Learning / GCSE

GCSE reform in Bristol’s schools

By jess connett, Wednesday May 29, 2019

Since 2015, GCSEs have been changing. English and Maths were the first subjects to be reformed, with the first cohort of students getting their results in 2017. Over that time, the A* to G grading system has been replaced by a 9 to 1 system, where 9 represents a grade above an A*. Syllabuses and mark schemes have changed, coursework has largely been replaced by exams, and by various accounts the reformed system is tougher.

For many schools across Bristol, this GCSE exam season has been the first where all subjects have been taught under the new system. We asked people around the city for their thoughts about the reforms.

Stuart Dalley, deputy head (academic) at Badminton School

Stuart Dalley is the deputy head (academic) at Badminton School

“In some ways, the staggered nature of the GCSE reforms has made the task more difficult. It’s been a case of balancing the two different types of GCSEs and the expectations around them.

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“When the English Language GCSE was first reformed on a 9 to 1 grading scale, it was important for us to make sure both parents and pupils understand what that meant. Managing that expectations around grading that first exam proved to be a challenge, especially understanding what was required to get a grade 9.

“It’s been a tricky few years for schools, but there have also been opportunities to talk about what we do at GCSE and how we do it. Every department has considered how it teaches and what it teaches. It’s been an exciting couple of years to freshen up subjects, and start teaching some new material.

“A more rigorous GCSE system has been needed. Grade inflation was beginning to erode the system, so this has been a really good opportunity.”

Emilie Spence, Year 12 student at Redland Green School

Emilie Spence is a Year 12 student at Redland Green School

“Despite getting results I was happy with when I opened my envelope on August 23 2018, I can’t help wondering if the changes which made me take 26 exams with zero per cent coursework were necessary.

“Having seen some of my friends come away disappointed with a grade 4 (one grade off the government’s ‘good pass’ target of a grade 5), the repercussions of 9 to 1 system appear detrimental to middle-of-the-road students as well as low-ability students.

“Not even my dad, a former head of languages at Cotham School, understood the rigour of my French GCSE before reading an article comparing the standard to a first-year degree course. But I admit that one advantage of these changes was that it better bridged the gap to French A Level. I now feel more prepared for A Level exams next summer.

“Nonetheless, fundamental questions must be asked. How are these changes going to be enacted successfully on a practical level? And, crucially, for middle and low-ability students, what use do they really serve?”

Peter Knight, principal of Oasis Academy Brislington

Peter Knight is the principal of Oasis Academy Brislington

“Since assessments have existed, the grading and methodology behind them has changed and evolved.

“The reformed GCSEs have helped to raise expectations. Students are expected to have more subject-specific knowledge and an in-depth understanding of concepts. A knowledge-rich curriculum ensures students remember what they have been taught, equipping them with the skills and information they need to sit their exams, and has helped us to achieve our best results to date.

“Coursework hasn’t been removed from all qualifications, which is good as we recognise there are some students that prefer this style of assessment. We offer a number of courses that contain coursework and we also teach students the skills needed to sit an exam. We are committed to meeting the needs of our students and support them by delivering a broad curriculum where they can excel in any subject.”


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