Raising the game – new 14-16 qualifications in England

Raising the game – new 14-16 qualifications in England

Qualification reform plans in England are gathering pace. With the plans having already changed several times, there is a growing demand worldwide for information about what is happening and why.

In early 2013, the English Secretary of State for Education planned to undertake both ‘market’ reform and qualification reform “to ensure young people have access to qualifications that match and exceed those in the highest performing jurisdictions.”

Market reform

It was originally suggested that the five bodies (exam boards) designing syllabuses and providing examinations in England should compete to become the sole provider of a new kind of qualification in English, Maths and Science - to be known as English Baccalaureate Certificates or EBCs. This part of the reforms has now been withdrawn on the grounds that to undertake ‘market’ reform together with qualification reform would have overloaded the system.

Qualification reform

However, qualification reform is still underway, although it will be based on the current 14-16 qualification, the GCSE. Under the ‘market’ reforms, the boards were to compete by designing the best possible qualification in terms of the subject content and aspects of the structure (design criteria). In contrast to this, the qualification reform involves the Education Department producing the subject content and the regulator, Ofqual, producing the design criteria – a picture fairly close to the one that exists now.

The Cambridge View…

Cambridge Assessment works in over 160 jurisdictions, including the highest performing. This enables us to tap into a wealth of expertise and evidence. Our international exam board, Cambridge International Examinations – the creators of the International GCSE (IGCSE) - worked closely with our national exam board, OCR, and our independent Research Division to produce models of what we believe to be the best possible education and assessment experience for English students, mapped against the highest performing jurisdictions.

...on comparability

The Cambridge Approach to Comparative Evidence from other Jurisdictions is an over-arching paper laying out the methodology used in a series of mapping exercises we undertook together with a discussion of some of the limitations of the international comparative approach. A separate paper, Cultural and Societal Factors in High-performing Jurisdictions notes that the success of any education system will be a result of a complex interaction of different factors as it explores the cultural and societal context within which education takes place, with a focus on six jurisdictions whose students perform highly in international tests.

...on subjects

The Cambridge View on English: 

Our vision for English qualifications for England is to develop a curriculum and assessment model that helps young people explore communication, culture and creativity, develop their critical and independent thinking and engage with the richness of our language and literary heritage. Read more...

The Cambridge View on Mathematics

Our vision for Maths qualifications for England is to develop a curriculum and assessment model that emphasises the richness and power of Mathematics, is comparable in intellectual rigour to the best in the world, and encourages the continued study of the subject. Read more... 

The Cambridge View on Science

Our vision for Science qualifications in England is to provide an appropriate foundation for those wishing to progress to further Science study, whilst also offering a grounding in the fundamentals of Science for those students who do not continue the subject after 16. Read more...

...on structural and technical issues

The DfE has identified a number of areas where it wishes to make changes to the current GCSEs. Tiering and Grading are amongst the most challenging. Read our views on structural and technical issues. Read more... 


The proposed GCSE changes are:

The current Grade C to be made more demanding More challenging subject content
English and Maths to guarantee literacy and numeracy Linear qualifications only
No tiering where it creates a cap on ambition Extended writing in essay-based subjects
Fewer overly-structured questions Greater quantitative problem-solving
Restricted use of internal assessment and exam aids A new grading scale with greater differentiation
Students receiving more information on their performance. Regular post assessment review

*International GCSEs (IGCSE) are not affected by GCSE reforms.

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