Handy Guide to 14-19 qualification reform, 2010-2019
This guide is designed to give a quick overview of the qualification reform in England from 2010. It is written to help you understand the different changes that are currently being implemented or that are due to be introduced by 2019.
It is proposed that all current GCSE subjects will be reformed by 2017, or will be discontinued. This reform is happening across three phases:
- To be taught from 2015: Mathematics, English literature, English language.
- To be taught from 2016: Physics, chemistry, biology, combined science (double award), food preparation and nutrition, history, geography, modern and classical languages, art & design, dance, drama, music, computer science, citizenship, religious studies, PE.
- To be taught from 2017: Ancient history, astronomy, business, classical civilization, design & technology, economics, electronics, engineering, film studies, geology, media studies, psychology, sociology, statistics.
- Subjects to be discontinued: Subjects confirmed for withdrawal, last teaching from September 2015: additional applied science, catering, design and technology (food technology route only), digital communication*, expressive arts, home economics (food and nutrition route only), human health and physiology, humanities, performing arts.
Subjects confirmed for withdrawal, last teaching from September 2016: additional and further additional science, applications of mathematics, applied business, applied ICT, applied science, business and communication systems, business communications, business studies and economics, environmental and land-based science, environmental science, general studies, health and social care, home economics – child development, home economics – textiles, hospitality, ICT, law, leisure and tourism, manufacturing.
*Only available in 2015 for centres already delivering these qualifications
Structure: All new GCSEs will be fully linear, and most will be untiered. Of the 2015 subjects, only mathematics will be tiered.
Assessment model: Assessment will normally be by examination only, except in subjects where some non-examined assessment is the best approach, such as art & design.
Availability: Assessment will be available only in the summer, with the exception of mathematics and English language, which will have an additional assessment opportunity for students aged 16 and over in November.
Grading: The new GCSEs will be graded from 1 to 9, with 1 as the lowest grade and 9 as the highest.
Standards: Ofqual proposes to carry the standard across from the current GCSEs to the reformed qualifications by pegging the current grade C to the new grade 4, at least initially.
‘IGCSE’ is a term that is used, loosely and confusingly, to refer to suites of qualifications offered as alternatives to GCSE by a number of awarding bodies. Strictly speaking, ‘IGCSE’ or ‘International GCSE’ refers only to a qualification that was developed initially for international use, and is not accredited by England’s regulator, Ofqual. These are not approved for use in maintained schools. Following Michael Gove’s announcement in 2010 that IGCSEs would be recognised in performance tables, awarding bodies moved to introduce accredited versions that would be available for use in the maintained sector. These accredited Level 1/2 Certificates have gradually been introduced since then and have replaced IGCSEs in performance tables – Cambridge IGCSEs counted for the last time in summer 2012, and Edexcel International GCSEs counted for the last time in summer 2013.
DfE has announced that these L1/2 Certificates will not be eligible for use in maintained schools or recognised in performance tables as the reformed 9-1 GCSEs are introduced.
All current AS and A level subjects will be reformed by 2017, or will be discontinued. This reform is happening across three phases:
- To be taught from 2015: Art and design, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, English language, English literature, English language and literature, history, physics, psychology, sociology
- To be taught from 2016: Modern and classical languages, geography, dance, drama, music, religious studies, PE
- To be taught from 2017: Accounting, ancient history, archaeology, classical civilisation, design & technology, electronics, environmental science, film studies, further mathematics, Geology, history of art, law, mathematics, media studies, music technology, philosophy,
Subjects to be discontinued
Subjects confirmed for withdrawal, last teaching from September 2015
Applied art and design*, applied business*, economics and business*, human biology*, performance studies, performing arts.
Subjects confirmed for withdrawal, last teaching from September 2016
Anthropology, applied ICT, applied science, citizenship studies, communication and culture, creative writing, critical thinking, engineering, general studies, health and social care, home economics (food, nutrition and health), humanities, ICT, leisure studies, media: communication and production, moving image arts, pure mathematics, quantitative methods (AS), Science (AS), science in society, travel and tourism, use of mathematics (AS), world development.
*Only available in 2015 for centres already delivering these qualifications
Structure: AS and A level will be separate linear qualifications; however the content of AS can be a subset of the full A level in order to facilitate co-teachability.
The separate structure means that if a student takes an AS examination on the way to completing an A level the AS outcome will not contribute to the A level grade. The concept of ‘A2’ disappears.
Assessment model: Assessment will normally be by examination only, except in subjects where some non-examined assessment is the best approach, such as history or computing.
Availability: Assessment will be available only in the summer.
