Next summer’s GCSEs will be slimmed down with science experiments stopped, oral language exams cancelled and geography field trips scrapped, under plans revealed on Thursday.
Ofqual, the exams watchdog, unveiled its proposals on how exams in 2021 will be altered after students missed months of classroom time while schools were closed during lockdown.
The watchdog’s plans include a scaled-back history GCSE exam, where pupils are required to study up to 15 per cent less of their course, and performance times will be halved in music exams.
It comes as the Government has released guidance on reopening schools in England to all pupils from September, which says schools will be expected to deliver their full curriculum ahead of exams in 2021.
But in "exceptional circumstances", Year 11 pupils could drop a GCSE subject so they can concentrate on getting good grades in English and Maths.
Headteachers criticised Ofqual's plans for 2021 exams, claiming they "amount to little more than tinkering at the edges".
Ofqual published its consultation on Thursday, and has allowed two weeks for organisations and individuals to provide feedback on its proposals before it makes its final decision.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that postponing exams until the start of June only "adds up to a few weeks more learning time to compensate for a shutdown which has lasted for four months".
He added: "The young people who will take these exams have lost a huge chunk of face-to-face teaching time, and there is likely to be more disruption next academic year, with the possibility of localised full or partial closures in response to coronavirus outbreaks, and students who have to self-isolate.
"We understand that it is difficult to scale back exams in a way that is fair to all pupils, but we fear the very minor changes in this consultation fail to recognise the enormous pressure on schools and their pupils to cover the large amount of content in these courses."
Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, said that the watchdog considered a wide range of options before putting forward its proposals for exams next year.
She said their proposals will "help reduce the pressure on students and teachers, while allowing them to progress with valid qualifications which higher educational institutions and employers can trust."
Pupils will not be asked to carry out any experiments of practical work in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Instead, students will observe a teacher carry out the relevant experiments, which could take place remotely. This would allow any pupils who are self-isolating to watch their teacher do them online or on a video.
Usually students need to carry out eight experiments for each science GCSE, or 16 if they are taking a combined science qualification. Axing the requirement for pupils to do their own experiments would give teachers more time to get through teaching the syllabus during lessons.
"While it would always be preferable for students to undertake the work themselves, we believe it would be acceptable in these exceptional circumstances to vary the requirements for 2020/21, allowing teachers more freedom to decide how to use the available teaching time," Ofqual says.
Field trips are to be cancelled, with all questions relating to field trips removed from exam papers. This will mean that the syllabus is reduced, since questions relating to fieldwork make up 15 per cent of the exam. While fieldwork is an important part of Geography GCSE, the exam regulator recognises that this "might be difficult" since many schools normally use the summer term to do these which was during lockdown.
Ofqual add that it may continue to be difficult to do field trips next academic year depending on public health restrictions. They said that they considered allowing fieldwork to take place within a school’s ground, but decided this would not be fair since children who are at schools with larger grounds may be at an advantage.
History and Ancient History
A series of topics will become optional rather than compulsory, meaning courses are shortened by between 15 and 20 per cent. Ofqual say this will give teachers more time to get through the syllabus, and is the "fairest way" to ensure that pupils are not placed at a disadvantage when taking their exams.
History is the most popular GCSE after English Language, English Literature and Maths, all of which are compulsory, and sciences. "Most students taking GCSEs in 2021 would, therefore, benefit from their centres having a greater choice over what to teach," Ofqual says.
Art and Design
Art and design students being assessed purely based on their portfolio, with their "task under timed conditions" section of the exam axed.
Normally their portfolio is worth 60 per cent of their grade with the remaining 40 per cent is from a piece of work completed under timed, exam conditions.
This would usually take between 10 and 15 hours, and may require the use of specialist equipment. This year, students’ grades will be based entirely on their portfolio.
Modern foreign language GCSEs will take place next summer without the oral component, which usually accounts for 25 per cent of the grade. Instead they will be given a "teacher endorsement" on their speaking skills, which will appear alongside their overall grade.
Ofqual said that teachers felt the oral exam took up a lot of time to arrange, and that removing this element would free up their time to get through the rest of the syllabus. Pupils will only have formal exams next summer in listening, reading and writing.
The syllabus will remain unchanged, however teachers will no longer need to submit recordings to exam boards of pupils’ spoken language skills. These are usually required by exam boards to monitor teachers’ assessments, but this year they will not be necessary.
Pupils will be able to present to one teacher, and a larger audience is not necessary. The moves are intended to free up teachers’ time as well as to make pupils feel more comfortable.
Design and Technology
Rather than using machinery and tools themselves, students will watch teachers demonstrate how to use them. Since students would need to use the equipment under close supervision of a teacher, this may be difficult for public health reasons, Ofqual says. Exam boards should accept "mock-ups" and detailed intentions of how prototypes would be built.
Students will be able to watch a streamed or recorded live performance rather than seeing a live performance in a theatre. Performances will also be shorter, to free up lesson time.
Examined performances will be shorter, and pupils will not be required to perform as part of an ensemble.
Performances will be shorter, and students will be examined based on two solo performances, rather than one solo performance and one quartet.
Physical education students only being examined on solo pursuits, rather than group sports. Normally students are assessed on three activities where one is a solo sport, one is a team sport and the third can be either. Under the new regime, students would only need to carry out two activities and they would both be solo rather than team sports.