AQA GCSE – New Specification

Coursework…urm, I mean, Controlled Assessment is the name of the game in today’s post.Hand_writes

Having had a meeting with our Director of Studies I am now contemplating exactly how, when and where we are going to conduct the controlled assessments that are part of the new specification GCSE in MFL offered by AQA. As a department that has always shied away from coursework, in favour of the writing exam, we find ourselves in an interesting position as to how to meet the requirements of the examination, whilst still ensuring that pupils are challenged and motivated in MFL and without the teaching becoming exam orientated. The reading and listening examinations pose no problem for us, as this is what has always happened, however we now have no choice but to do a written controlled assessment and a spoken controlled assessment. Candidates must have two tasks (in each skill) submitted towards their GCSE and they are allowed to know what they are, before preparing it and then completing the final task in ‘controlled conditions’ with only a task sheet in front of them. On this sheet they are allowed a plan with up to 40 (TL or non-TL) words, no conjugated verbs nor codes. In the writing assessment pupils are allowed a dictionary.

Two ideas came out of our discussion: 1) Do we integrate the controlled assessment into our current internal examination system (January exam & Summer exam)?, or, 2) do we set aside an assessment period towards the end of Year 11 once all pupils have completed the GCSE course?

With the first option we have the potential problem of using external examination results to go towards an internal assessment. Is that right? It currently goes against our school’s coursework policy, but this may be revised in the light of so many subjects now having to complete coursework….urm, I mean controlled assessment. It also means that they can end up doing assessments when their knowledge is not of a high enough level and when they have not finished the course. Naturally, pupils’ ability is higher after a further year of study, so would that make any assessments completed in Year 10 a waste of time?

With the second option we can use tasks in the style of the controlled assessment for internal assessment at the relevant internal assessment periods, preparing them to some extent for what would be expected of them in Year 11. Then, in March/April, pupils can focus solely on completing the 4 tasks set (two for writing, two for speaking) having a complete knowledge bank behind them. The question here would be, what do we do in the mock examination in January? Another speaking and writing task that could go towards the final assessment (adopting the best of 3 approach)?

What would you do? Any other ideas anyone? I would be very interested in hearing from other schools around the UK to find out what you are considering.



  1. We were discussing this yesterday, too, and our first stumbling block was – Do we decide when to do the controlled assessments and build the SoW around them, or write the SoW and see where it’s best to put the assessments? We haven’t reached a conclusion yet …

  2. You are much further ahead than we are at my school. We used to do AQA modular, so are used to doing speaking and written coursework over the two years. Most students do well inspite of the fact that they have less knowledge, as some are more motivated. From September 09 we are going with Edexcel. I think we will probably complete one or two speaking assesments in Year 10, and another one in Year 11. For the writing, perhaps one in Year 10 and two in Year 11. In effect, the best of three approach. The problem with leaving it all until the end of Year 11 is that there may be some demotivated students who fail to complete any controlled assessments (or perhaps you don’t have them). I do feel however that sometimes I am teaching to the task somewhat. Swings and roundabouts spring to mind!

    • Being an independent school does mean that we get a fair amount of high acheiving linguists, but languages are compulsary for us still so we often get some disillusioned pupils still taking an MFL in Year 11. Perhaps, knowing that the work they have to do is a key part of their grade towards the end of Year 11 will keep them motivated at that point? It also gives a chance to some of our pupils who are a little challenging in Year 10 the chance to turn it around and have a more positive impact on the element of the exam that these types of pupils often don’t do well in.
      I know what you mean about teaching to the task somewhat – which is partially why I have tried to organise the SoW now, without focussing too much on the assessment task so that I know that what they will cover does meet the exam board requirements, but also gives the teachers a chance to teach without having to jump through hoops.
      How do you find the modular approach? Perhaps I am a little old school in my thoughts here, but I believe that languages are a cummulative process and if we HAVE to assess pupils using GCSEs/A Levels etc then they will naturally stand a better chance of being able to produce a higher level of knowledge with another year’s teaching and learning?

  3. Dear Sam

    Thank you for sharing this wih us. Like you, I would like to think that students produce better quality work towrds the end of Y11. However, like Saira, I find this is not always the case. It could also be that the pressure put on by all the subjects starts to get at them at that point… If attendance can also be an issue, then starting in Year 10 is also like a safety net. We are going to look at themes for possible pieces of coursework-that’s the next step!!


  4. I agree that learning a language is a cummulative process. We have had several cases over the years where students have resat their Module 1 speaking assessment, and their Module 2 listening and reading exams and have gained extra points to the extent that some have improved by a whole GCSE grade. However, the opposite is also true, particularly with the speaking assessmnet. A number of students resit and perform worse than they did originally, due to a lack of preparation, learning, motivation and the pressures of mock exams and coursework in other subjects. Although they keep their best mark, it does disillusion them just before the final 50% (final exams in all four skills).
    I quite like the modular approach, but maybe that’s because I am so used to it having never taught a fully linear course. In the past our assessments have fallen at times when there very few coursework pressures from other subjects so students have felt able to focus fully on their MFL work. Also, our students like the safety net of being able to retake if they feel they didn’t perform to the best of their ability. Some even retake in the hope of gaining one or two extra points, to give them a better cushion before the final exams.
    I started training my Year 9 class, a top set, this year so that they know, and are familiar with, HOW they will be assessed in speaking and writing in GCSE. Their initial feedback is that the controlled assessments appear to give them lots of support – “what, you don’t have to write completely from memory?”, “we get to find out the task and are given time to prepare it?”

  5. It’s in the middle of summer and look at me getting nervous about next year’s new spec. I’m the only Spanish teacher at my school and have to get the kids to do their GSCE in two years without any previous knowledge of the language… I do feel I’m training the children to pass their exams which is a shame and I miss having a colleague to exchange resources and chat after lessons. Never mind! At the moment I am writing the SOW and try to map in possible controlled assessments. Not sure if that’s the way forward but it’s a start.
    I guess we always have to be very flexible with new classes anyway and adapt. My current year 10s are by no means academic and I have tried to get three pieces of coursework (all controlled) in Year 10. It seems harsh but I needed to make sure I actually get anything out of them. I will try and map in two speaking tests in Year 10 and two in Year 11. This way, I hopefully can ensure to have a choice of what to submit.
    Students sometimes need to feel that they are working towards an assessment of some sort, to keep track of their own progress. I felt the same when I was younger. But this year I will try and refrain from “training ” them too much!

  6. Pingback: 2010 in review « The LanguagesResources Blog

  7. This is my first year with new Spanish GCSE and I am taking a year 11 group and the school has not given me any information of whther these pupils have completed any controlled assessments yet! I find the specification difficult to follow…so many rules and I am a bit confused about how much feedback one can provide.

    • Dont panic. Wait until you get there, and then find out what you can. Technically you cant really give any feedback once a task has been set (ie given out), and so you wouldnt be able to give feedback on what has been undertaken anyway. If I were you, however, I would contemplate doing a general “common mistakes” type lesson as soon as possible after pupils take task so that they can benefit somewhat.

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