GCSE exam brand name under scrutiny

candidate There have been unconfirmed claims that GCSEs could be re-named as I-levels

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The re-branding of England's reformed GCSE exams is under scrutiny, as questions are raised about how it should be distinguished from current GCSEs and versions in Wales and Northern Ireland.

There have been reports that they could be re-named as I-levels.

The new GCSEs are moving away from the modular structure to an exam at the end of two years.

The exam watchdog Ofqual says there has been no decision on a new name.

This summer's GCSE exams, taken by hundreds of thousands of pupils, are still being being taken this week.

A consultation on changes to GCSEs in England is expected to begin shortly - and an Ofqual spokesman says the watchdog will not "comment on speculation".

Last month Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to his counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland raising the question of how GCSEs should be titled when there was no longer a common system.

Exam break-up

The changes proposed for England, expected to be introduced in 2015, will not be applied in Wales or Northern Ireland, which would mean that there would be different exams with the same name.

Leighton Andrews, education minister in Wales, indicated that there was no intention of changing the GCSE name in Wales.

As well as distinguishing the English GCSE from versions in Wales and Northern Ireland, there is also the issue of how the reformed GCSEs should be labelled to show the difference from the existing GCSEs.

Not all GCSE subjects will be changed initially, which will mean that there will be old and new versions of GCSEs being studied in England at the same time.

The changes already revealed for GCSEs indicate that they will be graded numerically rather than by letter. Rather than grading as A, B or C, there will be grades of 1,2,3 and so on.

Mr Gove has told the education select committee that he backs such a change.

There will also be a shift away from coursework and assessment of individual units to taking an exam at the end of a two-year course.

There will be fewer opportunities for pupils to re-sit exams.

The latest report, in The Times, suggests that the highest grade for the new GCSEs will be an 8 and will work downwards. This would allow for a future even higher grade to be introduced.

But there has been no confirmation from Ofqual or the Department for Education about whether the revised qualification will have a new name or that they will be branded as I-levels or Intermediate Levels.

Last year, Mr Gove announced plans to replace GCSEs with a qualification called the English Baccalaureate Certificate, but the proposal was abandoned.

Instead it was announced that GCSEs would be retained but re-designed.

'Serious proposals'

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "This is now the third time Michael Gove has tried to abolish GCSEs.

"He keeps failing because he hasn't got a thought through plan to improve exams. Changing letters to numbers and the name of the exams is hardly the key to higher standards.

"We need serious proposals that learn from the best countries in the world. This needs a rigorous focus on English and maths and testing both academic knowledge and the skills that young people will need in the workplace."

Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, says it backs ideas such as the new, more detailed way of grading results, but warned against "over-ambitious timescales for implementation".

Dr Kevin Stannard from the Girls' Day School Trust, said the current GCSE was "an inflexible exam".

"It is far too assessment driven, the hoops are too obvious and it encourages teaching to the test.

"However, I don't see anything in the new set-up that fundamentally suggests these new changes will give us a superior system."

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