UK Announces Tougher Language Exams

Education ministers in the UK have announced plans for tougher GCSE examinations as part of a series of government education reforms.

For the first time in several years, the government education review specifically outlines plans for more vigorous tests in modern foreign languages, in addition to syllabus changes for core subjects such as English language and literature, mathematics and the sciences.

Set to be taught from September 2015, GCSE language courses will require all “questions to be asked in the respective foreign language” and a larger portion of the written paper will be focused on translation from English into the chosen language.

Michael Gove, UK Education Secretary said today “Our changes will make these qualifications more ambitious, with greater stretch for the most able; will prepare young people better for the demands of employment and further study”.

Changes to the syllabus will also mean students face more challenging marking criteria, designed to create greater distinction between achievements and blurry grade boundaries.

No official course content for the new language GCSE has yet been announced, but the government has stated exams will adhere to a more “essay-based system”. The first group of students to take the revised examinations will begin studying in September 2015, sitting their final exams in summer 2017.

In a bid to boost literacy, the new compulsory GCSE in English literature will carry a “whole book” policy, where exam questions will be designed to ensure that students have read the chosen text in its entirety. Course content will include at least one play by Shakespeare, a selection of work by the Romantic poets, a 19th Century novel, a selection of poetry from 1850-present and a 20th Century novel or drama.

Digital texts will be excluded for both English language and literature, which will remain separate subjects.

The plans follow a desperate plea from Gove earlier this week to “eliminate illiteracy in the UK in our lifetime”.

Elizabeth Truss, UK Education Minister said today: "We do need to start competing against those top performing countries in the world, because for too long we've pretended that students' results are getting better, when all that's been happening is the exams have been getting easier."

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