Ofqual orders improvements to A-levels in foreign languages

The TES is reporting that Ofqual has ordered exam boards to make changes to modern foreign language A-levels that it says may result in a higher percentage of pupils achieving A* grades…

The regulator analysed current exams in French, German and Spanish and discovered they were not doing the job they were supposed to. Damning findings included a “large number of questions” which were ineffective at differentiating between pupils of different abilities, particularly the very brightest.

But Ofqual also found that marks for the speaking sections of the qualifications were “very high”.

The watchdog’s investigation follows more than a decade of concern from language teachers about what they felt was an unfairly low proportion of A* grades in their subjects and unexplained variability in marking.

This summer, 6.6 per cent of A-level French entries were awarded an A*, compared with 10.1 per cent in classical subjects and 26.5 per cent in further maths.

In a joint statement, the Association of School and College Leaders, headteachers’ union the NAHT and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of independent schools, said: “After years of concern expressed by state and independent school heads and languages teachers, we are pleased that Ofqual has recognised and will act on these historic unfairnesses.

“As the British Council and CBI have repeatedly said, it is vital that schools and universities have confidence in the fairness of language exams so that the long-standing decline in candidate numbers can be halted.”

Exam boards are being told to design better A-level questions that differentiate more between the most able candidates in time for next summer’s exams. They will also have to redesign their mark schemes.

Ofqual said its analysis “suggests that the percentage of students receiving an A* may, if anything, increase as a result of the changes”.

Exam boards accepted that changes were needed but were concerned that they could make the situation worse if rushed…

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said: “We don’t disagree that improvements need to be made to A-level modern foreign languages.” He added that changes to next year’s exams “should be carefully considered so that students are not disadvantaged and unnecessary risk is not introduced”…

More at: Ofqual orders improvements to A-levels in foreign languages


Is this a welcome intervention from Ofqual? Why/why not? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove This will benefit some students but one is tempted to say that Ofqual really does need to sort itself out. It’s a start…

  2. irvingphil

    Annette1Hardy SchoolsImprove we get the odd A* grade. Awarded on completion – not an exam grade but an overall grade for the qualification

  3. Annette1Hardy

    MrJDexter SchoolsImprove Interesting. Think my son, who did French A level in 2008, would agree. Massive leap from GCSE to A too.

  4. MrJDexter

    Annette1Hardy SchoolsImprove yes exactly. Languages great but never really got assessment fair cf others ( from a chemist I hasten to add)

  5. Trudgeteacher

    MrJDexter Annette1Hardy the idea that a levels are of same challenge across subjects never feasible. Diff skill sets assessed also

  6. MrJDexter

    Trudgeteacher Annette1Hardy agree with that completely and think HE understand too but my point was anecdotal the leap in MFL is too much

  7. Trudgeteacher

    MrJDexter Annette1Hardy agree. Same at our place. Mfl requires literacy, general knowledge and cultural awareness in addition to basic..

  8. Trudgeteacher

    MrJDexter Annette1Hardy ‘translational skills’ often find native speakers who are not v academic struggling to move beyond basic pass

  9. Annette1Hardy

    MrJDexter SchoolsImprove Yes, it doesn’t always follow, but as a non-teacher who studied languages I’d say Mfl GCSE is very undemanding.

  10. MrJDexter

    Annette1Hardy SchoolsImprove interesting! Am a chemist who took 3 o levels in lang loved but found diff- wd be v ok w GCSE methinks

  11. DrGerardS

    SchoolsImprove What is crucial is that language students should not be measured against an ‘ideal’ native speaker level to get top grades!

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