Life in Linear


Earlier this year the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofqual announced consultations on proposed changes to the content and structure of GCSEs taken by students in England. The new linear GCSEs will be taught in schools from September 2015 and the first exams will take place in Summer 2017.

We are reforming the content of GCSEs to make them more challenging so pupils are better prepared for further academic or vocational study, or for work (DfE July, 2014)

The changes being introduced:

• The English language GCSE will require better reading skills and good written English.
• The English literature GCSE will encourage students to read, write and think critically; it will assess students on challenging and substantial whole texts and on shorter unseen texts.
• The mathematics GCSE will provide greater coverage of areas such as ratio, proportion and rates of change; it will require all students to master the basics, and will be more challenging for those aiming to achieve top grades.
Science GCSEs will cover new content, including the human genome, life cycle analysis and space physics, and they will be more mathematically challenging.
• The history GCSE will require students to study more historical periods; it will cover 3 eras – medieval, early modern and modern – and will concentrate more on British history.
• The geography GCSE will require pupils to use maths and statistics, and will concentrate more on UK geography; it will also require students to carry out at least 2 pieces of fieldwork.
Languages GCSEs will be more demanding and most exam questions in modern languages will be asked in the respective foreign language.

More information on the content of these revised GCSEs is available here.

For the regulatory aspects of the new GCSEs, Ofqual has introduced:

• A new grading scale that uses the numbers 1 to 9 to identify levels of performance, with 9 being the top grade.
• A structure where all assessment happens at the end of the course and content is not divided into modules.
• Exams as the default method of assessment, except where they cannot provide valid assessment of the skills required.
• New rules on tiering, which will only apply for subjects where untiered papers do not allow all students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, or will not stretch the most able.


Of course it was Mr. Gove who got the ball rolling by pledging to improve the exam system in England; he said the trend for taking exams in modules – and for resits – had led to a downgrading of standards because it encouraged teachers to “teach to the test” rather than give pupils broader knowledge of a subject.

Students shouldn’t be continually cramming to pass the next exam or resitting the same test again and again simply to boost their mark (DfE March, 2012)

It is claimed that a return to a linear structure will help reduce the dangers of over-assessment of young people and increase the opportunities to teach whole subjects in a joined up way rather than in bite-sized chunks. However, a study conducted by Cambridge Assessment revealed that the state-directed “one size fits all” approach to the modularisation of GCSEs (both in favour and against) was flawed, giving justification for both linear and modular assessment routes to coexist (as they will do in Wales).

Whilst the debate rages on regarding what the actual headline effect on results linear exams will have, what is clear is that students need to be prepared for ‘Life in a linear World’.

Click on the link below to see the challenges that lie ahead along with some potential solutions (requires Prezi).

‘Life in a linear World – climbing Mount Improbable’





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