Statement to Parliament: GCSE and A level subject content consultation

Today [16 July 2015] I am launching a public consultation on revised subject content for 7 GCSEs and 5 A levels which will be taught from 2017.

This represents an important step in the third phase of GCSE and A level reform. Our aims for GCSE and A level reform are unchanged. We are reforming GCSEs and A levels to be rigorous and more knowledge-based and to match the qualifications used in the best education systems in the world.

The reforms aim to ensure that GCSEs are more academically demanding and will be qualifications in which students, employers, and further and higher education institutions can have confidence. At A level, our reforms aim to ensure that they prepare students for undergraduate study.

A priority in the development process has therefore been to secure the views of subject experts, particularly university academics in the relevant subjects.

The subject content documents being published today set new expectations which all awarding organisations’ specifications must meet. Awarding organisations have drafted content, working with Department for Education and Ofqual. An additional consultation will be published in the autumn with content for the remaining subjects to be taught from September 2017.

This consultation is an opportunity for teachers, further and higher education colleges, parents and students, industry and all those with an interest in these subjects to provide their views and allow us to take them into account when redrafting the content for final publication.

Summary of changes to subjects

Astronomy GCSE has been reformed to ensure it has the same level of demand as the newly reformed GCSE science content. Demand has been increased by introducing new areas of knowledge and placing greater emphasis on students’ use of mathematical skills.

The business GCSE content increases breadth and depth of knowledge, and introduces more focus on the overall purpose of business, on how the different parts of a business work together, and on how business decisions are made.

The new economics GCSE content has been significantly strengthened and focuses clearly on economics as a social science, with additional depth added such as requiring students to understand movements along, and shifts in, supply and demand curves, and with more demanding mathematical requirements.

The engineering GCSE has an increased level of demand with a greater emphasis on systems-related content, a detailed section on testing and investigation, and new and more demanding mathematics.

Environmental science A level has been brought in line with other reformed science A levels, and requires greater scientific knowledge, understanding and skills.

The new geology GCSE content requires students to study a greater number of minerals, rock types and fossil groups, and there is new content on planetary geology.

History of art AS and A level content will ensure students study a wide range of art and artists from different movements and periods including pre- and post-1850.

Music technology AS and A level content is focused on the knowledge and skills which relate solely to music technology, with the content that overlapped with music A level removed. As a consequence the qualification now includes more technical, scientific and mathematical content.

Philosophy AS and A level content will enable students to gain a thorough grounding in key philosophical questions and concepts, including through critically engaging with ideas and reading and understanding the work of key philosophers and thinkers.

Psychology GCSE content will require all students to study in more breadth and depth the five core areas of psychology (social, cognitive, biological, developmental and individual differences), including key theories. All students will also be required to develop a strong understanding of research methods including quantitative analysis.

Sociology GCSE content has been updated to reflect the new, more demanding A level, with additional sections on the sociological approach and with students now required to know and understand the ideas of key sociological theorists.

As with the reform of the GCSE, the department has developed subject content for design and technology A level. The A level retains a specialist focus with students able to study engineering, product design, or fashion design and development. All students will be required to study the core content of design processes that are at the core of contemporary design practice, and the technical principles needed to choose the right solution to address the design need.

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