Thursday, 3 December 2015

The accredited AQA GCSE specification (1)

Here is your key link to the specimen papers:

AQA will be very pleased that their specification is first out of the blocks, having been scrutinised by Ofqual over the last few months. A good deal of the draft has remained very similar, notably the subject content and assessment of listening and reading. The most significant changes requested by Ofqual have occurred in the Writing and especially Speaking papers.

For Speaking the main issue has been Ofqual's insistence that all prompts must be in the target language at Foundation Tier. Let's have a look at what this means in practice on a French paper (the principles will be identical for German and Spanish).


Here is a specimen Foundation Tier photo card task (15 marks):

Example B: The student gets a photo of some people celebrating at a party. The prompts are:

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a sur la photo ? 
• Qu’est-ce que tu as fait pour fêter ton anniversaire l’année dernière ? 
• Quel est ton cadeau d’anniversaire idéal ?

Example C: The student gets a photo of three young children looking at a box of bottles and cans for recycling. The prompts are:

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a sur la photo ? 
• Tu aimes recycler ? … Pourquoi/pourquoi pas ? 
• Qu’est-ce que ta famille a recyclé la semaine dernière ?

This is pretty clear. My only observations are that the level of challenge is greater than what it used to be at Foundation Tier some years ago and that to accomplish the spoken task the student has to understand the TL questions (in listening or reading mode or both).

If we look at the role play next, here is an example.

The student gets these instructions:

"Your teacher will play the part of your French friend and will speak first. You should address your friend as tu. When you see this – ! – you will have to respond to something you have not prepared. When you see this – ? – you will have to ask a question."

Then the task (15 marks):

Tu parles de ton collège avec ton ami(e) français(e). 

• Ton collège – description (deux détails). 
• ! 
• Sciences – ton opinion et une raison. 
• Projet – septembre (un détail). 
• ? Matière favorite.

AQA have done their best to make the task as clear as possible given the Ofqual constraints. Nevertheless, we know that weaker candidates will struggle with interpreting tasks of this type, even with classroom practice. Point 4 (Projet) would cause difficulty and the (!) response is another mixed skill response demanding comprehension of a question.

Here is another example:

Tu discutes du collège et du futur avec ton ami(e) français(e). 

• Uniforme scolaire (deux détails). 
• Règlement au collège – ton opinion. 
• Premier cours – quand. 
• ! 
• ? Profession idéale.

In this example point 2 might cause confusion for a weak candidate.

Fortunately, AQA have been able to stick to the principle than the role plays can be conversational in nature, rather than transactional in a very artificial way (as proposed by other boards in their drafts). For example, I am glad we don't get examples of students buying clothes in a shop or asking about lost property. This type of role play might seem superficially attractive, but when you think about it teenagers are very unlikely to find themselves in the type of situations you get in such role plays. An exchange with a partner is a little more likely and role plays of this sort reinforce general conversation work.

The remainder of the 7-9 minute oral is devoted to general conversation (30 marks).

The teacher conducts a conversation based on the two themes which have not been covered on the photo card (between three and five minutes at Foundation Tier). A similar amount of time is spent on each theme. The student chooses the first theme; the second theme is the remaining theme which has not been covered in the photo card part of the test.


The structure is the same as above, but the conversation last longer - 5 to 7 minutes.

Here is a photo card task:

The student gets a photo of some people watching a film in the cinema. The instructions and prompts are:

Your teacher will ask you the following three questions and then two more questions which you have not prepared.

• Qu’est-ce qu’il y a sur la photo ? 
• Quelles sont les qualités d’un bon film ? … Pourquoi ? 
• Comment était le dernier film que tu as vu ?

Of note is the fact there that, unlike Foundation, there are two unknown questions to be answered. In addition the prompts anticipate longer answers.

Now let's see a role-play:

Tu parles avec ton ami(e) de la technologie et des réseaux sociaux. 

• Utilisation de la technologie récemment (deux détails). 
• Importance des portables et une raison. 
• Réseaux sociaux (un avantage). 
• ! 
• ? Projets ce soir.

That should be within the compass of a Higher candidate. I must say there is a clumsiness about this format which irritates, but which is down to Ofqual's demands. There remains the risk that candidates will simply misread or misunderstand a prompt, so the test could be considered slightly invalid. If we wanted to test speaking ability alone, then we would need to take out any interference from listening and reading. This is a constant dilemma in an assessment regime which separates out the four skills. Interestingly it is not something we fret about so much at A-level, so maybe Ofqual are on the right lines here by wanting to encourage teachers to use as much TL as possible. We know how strongly the backwash effect from tests operates; teachers teach to tests.  If when practising for tests, students see more TL, this may improve overall learning. On the other hand, many teachers will just see a testing format which unfairly penalises their weaker students, not allowing them to show what they can do.

I believe AQA have done their best to produce something as approachable as possible given the constraints they were working under. Next time I'll have a look at the Writing papers which may (spoiler alert) disappoint teachers of Foundation candidates. Go and have a look yourself.

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