GCSEs are run over two years and teenagers who started them in 2012 would have been expecting speaking and listening to form part of English marks next summer.
Under the new reforms, oral skills will still be assessed but results will be listed separately from the overall English grade.
Today, the announcement – affecting exams taken in England and not Wales or Northern Ireland – was condemned by head teachers’ leaders.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of National Association of Head Teachers, said: “We are disappointed that Ofqual has chosen to fly in the face of reason in deciding to implement changes to the structure of GCSE English with immediate effect.
“Thousands of students are more than halfway through their preparation for taking GCSE English in 2014, but now face the disruption of having to sit a different mix of assessment processes.
“Those students going into [their final year] who were assessed for speaking and listening last year will feel cheated, having already prepared for something they felt was going to contribute to their GCSE grades.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “We are disappointed with this decision which overrules the responses of a vast majority of teachers.”
Currently, controlled assessment – coursework projects carried out in the classroom under teachers’ supervision – makes up 60 per cent of marks for GCSE English.
This includes 20 per cent for speaking and listening and 40 per cent for reading and writing. The remaining 40 per cent of marks come from a formal exam.
Under new changes, the proportion of controlled assessment will be cut and marks awarded through the test will rise.
From 2014, pupils will be able to get 60 per cent for the test and just 40 per cent for controlled assessment. Coursework will be made up entirely of reading and writing, with no separate marks for oral skills.
Ofqual insisted the change was being made “to protect standards, as there is no workable way to ensure the skills are assessed consistently and fairly across all schools”.
The reforms follow controversy over the grading of English GCSEs last summer when grade boundaries were suddenly shifted, causing large numbers of pupils to miss out on good marks. At the time, Ofqual blamed over-marking by teachers in coursework.
Glenys Stacey, the Chief Regulator, said: "We think it right to make these changes and to act as quickly as possible because the current arrangements result in unfairness.
"Exam boards cannot be sure that speaking and listening assessments are being carried out and marked consistently across all schools, and we have evidence that they are not. That creates unfairness, and that is unacceptable.”
Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Business leaders tell us good communication skills are critical for getting a job in the modern world. But Michael Gove [the Education Secretary] just doesn’t get it. Labour would support young people to succeed at job or university interviews by improving their speaking and listening skills.”
Preparing a presentation
When preparing a speech it can be useful to choose a topic that already interests you. Then find an angle or argument to focus on. For example, here are two presentation titles, both about cats:
- My favourite cats
- Cats are better than dogs
The first title is personal and might be interesting to people who know the speaker, but it is unlikely to be of much interest to others. The second title however, is something that other people can have an opinion on and therefore engage with. It also gives the presenter some structure. Instead of simply listing all their favourite cats, they can now come up with a series of examples (maybe using their favourite cats) that convincingly show why cats are the best.
Once you have your own title and angle, come up with your main points and list these in a logical order.
Cats are better than dogs because:
- they are independent
- they are clever
- they don’t need to be taken for walks
- they make their own minds up about who they like
- they are quiet
Now consider other viewpoints. This is useful because it means you can show that you have thought about your opponent’s point of view and seem to be more fair-minded. It also gives you the chance to explain your reasons for disagreeing with these other views before you are challenged later. Try to find all of the main likely arguments for the other side.
Cats are not better than dogs because:
- they are fussy
- they won’t bring back a stick when you throw it
- they are more likely to run away
Now you can add detail to your speech and find ways to make it interesting. Create a sequence or structure for your speech in which each point supports your overall argument. You could include some of the following to make your speech convincing:
- anecdotes, eg Let me tell you about my last holiday when my cat…
- facts, eg cats are known to be very independent
- statistics (can be percentages), eg 9 out of 10 cat owners said their pets brought them joy
- quotations from authority figures, eg Doctor Jenny Western of Oxford University is quoted as saying, “We find cat owners experience less stress than other people”
Finally - practise until you believe that you can deliver your speech with confidence.