Consultation on GCSE subject content and assessment objectives

I have just thrown a VERY cursory glance over the document entitled Modern languages GCSE subject content and assessment objectives published today on the DfE website along with similar documents for other subjects.


The general tone of the ‘proposed’ content strikes me as being similar to the O level. It could be the frequent appearance of the phrase ‘literary texts’ which brings to mind a mini Gove jack-in-the-box, popping-up every time a sentence contains mention of  ‘contemporary  culture’ so that it doesn’t become too modern-sounding.

It’s not that I object at all to the use of literary texts in the appropriate place, but the specific reference is just too, well, insistent.

Oral examinations (not speaking tests, I note, which is perhaps too modern?) are to be internally conducted but not assessed – some pressure relieved there?

There is a hint of CLIL in the phrase “make appropriate links to other areas of the curriculum to enable bilingual and deeper learning, where the language may become a medium for constructing and applying knowledge“.

My “Award for Raised Eyebrow” was won by the reference to “translate sentences and short texts from English into the assessed language to convey key messages accurately and to apply grammatical knowledge of language and structures in context. 

And the “Two Steps Backward” trophy goes without question to the equal weighting for each of the 4 skills. Again.

As I say, it was a very quick viewing, and I’m sure there’ll be other things which occur to me in the weeks to come.

Responses required at DfE by 20th August.


What Went Well … Even Better If … Maximising Performance in Controlled Assessments

I attended this event this afternoon/evening, and it was well worth it.  It was organised by the National Association of Language Advisers (North West region) of which I am a member.

I’m sure that to many of you, the information isn’t new, but in case you wanted a refresher, I’ve put my notes below for you to take a look at, or take away!

I apologies to the two speakers, David Mee, and John Halksworth, if I have misinterpreted any of their comments, but hopefully I have done them justice!

Click here to download: Notes from NALA NW Controlled Assessment event

NALA North West Regional Conference

If you’re in or near the North West of England on 1st March and are interested in some quality CPD related to Controlled Assessment, then can I point you in the direction of this event:

You can download the flyer here:


Don’t worry that both of the speakers are Spanish moderators – as the flyer says, it’s the underlying principles and ideas that will be offered which are important.

NALA (National Association of Language Advisers) put on great events, and so if you can make it, I think you would find it worthwhile.

Are we just jumping through hoops?

I was going to start with ‘it’s that time of year again’, but nowadays, it always seems like ‘that time of year’.  Year 11 are preparing for yet another controlled assessment, and I am running out of inspirational ways to help them get ready.

I went through all the usual stuff again – “once I give you this task, I can’t help you with anything else”; “you have until next Monday to prepare”; “no, you can’t use those verbs in your 40 words” –  usually followed by “a verb is an action word”! 

And then there’s the issue that always makes me wonder if I’m doing it correctly- “you can’t take home your draft or your planning sheet”.  “But Miss, isn’t most of this in our exercise books anyway…?”

And of course, it is, because that’s the vocabulary and grammar they have been learning in lessons for the past few weeks.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have been doing my job properly.  I feel like I’ve missed something somewhere, but I am assured that I haven’t. 

So therefore I started to ask myself – Are these assessments just hoops to jump through, or are they really giving our pupils the opportunity to respond spontaneously to the target language?  For me, until we see how the examination results turn out, it’s still in the balance …

Panic over!

Before the Christmas holidays, I mused on why I was feeling anxious about the GCSE Controlled Assessments (Panic? Moi?) in which I set out an outline for an attempt to help both teachers and pupils feel a little more confident.

Well, that day was last Wednesday, and I’m pleased to report that it was generally regarded as a successful venture.  We ended up having to be a little flexible with some of the timings, but for a first attempt, I was pleased.  Staff appeared to be smiling on the day, which indicated things were going reasonable to plan.  No pupils were sent to me for non-participation, which was a delight.  And pupil feedback so far has identified the following:

  • pupils feel more confident about tackling their actual Controlled Assessments when the time comes (little do they know, but the first one isn’t that far off!)
  • they also feel more confident in their language lessons as a result
  • pupils enjoyed working with people from other groups with whom they wouldn’t normally work
  • for several pupils, it was their first viewing of a film in a foreign language
  • the majority of pupils enjoyed seeing the film, and wanted to see more in a foreign language

On a personal level, I do feel more confident myself now with the Controlled Assessments; having had to prepare the plan for the day, it really made me think about the structure and sequence of the tasks, and my teaching methods.  Although the final written task was not the most important thing for me, for the most part I was delighted with the work which was produced, with some pupils achieving a better standard that I had thought they would have done.  And finally, I think I have a better relationship with my class now, and feel that we are all heading in the same direction, which is an added bonus.

I’m happy to share the day’s resources if anyone would be interested – just let me know.

To keep morale up, a lot of tea was definitely consumed during the breaks – and the major criticism from pupils seems to be that they wanted chocolate whilst watching the film.  Ho hum, sometimes you just can’t win …

GCSE Controlled Assessment – Panic? Moi?

When I hear the words ‘Controlled Assessment’, this is what I think…

I think I’ve been worrying more about the new controlled assessments than my pupils!  And I suppose that’s to be expected, because although neither of us really knows what we’re in for yet, I at least have been pondering the practicalities since around March, whereas Year 10 are just trusting me to do the right thing.  No pressure there, then!

I have therefore persuaded the languages department to take a proactive approach, and we will be ‘training’ Year 10 in the requirements of the written task in January, although not actually using the outcome as a ‘proper’ task.

The idea is this:  school is suspending the normal school timetable on 13th January, to enable such things as super learning days and theatre visits to occur, and the languages department is taking Year 10 for the day.

  1. I am going to introduce the concept of the controlled assessment to them together, then we will split into groups of the different taught languages.
  2. Pupils will be given some still images from a film in the language they are studying, but (hopefully) have not seen.
  3. Teachers will lead pupils in deciding what information they could give about the stimulus images, and perhaps share some useful phrases.
  4. In small groups, pupils will create sentences or phrases to describe the images.
  5. The title of the task will be given to pupils.  Working alone, they will be given a restricted amount of time to compile their response, and condense it to something resembling the 40 word list they are allowed to use for the assessment.
  6. Pupils will then have around 30 minutes to write up their work, using only their prompts.

To round things off, we’re going to let them see part of the chosen film, to see how close their comments were to the reality of the film’s characters.  On the off-chance that one of the pupils reads this (highly unlikely, I’m sure), I’m not going to divulge the title of the task just yet, but will gladly share all after the event.

The idea isn’t to produce a decent piece of writing (although that would help!), but to understand the steps involved in this part of their GCSE examination.

Maybe I’m mad to try this, but I don’t want the first experience of a controlled assessment to be an actual one, as I don’t think it’s fair.  And I also think it will be good for me as a teacher to get my head around the structure of the beast, even if the timescale is squashed.  It’s still making me tackle something I’m nervous about, which can’t be all bad.

Am I totally bananas?  Have you just jumped in with a proper assessment?  I’d be interested to know your thoughts.