GCSE & A Level Reforms

pupil All colleges and schools will offer different choices and selections of subjects. This article explains the Government policy.
To make sure school leavers are better prepared for life after school, we will:
  • reform GCSEs so they provide a strong foundation for further academic and vocational study
  • reform A and AS levels to better prepare students for higher education
  • encourage more 16- to 18-year-olds to take up mathematics and science subjects
Every state school must offer a broad and balanced curriculum.
Maintained schools (ie those that are paid for by central government through local authorities) in England are legally required to follow the national curriculum. All maintained schools must also teach religious education to pupils at every key stage and sex education to pupils in secondary education.
Academies and free schools are not required to follow the national curriculum but they must teach a curriculum that includes English, mathematics, science and religious education.
Also, all schools must publish their school curriculum by subject and academic year on their website.
Employers, universities and colleges are often dissatisfied with school leavers’ literacy and numeracy even though the proportion of young people achieving good grades has gone up in recent years. Around 42% of employers need to organise additional training for young people joining them from school or college.
We believe making GCSEs and A levels more rigorous will prepare students properly for life after school. It is also necessary to introduce a curriculum that gives individual schools and teachers greater freedom to teach in the way they know works and that ensures that all pupils acquire a core of essential knowledge in English, mathematics and sciences.
Finally, we need to address literacy standards in schools and make sure pupils develop good reading skills early.
 
Key stage 4 (GCSE) and key stage 5 (A level) qualifications
To make sure school leavers are better prepared for life after school, we will:
  • reform GCSEs so they provide a strong foundation for further academic and vocational study
  • reform A and AS levels to better prepare students for higher education
  • encourage more 16- to 18-year-olds to take up mathematics and science subjects

Key stage 4 qualifications (GCSEs)

Following a public consultation, the Education Secretary announced proposals for comprehensive reform of GCSEs on 7 February 2013.
These links go to the subject content for reformed GCSEs in:
These GCSEs will be taught in schools from September 2015.
In 2015, we published the subject content for reformed GCSEs in:
These GCSEs will be taught in schools from September 2016.
In January 2015, we published the subject content for reformed GCSEs in:
These GCSEs are taught in schools from September 2016.
In February 2015, we published the subject content for reformed GCSEs in:
These GCSEs are taught in schools from September 2016.
We will develop subject content for GCSEs in the remaining subjects for teaching from 2017.
 

Key stage 5 qualifications (A levels)

On 22 January 2013, the Education Secretary confirmed that A levels would be reformed and that universities would be more closely involved in their development. He also announced that AS levels would become standalone qualifications.
Between April and July 2013, Professor Mark E. Smith, Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, led an independent review of A level subject content. Following a public consultation, Professor Smith submitted his final recommendations on subject content in a report to the Secretary of State, who accepted them.
In April 2014 we published content for revised A and AS levels in:
These A levels will be taught in schools and colleges from September 2015.
We are working with universities to reform the content of remaining A levels. The Russell Group of universities set up the A Level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB) to review subject content for ancient and modern languages, maths, further maths and geography. We accepted ALCAB’s final recommendations in December 2014.
As a result, in December 2014 we published content for revised AS and A levels in:
These A levels were first taught in schools and colleges from September 2016.
In January 2015 we published content for revised A and AS levels in:
These A levels will also be taught in schools and colleges from September 2016.
In February 2015 we published content for revised A and AS levels in:
These A levels will also be taught in schools and colleges from September 2016.
In December 2014 we also published content for revised AS and A levels in:
These will be taught in schools and colleges from September 2017.
 

National curriculum

The ‘National curriculum review: call for evidence’ ran from 20 January to 14 April 2011. The call for evidence received 5,763 responses.
On 7 February 2013, we launched the formal ‘Consultation on reform of the national curriculum in England’. It sought views on the draft national curriculum, including proposals to give teachers greater flexibility with the current curriculum to prepare for the new one. The consultation closed on 16 April 2013 and received over 17,000 responses.
On 8 July 2013 we published our response to that consultation and a revised version which was subject to a short further consultation. The consultation ended on 8 August 2013. We published the summary of responses on 11 September 2013.

Key stage 4 qualifications (GCSEs)

The consultation ‘Reforming key stage 4 qualifications’ ran from 17 September to 10 December 2012. We sought the views of schools, further and higher education institutions, employers, awarding organisations, curriculum and assessment experts, and the general public. We published our response to the consultation on 7 February 2013.
On 11 June 2013 we launched a consultation on subject content and assessment objectives of the new GCSEs. The consultation closed on 20 August 2013.
In parallel with our consultation, Ofqual ran a consultation on the regulatory requirements for the reformed GCSEs which closed on 3 September 2013. Ofqual published its response to the consultation on 1 November 2013.
On 16 July 2014 we launched a consultation on GCSE content for:
  • art and design
  • computer science
  • dance
  • music
  • PE
The consultation ran until 19 September 2014.

