new maths GCSE features advanced algebra, statistics, ratio, probability and geometry, while those students who choose to take geography will undertake two different types of fieldwork which will be assessed in an exam. In history, pupils will have to complete an in-depth study based on one of three periods - Medieval (500-1500), Early Modern (1450-1750) or Modern (1700 to present day). The new GCSE history course also contains no controlled assessment - coursework completed in the classroom - with exams based on extended essays and short answers.
Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: "Ofqual's role is to make sure that qualifications are of high quality. GCSEs are important and valued qualifications, but we have seen over the last two years that they can be improved. We have a real opportunity here to put in place reformed GCSEs which are engaging and worthwhile to study and to teach."
Teaching unions have raised concerns about the pace of the reforms. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "The haste with which Michael Gove is pushing through huge simultaneous changes to both exams and the curriculum carries major risks that will put last summer's English GCSE debacle into the shade", while Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Where we have concerns is in the proposed syllabus. Simply making exams harder does not guarantee higher standards or mean that students will be prepared for a job at the end of it."