GCSE: What the Reform Means for Modern Languages

Static Formulas
When I did my PGCE I always felt a little uneasy following the traditional methods of teaching modern languages in the state school system. I couldn’t help thinking that learning languages was more than rote preparation for exams. 
I wanted to teach the language but I was asked to implement uninspiring recipes (sentences to learn by heart, with very little reflection on the language and how it works) for the GCSE exams rather than really engage with the language. The students were able to get good results but to know how to use Spanish or French, that was another thing. I vividly remember a conversation I had with one of my daughter’s friends after she had got a B in her French GCSE ; I greeted her in French with a ‘Hello, how are you’ her response was inaccurate. 

Modern Modifications
There have been many new modifications in recent years, but this is a complete change of the vision in the teaching and assessment of GCSE’s in general and particularly, in Modern Languages, it is orienting the teaching and learning towards a much more constructive approach, with a reflexion on the language and the culture of the target language.
I have taken some information from Ofqual, which regulates GCSEs, AS and A levels and would like to share them with you:
  • The new grading scale from 1 to 9 implies that it will be harder to get a 9 than an A*
  • The exam is now linear and they specify that the content is more demanding, I saw this with the new AQA specifications for Spanish GCSE as an example:
  • For the comprehension parts of the exam, the language will be more complex, with some authentic material adapted for the GCSE level and a cultural aspect, literary texts adapted for the GCSE level are introduced for the reading. The student is expected to infer in some texts, the meaning of some more specialised or academic words and some implicit meanings, according to the context. 
  • For the production side of the exam, the students have to adapt to the unexpected, they must develop their sentences, their range of vocabulary and use of the language and grammatical structures, express facts and opinions and have the right style according to the context. 
  • There will be two translations from English to Spanish and Spanish to English.
  • The use of the dictionary is not permitted and the student won’t know anything about the subject before the oral exams, so there is no opportunity to predict and prepare the assessment  beforehand.

A Positive Change
The new GCSE are now definitely presenting a great challenge for the teachers and the schools, who are already under pressure. The generation of those students who haven’t had the chance to have the opportunity to get a curriculum adapted to the reforms from Y7  are really under pressure, but the outcome is really exciting and open to a new more authentic way of teaching and learning Modern Languages.

This would be a perfect opportunity to foster and facilitate the communication of the students/schools with the tutoring world, and instead of seeing the tutors as a threat to the school system, to see them as a boost to help fill the gap between the reality and the expectations of the GCSEs in Modern Languages.

links:

http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/languages/gcse/french-8658
http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/languages/gcse/spanish-8698
http://qualifications.pearson.com/en/qualifications/edexcel-gcses/understanding-9-1.html
https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/gcse-as-and-a-level-reforms

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