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Some choice words in spoken English

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A levels and GCSEs

In September 2015 students will begin studying the new GCSE in English language, which will be graded 9 to 1. The qualification will be first awarded in 2017. The English language GCSE is based on new subject content which includes the requirement for students to demonstrate spoken language skills.

Ofqual has already announced that the assessment of speaking skills will not contribute to the 9 to 1 grade for English Language. Instead, students' performance in their spoken language assessment will be reported in a separate grade. In July 2014, Ofqual consulted widely on how spoken language assessments should be conducted, marked and graded and exam boards have carried out trials with schools on how those proposals would work in practice.

We have used the trial findings and what we have been told by teachers, exam boards and other stakeholders to inform our approach. We want GCSE English language qualifications which allow all students the chance to develop and demonstrate their spoken language skills. These skills are an important element within the qualification. We also want to ensure the best educational outcomes, through valid and reliable assessments that are manageable for schools. To ensure that all students are given the opportunity to be assessed on their spoken language skills, we are proposing in our current consultation on conditions, requirements and guidance that schools will be required to confirm that they have taken reasonable steps to make sure that their students complete the spoken language assessment. We are calling this a spoken language statement and details of what this involves will be provided in exam board specifications.

We considered a number of options for assessing spoken language skills using either a marks-based approach, similar to current speaking and listening assessments, or a non-marks approach. The work carried out by exam boards explored both models and we have decided that a non-marks approach will be used. Spoken language assessments will be assessed by teachers (although we have made provision for students to be directly assessed by exam boards where desirable or necessary) using a set of criteria that will be common across all exam boards. To be awarded a level, a student must meet all of the criteria within that level. The criteria will be included in specifications and exam boards will provide guidance and exemplification to teachers on how to assess their students.

Following our consultation, we have decided that levels of Spoken English will be described as either “pass, merit or distinction”, with “distinction” being the highest level available. These levels were considered by most to be well-understood terms that can be easily interpreted by users of the qualification. We also considered carefully responses about the use of the term ‘fail’. We have decided, on the balance of the evidence we have, that this outcome should be described as ‘not classified’.

We are proposing in our consultation on conditions and guidance that all outcomes for spoken English, including ‘not classified’ will be reported on certificates. Of course, this does not include students who are exempted from spoken language by reason of disability. Arrangements for how outcomes should be reported for these students are being considered and will be confirmed in due course.

We also considered a range of views on how to balance the need for monitoring with the cost and manageability of recording students. We strongly believe that measures must be put in place to monitor internal assessment to ensure reliability, accuracy and consistency. But we also recognise that arrangements must be proportionate and manageable for schools and colleges. We have therefore decided that a sample of students from each school will be audio-visually recorded to allow exam boards to monitor assessment. The details of the sample and how this will work in practice will be confirmed in exam board specifications.

Further details of our decisions on the assessment of spoken language in the new GCSE English language can be found on our website.

Phil Beach
Director of Strategic Relationships, General Qualifications

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