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Commentary on new GCSE subject content document

Page 3 Subject aims and learning outcomes

I note the greater emphasis placed on production (speaking and writing) rather than reception (listening and reading). This bias is corrected in later sections. Emphasis on spontaneity, fluency and independence. As at KS3, notable reference to "literary texts", which are subsequently (page 4) defined to include letters, excerpts from literature and essays, poems, short stories, novels or plays. This is a change of emphasis, reflecting the content of KS2 and KS3.  I welcome this in general since it should allow for more imaginative and creative work, but in reality, we can assume that there will be little study of novels or plays at KS4. Intercultural understanding is given some prominence (more so than KS2 and KS3). Bilingual learning is referred to (CLIL).

Page 4 Stress on progression from earlier key stages. I remain unsure quite what "matters, skills and processes" are. I note that purposes should include work and academic-related related language as well as personal interest.

Page 5 Listening and speaking

This is generally uncontroversial, but I would question: "follow and understand clear standard speech at normal speed". Even at AS and A2 students do not currently have to cope with language spoken at "normal speed". This is unrealistic and too demanding. I welcome the reference to "authentic sources, adapted and abridged as appropriate". "Adapted" will mean slowed down and simplified, which somewhat contrasts with the earlier reference to "normal speed".

The statements on speaking seem uncontroversial. Translated into assessment they should mean less memorised learning of chunks.

Page 6-7 Reading and writing

I note the reference to "abridged and adapted literary texts". I have no issue with this and we should end up seeing some more interesting course books as a result.

I also note the reference, as at KS3, to translation of sentences and short texts from English, though not from the target language. As I have previously recorded in this blog, I see the usefulness of some translation of this type, but do not see why it should be included in a programme of study. It is too ideological and could encourage poor practice overall. Teachers do not need to be told to use translation and it is not a necessary part of a course.

Page 8 Assessment

It seems we are to return to equal weighting of the four skills. This is better than what we have now, but I would have preferred to see less emphasis given to writing. This continues to reveal a bias towards the written word in MFL and in education in general. In these days of Google Translate we should not be valuing writing as highly. It will lessen time given over to listening and speaking which most would regard as more important.

I welcome that in Speaking and Writing a minimum of only 10% of marks need be awarded for accuracy. One may have feared that in the search for "rigour", accuracy would play too great a role.

This is important:

"It is the expectation that questions and rubrics for the majority of modern languages will
be set in the assessed language, except where tasks focus on assessing the candidate’s
understanding of the use of the language (grammatical and lexical knowledge) or in tasks
where the candidate is translating from the assessed language into English or from
English into the assessed language. It is more appropriate that the instructions for these
tasks should be set in English."

So, this means a return to mixed skill assessment, which I welcome. However, does this statement also mean that parts of the assessment will include translation into the target language? If this just refers to, say, bullet points in English for composition writing, then I would have no problem. If, on the other hand, it means formal "prose translation" of a passage or sentences, then this would be a seriously retrograde and undesirable step which would have deleterious effects on classroom practice. I hope and trust it is the former.

And that's about it!

We have, therefore, another super slim document which will be fleshed out with grammar and vocabulary in exam board specifications.

Most of it is uncontroversial, but I believe there was a missed opportunity with skill weightings and we need to be wary about how much translation, especially into the target language, ends up in courses and on exam papers. The move towards more imaginative texts is to be welcomed.


  1. Good summary, thanks Steve. I agree that we should value speaking and listening above writing - it would be interesting to know the real-world percentage breakdown of writing vs speaking.
    Jamie @languagenut

  2. Hi
    Good summary - I'd just done a similar summary for my department when a colleague showed me your page. Agree with all you say - also I think there needs to be some reference to video rather than just audio in assessing listening. Song lyrics as well as poetry /literature would also bring it more into the 21st century.
    Jon Meier

  3. Good summary. Thanks. I'd done something similar for my dept and then someone showed me your post. I agree with all your points. Plus I think it's worth saying there should be some reference to video extracts when assessing listening skills. Also it would be nice to see song lyrics also appear as part of the possible 'literature' sources. A few more references to new media and social networking would bring the proposals more into the 21st century.
    Jon Meier

  4. Thanks, Jon. I agree with your comments about video, song lyrics and social media. Good points.

  5. Great summary, very useful, thank you. One question - do you know whether this document shapes iGCSEs too, or are they completely independent from UK government input?
    Thanks, if you can help me!

  6. Hi there, great summary, very useful, thanks. One question - do you know whether this document shapes iGCSEs too or whether they are independent from UK government policy?

  7. I believe IGCSEs are separate. By the way, someone asked me when the new GCSEs would begin. The answer is not before Sept 2016. with first exams in 2018. We are told that most subjects will begin a year before that. Michael Gove says that MFL will be a year later because of complications with assessment. Orals? I can't see why they should be delayed.


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