Key stage 5 qualifications (A levels)

Ofqual ran the ‘A level reform consultation’ from July to September 2012 and received over 1,000 responses from parents, students, schools, colleges, higher education institutions and employers. Ofqual published a report on the consultation in November 2012.
Following the Mark Smith review, we ran a consultation on the content of reformed A levels between October and December 2013. We published the consultation response on 9 April 2014.
Ofqual ran a consultation in parallel on the proposed changes to the assessment objectives and assessment arrangements for each of the subjects covered in this consultation and on the regulatory aspects of the reformed A levels. Ofqual published the consultation results on 9 April 2014.
On 16 July 2014 we launched a consultation on A level content for:
  • ancient languages
  • modern languages
  • geography
  • mathematics
  • further mathematics
  • dance
  • music
  • PE
The consultation ran until 19 September 2014.
 
In April 2014 we published impact assessments looking into the possible negative impacts the reformed GCSEs and reformed A and AS levels might have on students because of their age, religion or belief, pregnancy or maternity, sexual orientation or as a result of gender reassignment.

Who we're working with

We will be working closely with the independent regulators Ofqual and with exam boards in the reform of GCSEs and A level examinations. Ofqual will be considering the arrangements to regulate the new qualifications effectively.
We are also working with the A level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB), set up by The Russell Group of universities, who will advise us on the content of reformed A levels in mathematics, further mathematics, geography and languages.
 

Appendix 4: GCSE reform

We have reformed the content of GCSEs to make them more challenging so pupils are better prepared for further academic or vocational study, or for work.
The changes we are introducing are:
  • the English language GCSE will require better reading skills and good written English
  • the English literature GCSE will encourage students to read, write and think critically; it will assess students on challenging and substantial whole texts and on shorter unseen texts
  • the mathematics GCSE will provide greater coverage of areas such as ratio, proportion and rates of change; it will require all students to master the basics, and will be more challenging for those aiming to achieve top grades
  • science GCSEs will cover new content, including the human genome, life cycle analysis and space physics, and they will be more mathematically challenging
  • the history GCSE will require students to study more historical periods; it will cover 3 eras - medieval, early modern and modern - and will concentrate more on British history
  • the geography GCSE will require pupils to use maths and statistics, and will concentrate more on UK geography; it will also require students to carry out at least 2 pieces of fieldwork
  • languages GCSEs will be more demanding and most exam questions in modern languages will be asked in the respective foreign language
  • the art and design GCSE will emphasise creativity and drawing; we will remove the concept of ‘endorsed’ and ‘unendorsed’ courses and replace it with a series of separate art and design titles
  • the computer science GCSE will require students to understand mathematical principles and concepts such as data representation, Boolean logic and different data types; students will also have to understand the components of computer systems, and write and refine programs
  • the dance GCSE will include new theory and will require students to appreciate and analyse professional works
  • the music GCSE will require students to read and write staff notation, understand chord symbols and analyse unfamiliar music
  • the physical education (PEGCSE will emphasise the use of data to evaluate physical activity; students will be assessed in 3 different activities, including at least 1 team sport - a list of sports and activities that schools can offer as part of the new GCSEs is available
  • the citizenship studies GCSE includes 3 new citizenship concepts; it will require students to carry out at least 1 in-depth investigation into a citizenship issue
  • the drama GCSE will require students to understand texts and performance in their social, cultural and historical context; students must study at least 1 performance text in depth and at least 2 extracts
  • the food preparation and nutrition GCSE will teach students about the scientific and nutritional properties of ingredients - this knowledge will help them prepare and cook healthy meals
  • the religious studies GCSE requires pupils to study 2 religions; it also gives them the opportunity to study the philosophy and ethics of religion, including learning about non-religious beliefs
More information on the content of revised GCSEs is available.
For the regulatory aspects of the new GCSEs, Ofqual has introduced:
  • a new grading scale that uses the numbers 1 to 9 to identify levels of performance, with 9 being the top grade
  • a structure where all assessment happens at the end of the course and content is not divided into modules
  • exams as the default method of assessment, except where they cannot provide valid assessment of the skills required
  • new rules on tiering which will only apply for subjects where untiered papers:
    • do not allow all students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills
    • will not stretch the most able students
Tiering is a system where students take different exams based on their ability (eg, students who sit a higher tier exam might have access to grades A* to E, while students who sit a lower tier exam can get grades C to G).
 
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