After some delay, Michael Gove, Britain's Secretary of Education has unveiled a number of GCSE examination reforms that cover not only how the end-of-school exams are administered but how they're graded and what materials they will cover in the coming years. The test has been given to the nation's 16-year-old students since the abolition of O-levels 30 years ago.
The Guardian reports that this could be the biggest change to the testing scheme in more than three decades. Gove called the reform a necessity for curing "structural problems" that will be solved by the new approach, which will include one comprehensive exam that will cover the material taught in a two-year GCSE course.
All subjects that currently culminate with a GCSE exam will be affected except for science, which will retain a small practical component.
The Department for Education released a raft of subject consultation papers outlining the new content to be examined. English literature students will be required study at least one full Shakespeare play, as opposed to extracts. For those studying history there will be a "substantial and coherent element of British history and/or the history of England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland," making up a minimum of 40% of the syllabus.
Although the final set of changes echo the initial proposal by Gove and the Education Department quite closely, the Guardian reports that some critical suggestions were implemented. Specifically, both biology and geography will have a climate change component while the initial proposal omitted the topic entirely.
Gove explains that the new courses, and subsequently the new tests, will be more rigorous than the ones they're replacing – especially when it comes to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Gove pointed out that in order to compete in tomorrow's economy, the country needs students who are better prepared, especially in the STEM fields.
The old style of GCSEs and their reliance on coursework assessment had been open to abuse, Gove claimed. He said last year's GCSE English marking debacle, which caused tens of thousands of pupils to resit their exams, "proved beyond any doubt that the current system requires reform".
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents many secondary school headteachers, said Gove's insistence on a single, untiered final examination to cover all pupils – from those with learning difficulties to potential Oxbridge candidates – presented an immense challenge.
Lightman pointed out that simply making exams more difficult wasn't enough to ensure that academic quality will improve. Lightman believes that the new GCSEs will have the same issues as the O-levels they replaced, and will be targeted only at a narrow group of students while leaving the rest out of whatever academic improvements will follow.