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Specialist education lawyer expresses concern over proposed changes to GCSEs for SEN pupils

Ofqual has announced details of the new GCSE exams as Education Secretary confirms curriculum will be more demanding

4 November 2013

 Specialist education lawyer and Leigh Day partner Alison Millar has expressed concern about recent changes to GCSE exams announced by Ofqual and the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove.

The exams regulator Ofqual has announced that a new grading system which will use numbers instead of letters will be introduced.  Exams will be graded 1 – 9, with 9 being the highest.  Coursework is being abolished for most subjects and all exams will be taken at the end of two years of study, rather than in modules. However, many children’s charities and disability professionals have expressed concern about the proposed changes and the effect they may have on disadvantaged groups, such as pupils with special education needs (SEN).  While tougher exam conditions provide academically able students with the opportunity to recall and present information, many SEN pupils will struggle with the changes.  Teacher assessment and coursework are often a better way of measuring the performance of SEN students, rather than by a single, end-of course examination.

The education secretary has also announced that introduction of a more demanding maths curriculum, and a new curriculum for GCSE English literature and language courses.  The lower tier level exam in English will be abolished, another change of concern to disadvantage pupils in England who are often not able to tackle the challenges of the more demanding higher level exam.  

Alison Millar said:

“Once again Michael Gove seems to be using his own educational experience to create a blueprint for pupils in England.  While his own ability to pass exams has stood him in good stead there are many students, particularly those with special education needs, who cannot cope with the stress of exams lasting over three hours. Many of the skills needed in the modern workplace include working as a member of a team, working to deadline and on projects rather than being able to perform brilliantly in exam settings. I have strong concerns that this exam reform is in fact a backwards step to achievement for pupils with SEN.”


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