Grading: The new A and AS levels will continue to be graded from A to E, with an additional A* grade available at A level only.
Standards: The standard of AS will remain in line with current end of first year standard; the A level standard will remain in line with current A level standard.
On 8 July 2016 the Government published the report of a small group led by Lord Sainsbury which reviewed the route into employment for those aged 16 and above. It recommended that two ‘pathways’ should be established, an ‘academic’ pathway leading to higher study, and a ‘technical’ pathway leading to employment. Within the technical pathway there would be 15 routes, each encompassing a number of related occupations. Within each route there would be just one qualification for each of the occupations or cluster of occupations – typically 10-15 per route. At the same time, the Government published its Skills Plan, which accepted all the recommendations. If the whole plan goes ahead and meets its targets, the first of these new qualifications will be ready for teaching in September 2019. For more information there is a separate Handy Guide to the Sainsbury Review.
Key Stage 4
Headline measures: Up until 2015 the headline measure was the proportion of students achieving 5 GCSEs (with up to 2 vocational qualifications) at A*-C, including English and maths. From 2016 results, reporting changed to Progress 8.
Progress 8: This measure reports the progress made by students from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4. Each student’s GCSE and vocational results is compared to their KS2 performance, and the outcomes are aggregated at school level to report whether students in that school make more or less progress than average. This is presented in terms of GCSE grades – ‘students make half a grade more progress than average,’ or ‘… make a third of a grade less progress than average,’ for example.
The eight qualifications reported in this measure must conform to a formula made up of three groups:
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3|
|Mathematics (points double weighted) and English language or English literature (points for the better grade double weighted if both have been taken. If both taken, the second result can contribute to group 3 if it is good enough).||Any three EBacc qualifications (Sciences, languages, history, geography).||Any three GCSEs or eligible vocational qualifications.|
Transition arrangements: As the reformed GCSEs are introduced, alternative qualifications (Level1/Level2 Certificates) will cease to be recognised in performance tables; results from the current GCSEs will also not be recognised in performance tables when the reformed GCSEs in those subjects become available.
Qualification categories: From 2016 results, schools and colleges will have their performance reported against up to four separate categories – academic, Applied General, Tech Level and Technical Certificates. The intention is to make reporting sharper, and a college could be rated very highly on one category yet be failing on another – under the current system good performance in one area would be offset by poorer performance in another and the college might simply be reported as doing well enough across its whole provision.
Headline measures: For each of the four qualification categories, there are five headline measures:
- Progress (academic and AG qualifications) or combined attainment and retention (Tech Level and Technical Certificates)
- English and mathematics GCSE (for those without at least a grade C from Key Stage 4)
Other measures: A range of other measures will be reported, the most publicised of which is probably the Tech Bacc measure. Like the EBacc, this is a measure for accountability purposes only. To meet the measure, students must achieve a Tech Level qualification, a level 3 mathematics qualification and the Extended Project. A small number of schools and colleges are
piloting it in 2014-15, but it becomes fully available in 2015-6, and will be first reported in summer 2016.
Study programmes: From September 2013 all 16-19 students in state-funded provision must be on a personalised ‘study programme’. Study programmes must be built around a ‘substantial’ qualification, and include English and/or mathematics if either has not yet been achieved at grade C, work experience and non-qualification activity such as careers advice and tutorial time.
|2011||March: Wolf Report published.|
|2012||September: English Baccalaureate Certificate proposals announced.||March: Secretary of State for Education first writes to Ofqual about reform. |
November: Ofqual consultation on reform.
|March: First KS4 performance table list published, for 2014 tables – mostly existing qualifications meeting subset of characteristics. |
November: KS4 list for 2015 tables published – all qualifications have to meet full set of characteristics.
|2013||February: EBC proposals withdrawn in favour of GCSE reform. |
June: DfE and Ofqual consultations on content and technical issues.
|January: Last January exam series. |
January-March: Further correspondence between Secretary of State for Education and Ofqual to confirm reforms.
Summer: Smith review of current criteria.
Summer: ALCAB established.
|September: First teaching of fully reformed KS4 qualifications. |
December: First Tech Level and Applied General lists published – existing qualifications meeting subset of characteristics.
|2014||Summer: Ofqual consult on final titles for reform. |
Autumn: Reformed English and maths specifications published.
September: Last teaching of current English and maths qualifications.
|Summer: Ofqual consult on final titles for reform. |
Autumn: First phase specifications published.
