New grades for English speaking and listening tests unveiled

Students starting their English GCSEs in September will take a separate speaking and listening test assessed by their teachers and graded under a new system, Ofqual has revealed.

Alongside the new English language GCSE, students will be awarded a separate grade of either “distinction”, “merit”, “pass” or “not classified” for speaking and listening. This replaces the current grading system used for the speaking and listening component of the existing GCSE, in which students receive a grade from 5 (the highest) to 1.

This follows a change in the overall grading system for GCSEs, with the A*-G system being replaced by a new scale of 9 (the top grade) to 1.

Documents published by Ofqual today also reveal that teachers will be asked to submit audio-visual recordings of a sample of their students’ tests, rather than of all students’ tests as was originally suggested.

The documents set out the details of how the new speaking and listening tests will work after Ofqual announced in 2013 that the tests would no longer count towards overall GCSE grades. The watchdog said this was because of “inconsistency” in how schools marked the tests.

Under the new system, the speaking and listening mark will be listed separately on pupils’ grade certificates. Ofqual has decided to use a “not classified” grade instead of a “fail” for students who do not meet the criteria.

Spoken language tests will take place “in a formal setting, before an audience and require preparation to have been undertaken by the learner,” Ofqual has said.

Schools will have to provide a statement to exam boards confirming that they “have taken reasonable steps to secure that students complete the spoken language assessment”.

Ofqual has opened a further consultation on other details of the tests. It is proposing that students who do not take the assessment will be given a “not classified” grade, unless they have been exempted on the grounds of disability.

This idea attracted criticism in a previous consultation. Some respondents said using the same grade for those who took the test and did not pass as for those who did not take the test at all would unfairly penalise students who had been unable to take it.

One said: “Employers should be able to see who failed because they did not have the necessary skills, and who failed because they simply did not take the assessment.”

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