The 'new' English Language and English Literature GCSEs from 2015 onwards, for first exams in 2017

Some points for parents and pupils

English Tutor

In September 2015 the programme of study for GCSE English Language and GCSE English Literature changed; there was a new specification (or 'syllabus') for each of these awards and a scale of 0 - 9 replaced the old U (ungraded) - A* system.  The changes were partly to do with the development of the curriculum taught to pupils and partly in response to calls for the need to raise standards, from some decision-makers.  Some viewed this as yet another overhaul, with yet more change which would require yet more planning at the 'chalk face', which would also cost schools dearly in terms of time for staff training, and money for new texts and learning resources to support delivery in the classroom. Others might feel that the qualifications pre-2015 were insufficiently demanding for more skilled pupils, who, in particular, needed more rigorous testing of understanding and accuracy. A further concern was the proportion of pupils achieving A*.

Whatever you think about the reasons, the effects or the politics involved, our youngsters must be thoroughly prepared for the requirements of the current tests, and both parents/carers and pupils must be absolutely clear about the 'ground work' necessary to gain the best grades and to meet or, ideally, exceed a child's potential.

I feel well qualified to advise you, based on 30+ years of classroom teaching, 10+ years of tutoring individuals towards the terminal papers for both GCSE Language and Literature and 6+ years of being an Examiner, actually marking thousands of GCSE papers.

English Tutor

It is my belief that English Language, in particular, is getting more difficult.  Whilst statistical information may give the impression that no cohort will be disadvantaged vis-à-vis any previous cohort, I was particularly surprised by the Summer 2019 results (i.e. the third cohort taking these 'new' papers – the first exams were sat in 2017).  Granted: the number that I taught was much smaller than any school group: I had 6 pupils sitting the exams, all from different schools.  However, where in previous years my forecasts turned into real grades at the end of August when results were published, this year every pupil gained one grade lower than I had predicted; so my belief that someone should gain a '5' (upper C) actually translated into a final grade of '4', and so on.  Interestingly, as in previous years, pupils' Literature grade was one above their Language score (e.g. '4' for Language and '5' for Literature).

If my 'hunch' that 'the powers that be' are actually playing an advanced game of 'smoke and mirrors' by changing the grading structure from letters to numbers to disguise this greater difficulty, I, as an independent tutor, have to respond in the way I prepare pupils.  'There's no point in crying over spilt milk' as the saying goes; we all have to get on with it, for our youngsters' sakes.

So, in the absence of more joining up between the primary and secondary phases of education, I'd offer the following suggestions:

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