Voice Community Official Response Proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2022

Voice Community's Official Response to consultation by DfE and Ofqual

Voice Community Official Response Proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2022

Background: A joint consultation by the Department for Education and Ofqual invited views on proposed adaptations to the assessment of GCSEs and GCE AS and A levels for students in England taking exams in summer 2022.

Read Proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2022 

Voice Community's Official response:

Exams 2022

This consultation proposes a package of measures to help mitigate the impact of disruption to students’ education, and seeks views on proposals on the following areas:

  • choice of topics in GCSE English literature, history, ancient history and choice of content in GCSE geography;
  • changes to the requirements for the delivery of practical activities in science subjects, and assessment in art and design;
  • the provision of advance information on the focus of the content of exams, in the majority of subjects at GCSE, AS and A level; ans
  • the provision of support materials in GCSE mathematics, physics and combined science exams.

We broadly agree with most of the recommendations made.  Where they are the same as those measures implemented for the 2021 series, we have responded similarly to last year emphasising the impact on learners experiences / impact on disadvantaged learners / workload implications for staff.

Where mitigations are different, we have made new comment.

We agree that centres should have some control over what content their learners will be assessed on. We believe that this optionality should be at topic level to avoid causing confusion during any “exam” period.

  • GCSE English Literature

Voice Community believe that it is critical that learners are not disadvantaged in any way by the choices that are made for them.  Teachers have huge knowledge and experience in selecting the most suitable texts for the cohorts and we want this situation to remain unchanged for the benefit of those at centre level.

Where there may be scope for further optionality is in the questions and the weighting that is placed behind them.

However, there is an inherent risk when choices are made on behalf of the candidates without their input.  The pandemic has severely affected centre's ability to provide such a rich tapestry of learning which risks favouring options which are easier to deliver, but which do not make it so easy to achieve.

It is vital that the options studied still permit full access to the range of grades available for the paper.  Therefore, where there is optionality, awarding bodies may wish to provide further guidance to support centre decisions.

  • GCSE History & GCSE Ancient History

In order to support the full range of learners it remains essential that a core content is still taught giving broad oversight of the key components of the course in order to allow further in-depth study, and to facilitate study beyond GCSE.  Therefore, Voice Community agree that there should be a choice of content topics giving centres some choice over the wider content that must be taught.

It remains key, that throughout the course, that learners acquire sufficient knowledge and develop sufficient skills in analysis and identification of motive to allow them to succeed in any examination.  Centres know this and are already making plans to prepare their learners.  What is now needed is confirmation of the approach to allow centres to plan to a set timetable of expectations and allow them to better support their learners.

As previously noted, any decisions made on behalf of a cohort come with inherent risk and therefore it would be useful to have guidance from the awarding bodies and assurances that no learner will be disadvantaged by the topic or route which is chosen for them.

  • GCSE Geography

The difficulty is in ensuring parity of questioning across the different papers and topics to ensure that no learner suffers any detriment.  It is incumbent upon centres to choose the best path for their cohorts but any decision which is made on behalf of learners comes with risk.  Centres are already well underway in preparing their learners for the rigours of any examination and it will be key to confirm arrangements with them as soon as is practical to ensure that necessary decisions are made in good time.

To facilitate any decision making it would be useful for centres to receive guidance and advice from the awarding bodies, and for the awarding bodies to ensure that whatever decision is made for the learners that there can be no detriment.

1.2 Advance Information

  • Science Practical experiments

Students benefit hugely by learning through practical experiments. Not only does this engage learners and enrich their learning through physical experimentation, but it also develops important skills which are necessary for further study at A Level and undergraduate study.

Voice Community's position is that there must be a practical element to science.  Wherever possible this should be undertaken by the learners themselves.  Schools should be able to make judgements on their ability to deliver practical science work, or whether they should revert to practical demonstrations based on factors such as isolation and remote learning.   Demonstrations should be the minimum expectation.

In any subject it is essential to have access to all necessary resources.  Over the last 18 months this has been severely compromised and therefore it is entirely reasonable for the specific assessment arrangements to continue to ensure that no learner suffers detriment.

  • Art & Design

As with other subjects the circumstances for undertaking GCSE and A Level studies are less than ideal. 

The removal of the exam board set task means that learners will only be assessed on the strength of their portfolio and so it is incumbent upon centres to ensure that these are representative of the breadth and quality of the learner's work. 

Voice Community has the same concerns as last year that learners will be disadvantaged where they have extensive periods of home learning.   Not all leaners have suitable workspace and may struggle to work on and store large pieces of work.  Additionally, sharing workspaces, or using inadequate workspaces, such as dining or kitchen tables will affect the quality of work.

Furthermore, if due to reasons including remote learning or isolation, family income becomes a problem this could prevent learners from even completing a portfolio to the necessary standard.   It will be essential that no learner is disadvantaged or limited by a lack of available resources.

The timing of the release of advance information must be carefully considered and whilst it is important to be flexible to allow for any variation in the national approach to the pandemic, it is equally as important to define the last date by which they will be published in order to provide certainty and reassurance to the staff and learners.

If the past 18 months has taught us anything, it is that schools plan well ahead of deadlines, and it is unfair and unreasonable to move the goalposts at short notice.  Therefore, whilst we agree there should be flexibility there should also be a fixed date by which everything will be released at the latest.  This will allow centres to plan to a set timetable of expectations and allow them to better support their learners.

  • GCSE English Literature

It is critical that learners are not disadvantaged in any way by the choices that are made for them.  Therefore, where there is optionality within the set texts, it is vital that the combination of texts studied still permits full access to the range of grades available for the paper.

Awarding bodies may wish to provide further guidance to support centre decisions regarding the choice of set texts to reduce this likelihood.

  • GCSE History

As previously noted for English Literature, it is critical that learners are not disadvantaged in any way by the choices that are made for them.  This includes areas of study which are selected by centres since it is vital that the options studied still permit full access to the range of grades available for the paper.

Therefore, where there is optionality, awarding bodies may wish to provide further guidance to support centre decisions.

  • GCSE Ancient History

As previously noted for English Literature, it is critical that learners are not disadvantaged in any way by the choices that are made for them.  This includes topics and areas of study which are selected by centres since it is vital that the options studied still permit full access to the range of grades available for the paper.

Therefore, where there is optionality, awarding bodies may wish to provide further guidance to support centre decisions.

  • GCSE Geography

As previously noted for History and Ancient History, there is an inherent risk when choices are made on behalf of the candidates without their input.  On a cohort level, this happens all the time as centres select the best units, set texts and other optional areas of study to suit the skills and expertise of staff and the resources available.

However, the impact of the pandemic has severely affected centre's ability to provide such a rich tapestry of learning which risks favouring options which are easier to deliver, but which do not make it so easy to achieve.

it is critical that learners are not disadvantaged in any way by the choices that are made for them since it is vital that the options studied still permit full access to the range of grades available for the paper.  Therefore, where there is optionality, awarding bodies may wish to provide further guidance to support centre decisions.

1.3 Support Materials

In line with the views of members and the respondents to Ofqual's December 2020 consultation we agree that it is appropriate for mathematics, physics and combined science learners to have access to a formulae sheet in any exam that may take place this year.  This means that questions will need to assess the application of mathematical equations rather than simple recall.