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New MFL A-levels - part 2

In my last post I looked at the draft content of the proposed new A-levels for modern languages. I shall now deal with the assessment objectives and mark weightings. Once again, there are very significant changes. Here is the link again:

http://comment.ofqual.gov.uk/developing-new-qualifications-for-2016/3-subject-specific-proposals/modern-foreign-languages/

To summarise succinctly:

Listening   20%
Reading (assessed through speech and writing)   30%
Language use (accuracy and appropriacy, both speech and writing)  30%
Culture     20%

We have to be a little careful here, because reading will be partly assessed within the oral. (We may end up with summary and discussion on short texts.)

The big change here is the allocation of marks for cultural knowledge. When the existing post 2000 A-levels were designed teachers expressed the view that culture (literature, film etc) should still feature in courses. It was decided, however, that no marks could be awarded for cultural knowledge. This led to the curious situation of orals and essays being marked without explicit reference to knowledge of books, films etc. Marks could only be given for use of language, relevance, accuracy and structure. I do not know for sure why it was decided at that time not to give marks for cultural knowledge if it was valued by teachers. Perhaps it was felt that language should prevail, or perhaps it was recognised that if you gave free rein on choice of texts and topics, the examiners would not have reliable mark schemes to work to.

I have mixed feelings about this. To reward cultural knowledge means downgrading language to some extent. To include marks for cultural knowledge probably means you need to have set texts as the WJEC chose to do post 2000. If we end up with prescribed texts, as looks almost certain, I just hope they are long, imaginative and give teachers a good chance to find something that both they and students will enjoy.

What is more worrying, and I mentioned this in my last post, is that assessment of literature or film (why just these?) must include essay writing in English (50% of the marks for AO4). This is what many universities still do and I think that it is a poor idea for A-level. Why? Because it will lead to too much use of English in classrooms and, frankly, it may be too easy. Ask a student what they would prefer: to write an essay in English in French or English? They will say English. It is arguable that use of English will allow some deeper level of analysis, but it comes at a cost. My experience over many years was that you could teach serious texts without vast recourse to English and without having to write essays in English. This is a terribly retrograde move. Perhaps they were right in 2000 to keep the focus relentlessly on language.

Just a note that up to 10% of marks will be given for questions and responses in English. Is this really necessary? Is it beyond the wit of examiners to test comprehension of gist and detail through the target language?

What about listening? Why is it considered less important than reading? To my mind it is the key skill and if you award it fewer marks teachers will spend less time on it.

As for oral work, it is not yet clear to me from the assessment objectives precisely how many marks are to be awarded for it. I wonder if it will work out at around 20%.

If so, listening and speaking together would account for roughly 40% of marks. I believe this is too little. Modern languages at A-level should still be viewed primarily as a practical tool and many would argue that listening and speaking are the most useful skills for later.

Overall, the assessment objectives, like the subject content, smell fusty. It's as if we are going back at least three decades. What a shame! This has the fingerprints of the universities all over it and, even if this is what we end up with, I hope teachers and subject associations will have a serious say in the consultations.

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