Dozens more GCSE courses approved

More than 180 GCSEs have been approved by England's new exams regulator for teaching from next year, it was announced today.

The accreditation is part of a major overhaul of the exams system for 14-19 year olds, which has seen major changes made to GCSEs.

Many of the newly accredited courses are modular, allowing teenagers to re-sit units and improve their grades.

It means GCSEs will now be more in line with A-levels, which have been modular since 2000.

Traditional coursework has been replaced with "controlled assessment" in many cases. This means that pupils will complete projects towards their final grade in class rather than outside of lessons.

There has also been a move towards introducing more varied questions in exams, which will encourage candidates to explain and analyse and give extended written answers.

In total, Ofqual has accredited 181 GCSE specifications covering 60 different subjects.

It includes subjects such as history, geography, classics and languages. GCSE science has already been revised and maths, English and ICT specifications will be reviewed and accredited next year.

Ofqual said the qualifications have been reviewed to ensure that the exams fit with the new secondary school curriculum.

Kathleen Tattersall, chair of Ofqual, said: "The GCSE is a well-established qualification, understood and valued by young people, parents and employers.

"These new GCSEs, will ensure that all young people are able to demonstrate their skills, knowledge and understanding when studying for a qualification that meets their individual needs. The inclusion of controlled assessment and more varied question types will ensure that GCSEs continue to stretch and challenge young people.

"As these new qualifications are introduced I want to reassure students, teachers, employers and the public that Ofqual will ensure that the GCSE standard is maintained. It is vital that young people, who work so hard to gain valuable qualifications, get fair, reliable and consistent results."

Greg Watson, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said: "There has been too much regulation and qualifications by committee and, as a result, GCSEs had become very stale and mechanical in their style. Thankfully GCSE development has become less about government diktat and more about speaking and listening to teachers.

"Transforming GCSEs in line with the revised criteria was no easy task but we were mindful of the fact that whatever we did would have a profound affect on the futures of thousands of young people, and consulting with teachers was critical to this process.

"The new specifications that have been put before the QCA for accreditation are more relevant to today's society, allowing teachers to develop the skills in young people needed to prepare them for employment or further education."

Dr Mike Cresswell, director general of the AQA exam board, said he was delighted that the new GCSE specifications had been accredited.

He said: "AQA is proud of the range of GCSEs we provide as well as the excellent personal support and value for money we offer to schools.

"Through our partnerships with teachers and students, we have created an excellent range of GCSEs. In doing so we have recognised that each subject has its own unique requirements that are reflected in our new specifications.

"Our new GCSEs have engaging and accessible content for all levels of ability and will enable students to realise their full potential."

A spokeswoman for the Edexcel exam board said they were "pleased" that all of their courses for first teaching in 2009 had been accredited.

She said that a number of brand new GCSEs were being introduced for 2009, including a citizenship full course, previously only available as a short course, as well as new short courses in languages.

Edexcel said a number of their revised GCSEs would be available as modular courses or in the existing format, with exams at the end of the course.

Experts have claimed that dividing GCSEs into "bite-sized" modules could make the exams easier to pass.

But the decision to introduce controlled assessments was welcomed.

Alan Smithers, from the University of Buckingham, said: "Modules are likely to give a further boost to the results because young people will take the exams in small bites and be able to repeat modules.

"The move towards controlled assessment is welcome because coursework, as it was, was a cheat's charter and it was impossible to be sure who had done the work, parents or friends for example."