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New GCSE and A-level MFL exams first teaching in September 2016

This letter from Ofqual, published today, confirms that new specifications for languages at GCSE and A-level will be taught from September 2016. We can expect the former to ditch the current arrangements for controlled assessment and for the latter to have some more input from Russell Group universities.

Although I am no longer at the chalkface I know I would be happy to see an end to the current regime of controlled assessment, with its over-emphasis on memorisation, variable marking standards and opportunities for malpractice. I am one of those who would prefer a linear course with terminal assessment.

From the documents we have seen so far, however, I am bound to be disappointed by the continued attachment to writing and possible move towards translation. As always the key challenge will be to provide an assessment regime which supports the less able whilst challenging the strong linguists. I do not believe this can be done without a tiering system. I suspect Ofqual agree, even if Michael Gove does not.

It is less clear what might change at A-level as this exam has tended to remain quite traditional with its attachment to the traditional essay and translation. I would expect familiar contemporary topics to remain along with what we have come to call "cultural topics". I would like to see improvements to mark schemes and would like to see less emphasis on essays (which produce unpredictable marks) and translation (which encourages teachers to abandon target language use in the classroom).

The involvement of universities means we could see A-level becoming too much of a preparation for university MFL courses, as it was in the second half of the twentieth century before teachers and exam boards set their own agenda). The danger of this is that students who do not seek this will be put off from taking the subject.

One policy aim should be to reverse the serious decline in the A-level entries. With this in mind perhaps we should be considering a syllabus with stronger vocational/business orientated elements (à la OCR syllabus of some years ago). GCSE content, usually perceived as dull by teachers and pupils, will also need to be livened up to encourage take-up at KS4.

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