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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

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

Tutor required for Level 3 Workskills

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Eduction are...

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Part Time Primary Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...

Day In a Page

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
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week