Languages GCSE redevelopments | Pearson qualifications

Languages GCSE redevelopments

9 October 2014

An Ofqual analysis of the summer consultation on the new GCSEs in languages (first teaching from September 2016) has recently been produced.

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See the full Ofqual analysis

From previous updates, you will be aware that the new GCSE qualifications will:

  • no longer incorporate controlled assessments and require independent and spontaneous use of the target language
  • focus more on the culture and identities of the countries and communities where the language is spoken
  • include translation activities, a requirement for students to ask questions in the speaking unit, more questions in the target-language and some linked to short extracts from literary genres
  • have contexts linked to themes relating to:
    • identity and culture
    • local, national, international and global areas of interest
    • current and future study and employment.
Ofqual has confirmed that, for the new modern foreign language GCSEs:
  • 25 per cent of marks will be allocated to listening, speaking, reading and writing
  • reading, writing and listening skills will be assessed by exam
  • speaking will be assessed by non-exam assessment
  • where a qualification is tiered, students must take all their assessments in one tier, not across a combination of both.

The new qualifications will reflect the content outlined in the Secretary of State for Education’s statement of reformed GCSE and A level content  from earlier this year and provide a logical progression route from the latest KS3 programme of study.

The consultation analysis document draws on feedback from 359 respondents (predominantly teachers) and refers to the fact that many welcome the removal of controlled assessments as this should enable teachers to spend more time teaching and less time assessing. Respondents also identify a need for special training to support teachers as they prepare to deliver the new qualifications.


Ofqual also confirmed, in their arrangements for the new languages GCSEs, that only those in French, German and Spanish will be redeveloped in the first instance. These new GCSEs will be available for first teaching from September 2016 (first results in summer 2018) and that GCSEs in other languages will follow on from September 2017.

Tiering issues

The analysis also refers to the issue of tiering and the potential removal of the facility to mix tiers across the four skills. It refers to the final paragraph from our formal response to this proposal:

"Our stakeholder research shows that teachers are generally in favour of mixed tier entry; it is felt that as languages are a mixture of skills, learners often perform differently in each one. Currently, however, only 10% of learners take mixed tiers, but we think this would increase once speaking and writing become a terminal exam, given the more challenging nature of these productive skills. Allowing learners to choose the tier most appropriate for them in each skill might prevent aspirations being capped and allow learners to achieve the result that reflects their real ability. This latter point may have a positive impact on take-up of languages.

However, we also recognise that mixed tier entry can also have adverse impacts on student achievement as students may be persuaded to enter for lower tiers on components assumed to be of greater difficulty such as speaking."

Some of you will have taken part in our linked poll on the Languages subject page: "Do you agree with a proposed DfE requirement for all GCSE languages units to be taken at the same tier?" The breakdown of our poll votes revealed that only 31.45% of our respondents agreed with the proposal compared to 68.55% of respondents who were against.  

The Ofqual document also refers to tiering questions on all modern languages and it is envisaged that decisions will be reached on these in due course once the development process for GCSEs in languages, other than French, German and Spanish begins, and awarding bodies are provided with more information.

New grading

You will be aware that the new GCSEs will feature grades from 1 to 9. Grade 9 is proposed as a new high standard, perhaps achieved by half of the students that currently achieve an A*. Grade 5 is proposed as a link to the international PISA tests (measuring achievements in Maths, Science and Reading) and Grade 4 equivalent to the current C grade.

Have your say

Our 2016 qualifications must meet the new subject content requirements, but it’s equally important for us to work closely with teachers so that you can help shape the qualifications so they are fit for purpose and best meet the needs of your students.

We have, of course, already talked to teachers across the country about potential topic areas and tiering but invite you to take part in a GCSE survey (by no later than 15 October 2014) and/or to join the Pearson teacher panel.

We’re also working with a range of other key stakeholders including senior lecturers in languages and teacher education at various universities and employer representatives.




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