The changes to 2022 GCSE and A-level exams, explained

Geography field trips and group dancing will be cut from GCSEs and A-levels next year, despite the end of lockdown, the exam watchdog has said. 

Students taking French, Spanish and German GCSEs will be required to learn less vocabulary than in a normal year, according to plans by The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual).

They may also be able to get the qualification without being tested on their ability to speak the language, with the regulator saying it will draw up contingency arrangements in case the oral component of the exam is scrapped. 

Teaching unions have welcomed the regulator’s plans to slim down exam requirements in 2022 but critics have accused the Government of “treating young people like idiots”.

John Nield, a fellow at the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors and former chief examiner for GCSEs, said the Government was “treating young people like idiots”.

“Envisaging the assessment of Modern Foreign Languages without a spoken aspect? Dance on your own? Drama without collaborative performance?” he said.

“When I go back to pubs, I would expect them to have the same quality or beer as they did before they closed. Why is that different for education?”

Ofqual carried out a consultation earlier this year and, along with officials from the Department for Education (DfE), has now considered all the responses and published their final decisions. 

Headteachers welcomed the plans but also called for a “Plan B” in case exams cannot go ahead.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said the plans “appear sensible” adding that the flexibilities and adaptations should “definitely be in place”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “At first glance, it seems a sensible balance recognising the impact of the restrictions that are currently in place and leaving room for a return to normal in the future.”

Headteachers welcomed the proposals but also called for a “Plan B” in case exams cannot go ahead

Credit: PA

English Language

Ofqual will drop the requirement for students taking English Language GCSE to record a sample of pupils’ spoken language. These are usually required by exam boards to monitor teachers’ assessments, but this year they will not be necessary.

Modern Foreign Languages

Students taking French, Spanish and German GCSEs will be required to learn less vocabulary than in a normal year, according to the regulator’s proposals. Ofqual will remove the requirement that students use vocabulary that is not already on vocabulary lists.

Pupils may also be able to get the qualification without being tested on their ability to speak the language, with the regulator saying it might scrap the oral component of the exam. 

While it would be “preferable” to have oral exams, it may not be possible due to public health restrictions, Ofqual said. 

Ofqual advised that teachers and students should prepare for oral exams but added that "contingency assessment arrangements" will be published in due course. If it becomes clear that oral exams cannot be taken, the contingency arrangements will be put into action, the watchdog said. 

Design and Technology

Rather than using machinery and tools themselves, Design and Technology students – at both GCSE and A-level – could watch teachers demonstrate how to use them. Exam boards should accept "mock-ups" and detailed intentions of how prototypes would be built.

Geography

Field trips for Geography GCSE and A-level – as well as other subjects such as Geology and Environmental Sciences – will all be axed from the course requirements. Questions relating to field trips will be stripped from exam papers.

The regulator explained during their consultation that  fieldwork might be “difficult to arrange due to public health restrictions”.

They said: “We recognise that fieldwork is an important feature of these qualifications and we encourage centres to engage with fieldwork wherever possible. However, we do not believe it is appropriate to retain mandatory requirements in the current circumstances.”

Dance

Performances for both GCSEs and A-levels will be shorter, and there will be no requirement for GCSE students to perform as part of a group. 

Music

Examined performances will be shorter, and pupils will not be required to perform as part of an ensemble.

Drama

Students will be able to watch a streamed or recorded live performance rather than seeing a live performance in a theatre. Performances will also be shorter, to free up lesson time.

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