The government has confirmed controversial MFL changes will go ahead to ‘boost accessibility’, but heads’ leaders have dismissed the reforms as ‘prescriptive and grinding’
Controversial new GCSE French, German and Spanish curricula with set vocabulary lists will launch in 2024, a year later than originally planned, the Department for Education said today.
As part of the updated curriculum, students will be assessed on the “most common vocabulary”, alongside grammar and pronunciation, in a move to increase “clarity for teachers” and improve the “practical benefits for students”, the DfE said.
However, the changes were condemned by heads’ leaders today. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said an approach that “mainly focuses on memorising a long list of words will alienate pupils and prove counterproductive”.
The updated curriculum, which will launch in 2024 and be part of exams from 2026, forms part of the DfE’s drive for 90 per cent of year 10 pupils to study GCSEs in EBacc subjects by 2025.
Writing exclusively for Tes today, Ian Bauckham, chair of the panel that recommended the changes, said that exam boards will be asked to set vocabulary lists as “teachers need to know that what is actually tested will be drawn from the material the examination board sets out for them to teach”.
“GCSE examinations will have to reflect a sample of that vocabulary in examinations.
“That way, teachers will know that what they are teaching is what will be tested, and that the content they teach will stand students in good stead both for their immediate communication needs and for further study,” he writes.
But Mr Barton said the new GCSE content would put students off. “At a time when pupils need to be enthused to learn languages, the government has chosen to make GCSEs both prescriptive and grinding,” he said.
He added that the idea the reforms will help the government to “fulfil its target of 90 per cent of pupils taking up these subjects is pure fantasy.”
ASCL was one of nine influential education organisations – including three exam boards – which called on the DfE to rethink the “risky” proposals last November.
How will the new GCSEs look?
In the new curriculum, with the first set of exams to take place in 2026, pupils will be assessed on the basis of 1,200 word families at foundation-tier GCSE and 1,700 word families in higher-tier GCSE.
The DfE gives an example of a word family as: “manage”, “managed” and “manages”.
Exam boards will be able to select topics and themes to inform the selection of key vocabulary, rather than being prescribed in the subject content.
Mr Bauckham said the themes set will need to avoid “posh” activities as they are “unfair” to some students.
“Exam boards will have to support teachers and coursebook writers to structure their teaching around relevant and interesting themes,” he writes.
“It is important that those themes take students into new worlds and experiences, but in so doing do not assume that everyone learning a language is already familiar with the likes of skiing holidays and posh restaurants. That is unfair and alienating for many students.”
The plans were announced in response to a consultation to proposals put forward by the review chair by Mr Bauckham, and received 1,644 responses, “with the majority from language teachers agreeing with the proposals,” according to the DfE.
Schools minister Robin Walker said: “Studying languages opens up a world of new, exciting opportunities for people and is hugely important for a modern global economy.
“That’s why we want more young people to take up modern language GCSEs, and these evidence-based changes aim to do just that – making these qualifications more well-rounded and accessible, and helping more young people to enjoy learning languages.”
The changes were confirmed today following a public consultation, supported by a research review by Ofsted.
Ofqual will now conduct a public technical consultation on the details of assessment requirements and then exam boards will develop GCSE specifications, ready to be taught from September 2024.
Written by: Mandy Law