GCSE shake-up means fewer subjects for pupils to take

Government attempts to make exams harder will be wrongfooted by schools starting core subject courses a year early

education editor

A revolutionary shake-up of the secondary school timetable will mean pupils spend three years, instead of the current two, studying for GCSEs in crucial subjects such as maths and English .

Many schools are expected to begin GCSE studies when pupils are 13, in response to government education reforms that have made exams harder.

The switch is most likely to be made in maths, where the new GCSE will require more in-depth knowledge of the subject, particularly in algebra and geometry. The new exam, to be set for the first time in the summer of 2017, is considered so demanding that an existing additional maths exam has been scrapped because its topics will be covered in the new GCSE.

Changes are also likely in the maximum number of GCSEs teenagers will take – reducing from 12 to eight – as new exam performance tables will rank schools on their performance in only eight key subject areas. These include the English Baccalaureate subjects of English, maths, science, a language and a humanities subject.

In the past, league tables have concentrated on the percentage of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes, including maths and English, prompting concerns that teachers focus on borderline C grade candidates rather than stretching brighter pupils to obtain A* or A grades.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Paul Dodd, director of education and learning at the Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts (OCR) exam board, said: "Maths will be a very challenging GCSE. From our point of view as an awarding body, it is very important to make teachers aware of the fact it will be challenging."

Teachers will be able to choose between two papers for their pupils: higher maths, which offers pupils a pass at grades 4 to 9, and a less testing paper, which offers only grades 1 to 5. The numbered structure will replace the present A*-to-G system with a nine-grade scale in which a pass of 9 resembles "a sort of A**", said Mr Dodd.

Experts suggest that pupils will have to spend an extra hour a week on maths in the classroom, although Mr Dodd said the increase would simply bring the UK into line with the class time spent on the subject in other countries.

"The content of the maths GCSE is so big that I have heard schools say they will teach it over a three-year period from this September," he added. "In effect, Key Stage Four will become a three-year course. A lot of schools have already decided that," Mr Dodd said.

"I think it is quite likely a lot of the new GCSEs will fit into this pattern, particularly English and maths. Hopefully the specifications will be accredited [by exams regulator Ofqual] by September."

Many schools have acknowledged they are biding their time by devoting three years of secondary schooling to pre-GCSE study.

On the subject of pupils taking fewer GCSE exams, Mr Dodd added: "The whole accountability system is changing and they will focus on GCSEs in eight subject areas.

"Candidates won't be doing 12 GCSE's, as some have done in the past, because the whole accountability system will drive candidates to do fewer subjects."

The dramatic shake-up comes at a time when exam boards and Ofqual are warning there will be greater "volatility" in this year's A-level GCSE exam results.

Key influences will be the move towards end-of-year exams and away from coursework, which will favour those pupils who shine in test environments.

A drop of around 300,000 (40 per cent) in the number of pupils put in for GCSE exams early to "bank" C-grade passes, crucial to a school's league table position, could actually boost exam results as borderline C-grade students will have longer to study before their exams. The drop follows the former education secretary Michael Gove's ruling that only a student's first sitting will count towards league tables.

In changes to GCSE English, a speaking-and-listening test will no longer count towards the exam grade, in a change that is expected to penalise some schools.

Of post-GCSE education Mr Dodd said the AS-level exam was likely to be "in some difficulty". Up until now, the exam has counted towards A-level grades, but Mr Gove insisted on decoupling it, so that it sits as a standalone qualification. Many schools have dropped it as a result, making it harder for universities to discern evidence of a pupil's sixth-form work before making a provisional offer.

Meanwhile, experts are predicting at least one in four papers taken this year will be awarded an A* or A-grade pass when A-level results are published on Thursday.

In addition, while boys are likely to outperform girls at A* level, as a result of their far higher representation among the number of candidates taking maths (where a higher percentage of A* grades is recorded), there is still likely to be a substantial gender gap in favour of girls in the overall pass rates.

Girls, though, have little opportunity to improve on their performance in the subject, because their overall pass rate is close to 100 per cent.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments