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Examination Reform

It has been announced (June 2014) by the Cathedral School that, with the forthcoming divergence between Wales and England in the regulatory and assessment rules for GCSEs and A levels, Cathedral School pupils will be prepared for GCSEs and A levels along the England qualifications pathway. This is a pathway which is not open to state schools in Wales, and offers therefore a distinctive and a real choice for prospective parents and students. In making this decision we are not seeking to make any comment about the value of the Wales qualifications pathway, but rather believe that it is not right for our own GCSE and A level candidates, especially in an increasingly globalised and competitive world in which high academic standards and the portability of qualifications is so important.

The major differences between English-model and Welsh GCSEs…

  1. English-model GCSEs will be graded 9 – 1, with 9 being the highest grade, and this grade will be at the standard of the top half of the current A* grade. Since grade 4 will be the equivalent of a C grade in the current GCSEs, this allows for greater differentiation at the top of the ability range; a grade 9 would set top pupils apart more than the current GCSE A* grade does. Welsh-model GCSEs will retain the current A*-G grading.
  2. There will be linear assessment only; no modules. The vast majority of the assessment will be via terminal (end of course) examination rather than coursework, except in the cases of practical subjects such as Art.
  3. There will be only one GCSE in Maths, with an enlarged curriculum (dubbed, rather inelegantly, ‘Big Fat Maths’ amongst educationalists). Wales will have two GCSEs for Maths, one in Numeracy and one in Mathematical Techniques. England’s GCSE Maths will have only two tiers; Wales’ GCSEs in Maths will have three.

The major differences between English-model and Welsh-model A levels…

  1. Grading will remain, as now, A* - E in both England and Wales.
  2. Assessment structures for English-model A levels will be linear, therefore all components will be more synoptic than now in nature (students being expected to compare and contrast different aspects of their course). They will use a greater range of questioning techniques designed to test critical reasoning, the integration and application of knowledge and skills.
  3. For English-model A levels, the AS level will no longer be normative; it will be completely decoupled from the A level. Since doing AS in the Lower Sixth would not count toward the A level grade, in most (or, for some, all) subjects, students will not do the AS level. This will result in less time in the Lower Sixth summer term spent doing examinations, leaving far more teaching and co-curricular time than at present.

The key reasons we are choosing to follow the English-model:

  1. The linear nature of these examinations will make them less disruptive to school life and more challenging.
  2. The new ‘Grade 9’ at GCSE will enable the very best candidates to differentiate themselves more effectively.
  3. In applying to universities, students will be instantly comparable with applicants from the other top UK schools.
  4. Our faculties will be free to choose the best syllabi from four examination boards – Oxford Cambridge RSA, Pearson (formerly EdExcel), AQA, EduQas (the English rebranding of the WJEC) rather than being confined to only WJEC syllabi.
  5. The English-model qualifications are subject to independent regulation via ‘Ofqual’, and the content of the reformed A levels is being partially guided by Russell Group universities through the ALCAB (A Level Content Advisory Board – http://alcab.org.uk).
  6. We are already following courses in English, Maths and Science which are very similar in structure to the new reformed GCSEs; we also follow ‘IGCSE’ courses which are wholly linear in PE, IT and Spanish.