Skip to main content

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…

Worried about the new GCSEs?

Twitter and MFL Facebook groups are replete with posts expressing concerns about the new GCSEs and, in particular, the difficulty of the exam, grades and tiers. I can only comment from a distance since I am no longer in the classroom, but I have been through a number of sea changes in assessment over the years so may have something useful to say.

Firstly, as far as general difficulty of papers is concerned, I think it’s fair to say that the new assessment is harder (not necessarily in terms of grades though). This is particularly evident in the writing tasks and speaking test. Although it will still be possible to work in some memorised material in these parts of the exam, there is no doubt that weaker candidates will have more problems coping with the greater requirement for unrehearsed language. Past experience working with average to very able students tells me some, even those with reasonable attainment, will flounder on the written questions in the heat of the moment. Others will…