Exclusive: language GCSEs at risk of being too easy and too dull, universities warn

New language GCSEs are at risk of being seen as too easy and too dull, universities have said, dubbing one draft exam question about grocery shopping as “Year 7 material”.

The reformed exams, which will be taught to Year 10 students from September, are being brought in as part of a government bid to make GCSEs more “rigorous”.

However, the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML), which represents departments at more than 100 universities, has written to exams watchdog Ofqual to warn that draft GCSE papers from exam boards suggest that they “may not be fully embracing the spirit of radical change proposed”.

Jocelyn Wyburd, chair of UCML and director of the University of Cambridge Language Centre, told TES: “Pupils complain that languages are boring and irrelevant, and the new GCSE is supposed to make them interesting. But I’ve heard from schools that are very worried that they won’t.”

She was particularly concerned about a French GCSE foundation paper. “The question was in English and it said, “You’re going to the shops, so write yourself a list of the items of fruit you’ve got to buy’,” she said. “Even for a foundation paper at GCSE, that’s ridiculous. It’s Year 7 material.”

The AQA exam board is understood to have been planning to use the fruit question to distinguish between students at grade 1 and 2, the lowest grades in the new exams.

AQA’s French, German and Spanish GCSEs have now been accredited by Ofqual, but the other three boards – OCR, Edexcel and WJEC Eduqas – are still discussing the content of their new exams with the watchdog.

Boards said that they did not recognise the concerns. An AQA spokesman said that new language GCSEs had been through a “very thorough process” and were “rigorous and engaging”. An OCR languages specialist said that the board’s papers were “engaging and motivating” while an Edexcel spokeswoman said that its assessments were comparable to those of high-performing countries.

This is an edited version of a story in the 15 January edition of TES. To read the full story, get the digital edition on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

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