New GCSEs and A-levels

Why are GCSEs and A levels changing?

The new qualifications will:

  • provide a stronger foundation for further study and employment, keeping pace with the demands of universities and employers.
  • support students in developing the knowledge, skills and values they need for life in modern Britain.
  • match the standards of the best education systems in the world.

GCSEs: the main changes

The new GCSEs will:

  • make more demands of students, to help them achieve as much as students in countries with the best education systems.
  • be taken by the same range of students who take GCSEs currently, across a range of abilities.
  • be awarded in grades from 1 up to 9, with grade 9 being the highest grade.
  • Where possible students will be assessed by exam, with other forms of assessment only for particular subject skills (e.g. in art and design or physical education).
  • All exams will be at the end of a two year course of study.
  • In most subjects, students will not be grouped in different ability tiers for the purposes of assessment – only maths, sciences and languages will have different papers for different groups of students.
  • Although students can improve their grades through re-takes, only their first result will count in performance tables.

GCSE reforms timetable

September 2015 (first exams 2017)

  • New GCSEs – English language, English literature and mathematics.

September 2016 (first exams 2018)

  • New GCSEs – history, science, geography, languages, art and design, citizenship, computer science, dance, drama, music, physical education, food preparation and nutrition, religious studies.

September 2017 (first exams 2019)

  • New GCSEs – other subjects which Ofqual decide will be developed as reformed GCSEs.

Summer 2016

  • Last exams in old GCSEs – English, English language, English literature and mathematics.

November 2016

  • Final resit in old GCSEs – English, English language, English literature and mathematics.

Summer 2017

  • Last exams in old GCSEs – history, science, geography, languages, art and design, citizenship, computer science, dance, drama, music, physical education, food technology and religious studies.

2015 English and mathematics GCSEs

The new maths GCSE

  • More content to study, and more stretching maths at the higher grades.
  • Supports a deeper and broader understanding of the subject.

The new English language GCSE

  • Robust foundation in reading, and writing good English.
  • 20% of marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar.

The new English literature GCSE

  • Encourages students to read, write and think critically.
  • Range of challenging and substantial whole texts, and unseen texts.

2016 GCSE subject content changes

  • Science: includes new, up to date content such as the human genome, life cycle analysis and space physics; includes more challenging maths.
  • Geography: use of maths and statistics; more on UK geography; at least two pieces of fieldwork.
  • History: more historical periods, over three eras – medieval, early modern and modern – and more on British history.
  • Modern foreign languages : more demanding, and most exam questions in modern languages will be in the foreign language.
  • Computer Science: includes key mathematical principles; the key components of computer systems; and program writing.
  • Music: more critical appreciation; writing staff notation; chord symbols and analysing unfamiliar music.
  • Art and Design: more focus on creativity and drawing.
  • Dance: more critical appreciation.
  • Drama: more on performance texts and their historical, social and cultural context.
  • Citizenship: more focus on knowledge of key citizenship concepts; includes an in-depth investigation.
  • Food Preparation and Nutrition: replaces existing range of subjects related to food. Strong food science and practical content.
  • Physical Education: more theoretical content. Students assessed in three activities.
  • Religious Studies: greater understanding of religion itself, with students assessed on at least two religions.

A levels

Equipping students to progress to success at university and in their careers.

  • More involvement from universities in the development of A levels to make sure that students are well prepared for higher education.
  • No change to level of demand or grading structure.
  • The AS will be separate from the A level, so that the AS marks do not count towards the A level grade.

AS qualifications

  • Students taking an AS can be taught in the same lessons as students who are working towards the A level in the same subject but not doing the AS.
  • Students can take an AS in an extra subject for breadth, alongside A levels in their main subject choices.
  • Students can still complete the AS and use their results to help decide which subjects to continue to A level.
  • Universities publish their own admissions statements.

A level reform timetable

September 2015 (first exams 2017)

  • English language, English literature, English language and literature, history, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, art and design, economics, sociology, business, computer science.

September 2016 (first exams 2018)

  • Modern foreign languages (French, German and Spanish), ancient languages, geography, dance, drama, music, physical education and religious studies.

September 2017 (first exams 2019)

  • Mathematics, further mathematics, design and technology, and other remaining A level subjects.

2015 A levels – key features

  • Mathematical and quantitative content – strengthened in relevant subjects : science, computing, economics and business.
  • Science – increased emphasis on practical skills and experiences, including the use of key techniques and apparatus.
  • English literature – an ‘unseen text’ in the exam, and more indepth study of a fewer number of texts overall, with three pre-1900 works.
  • English language – only minor changes.

2016 A levels – key features

  • Modern Foreign Languages – more critical and analytical thinking, engagement with the culture and literature of foreign countries, and more accurate use of the language in speech and writing.
  • Ancient Languages – the current A level is fit for purpose, and only very minor changes have been made.
  • Geography – more emphasis on the knowledge and skills needed for degree-level study, with a better balance between physical and human geography, and fieldwork built-in to the core content.
  • History – increased breadth, with a new requirement to study topics across a range of 200 years.

2015 A levels key features

  • Computer science – a thorough overhaul and updating of content, with more programming and algorithms, and clearer links from key stages 1 to 4.
  • Art and design – a new emphasis on drawing skills.
  • Economics – more real world and financial economics.
  • Dance – more critical evaluation and reflective analysis, with a wider range of styles and contexts.

2016 A levels – key features

  • Drama and theatre: study of two influential practitioners or companies (increase from one), and more detail on practical skills
  • Music: builds on GCSE and allows students to specialise in either performing or composing.
  • Physical Education: includes requirement for theoretical understanding.
  • Religious Studies: study at least one religion in depth, through three of: the systematic study of religion; textual studies; philosophy of religion; religious ethics.

Web links for more information

 

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