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Results of the Ofqual GCSE MFL consultation

Ofqual have recently published the results of the consultation they carried out on MFL GCSE. The main finding can be succinctly summarised as follows:
  • Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing will be equally weighted at 25%
  • reading, writing and listening will be externally assessed exams
  • speaking assessments will continue to contribute towards the overall student grade
  • speaking will be assessed by non-exam assessment with further details to follow
  • the specifications will be tiered but the requirement to enter all skills at the same tier is new. 
It is worth noting that speaking tests are not classed as exams. They are officially non-exam assessment. That's a technical definition. An exam has to be a paper sat by a group of students at the same time in strict exam conditions.

Nothing has changed in terms of future content of specifications, so we can still expect to see some translation in papers. Oh joy! I have to comment, as I have done before, that although translation both ways can be a useful exercise, if you out it int he exam teachers will end up doing too much of it in class. This is a classic case of the "backwash" effect whereby the test format affects pedagogical practice in the classroom. In this case the result will be less target language use. It's a pretty awful and retrograde decision, one taken in the name of grammatical rigour. We could have had the latter without recourse to 1950s methods.

The main bone of contention among teachers will be the fact that students will have to opt for either Higher or Foundation tier, without the ability to "mix and match", as has been the case for years. Ofqual are clear in their report that teachers favoured a "mixed tier" approach. Teachers are right. We have all known plenty of students who are stronger in some skills than others. It is quite common for a student to be weaker at writing than the other skills, or for a student to be stronger at "passive" skills (reading and listening) than "active" skills (speaking and writing).

So why have Ofqual ruled that mixed tiering will not be allowed?

The precise references can be found in the consultation results which you can find here. (Scroll down for the link.)

AQA argued that mixed tiering would mean having to use a UMS system (as we do now). This means: "marks may have a different value in different parts on the range and compensation between the various components may be distorted. AQA argued that the aggregation of raw marks avoids distortion and is more transparent to both centres and students." This comes across as a rather technical defence of avoiding UMS, which, despite any statistical anomalies, does seem to have worked over a good few years.

Pearson (Edexcel) claimed that mixed tier entry may have an adverse effect of student achievement if candidates were encouraged to enter easier components. Thery also noted that only 10% of its entry were entered for mixed tiers. (This seems a reasonably large number to me.) One might argue that lack of mixed tiering may have an adverse effect on aspiration if schools play safe and enter large numbers of candidates for Foundation to play safe.

OCR felt mixed tiering was not needed if the overlap between Foundation and Higher Tier was great enough.

Overall, I am left thinking that the individual needs of students have been sacrificed for statistical, technical reasons and that teachers will have to make some tougher decisions on tier entry in the future. After doing mock exams, compromises will have to be made and, no doubt, many students will end up doing papers which are either too hard or too easy for them. Typically, middle ability candidates will end up doing Higher Writing when they are not really able to cope with it. The current system is more finely tuned to individual student need and aptitude.

Much may depend on how the overlap element works and whether this will provide a sufficient enough buffer in the case where students are inappropriately entered.

So.... new MFL GCSEs? Any good?

  • For subject content we shall have to wait and see what the specs throw up. 
  • Translation will be a step backwards. Pity. 
  • Literary content will need to be very carefully chosen. 
  • The end of CAs is, on balance, to be welcomed - less memory learning, less disruption of normal teaching, more spontaneity. 
  • Grading may be more robust, but the linear writing test will be a big challenge to many candidates who can currently put together an acceptable piece of rote learned written language. 
  • The new Speaking test will have to tread the fine line between encouraging spontaneous speech (for the most able) and pre-prepared language (to support the less able). 
  • Teachers' views were not taken into consideration nearly enough.
  • Tiering is good, but lack of mixed teiring could end up, paradoxically, offering less challenge
  • It could have been better and it may not age well.

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