September: Last teaching of AS/A2 model for phase 1 subjects.
|Summer: DfE publishes technical guidance for reformed Tech Level and Applied General qualifications. Substantial Level 2 qualifications (Technical Certificates) and Technical Awards announced. |
November: First Substantial Level 2 and Technical Award lists published – for 2017 tables.
|2015||Autumn: Phase 2 reformed GCSE specifications published. |
September: First teaching of reformed English and maths qualifications
|Autumn: Phase 2 specifications published. |
September: First teaching of phase 1 subjects.
|January: 5A*-C performance tables published – all vocational qualifications count as ‘1’ for the first time, and a maximum of two included. |
Autumn: New Tech Level and Applied General qualifications published, meeting full set of characteristics.
September: Last teaching of current specs recognised as Tech Level or Applied General.
|2016||January: Last 5A*-C tables published (for summer 2015 results). |
Autumn: Phase 3 reformed GCSE specifications published.
September: First teaching of phase 2 reformed qualifications. September: Last teaching of any current GCSE titles.
|Summer: First results of phase 1 AS levels. |
Autumn: Phase 3 specifications published.
September: First teaching of phase 2 subjects.
September: Last teaching of any A levels with AS/A2 structure.
|September: First teaching of new specs designed as Tech Level or Applied General.|
|2017||January: First Progress 8 tables published (for summer 2016 results). |
Summer: First results of reformed GCSEs in English and maths.
September: First teaching of phase 3 reformed qualifications – all GCSE subjects now reformed or withdrawn.
|January: First ‘Academic’ performance tables published (for summer 2016 results). |
First results of phase 1 A levels.
September: First teaching of phase 3 subjects – all subjects with AS/A2 structure now reformed or withdrawn.
|January: First Tech Level and Applied General performance tables published (for summer 2016 results). |
September: First teaching of new specs designed as Technical Certificates.
|2018||Summer: First results of phase 2 reformed GCSEs.||Summer: First results of phase 2 subjects.||January: First performance tables to include Technical Certificates published (for summer 2017 results). |
Summer: First results of new Tech Level and Applied General qualifications.
|2019||Summer: First results of phase 3 reformed GCSEs – first time all results are reported on new 1-9 grade scale.||Summer: First results of phase 3 subjects – first time all A level results are of fully linear courses.||Summer: First results of new Technical Certificate qualifications. |
Autumn: New technical qualifications available for first Sainsbury routes
|A level||A levels - sometimes called General Certificates of Education (GCE) or Advanced level - are normally studied after GCSEs. |
They are usually studied full-time at school or college. Students currently start with the AS level, which is the first half of an A level and a qualification in its own right. If they enjoy the subject and want to learn more, they will continue studying at the full A level.
A full A level usually takes two years of study. Students typically need five GCSEs (or equivalent) currently at grade C or above to start on a course, although mature students may be accepted without the normal entry requirements.
|AG (Applied General)||A vocational qualification. From September 2014, vocational qualifications at level 3 have been classified as either Tech Levels or Applied General qualifications if they are approved for performance tables.|
|ALCAB||The A Level Content Advisory Board was set up in summer 2013. It represented the UK’s leading research universities and advised on the content of new A levels in major subjects.|
|AS level||A level students usually begin with the AS (Advanced Subsidiary) level, which is the first half of an A level and a qualification in its own right. |
Students usually take 1 year to complete the AS.
|Co-teachability||The ability to deliver more than one qualification simultaneously to a single group of learners. The new AS and A levels are aimed to be co-teachable, so that schools and colleges do not need to have different teaching groups for AS and A level students taking the same subject.|
|DfE||Department for Education.|
|EBacc subjects||The EBacc is made up of: English, mathematics, history or geography, two sciences, and a language. |
It is a measure reported in performance tables – it is not a qualification awarded to individual students.
|End user||The end user for a qualification is the person or institution who will make a decision about whether to recruit the student holding that qualification – for example an employer or a university.|
|First teaching||‘To be taught from...’|
|GCSE||Qualifications that students in England normally take in Year 11, normally aged 15-16. The exam may be taken earlier or later in life depending on the individual.|
|Glh (Guided learning hours)||A measure of the size of a qualification. It reflects the typical amount of time needed to deliver the qualification.|
|Linear||All assessment is at the end of the course, whether in the form of an exam or a mix of exam and coursework.|
|Ofqual||Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation. This is the regulator for England’s qualifications system.|
|Synoptic assessment||Asks students to show their accumulated knowledge and understanding of a subject by combining different aspects of what they have learnt and being assessed on it as a whole.|
|Technical awards||Broad, high-quality level 1 and level 2 qualifications for 14-16 year olds that equip students with applied knowledge and associated practical skills not usually acquired through general education.|
|Tech Bacc||The Technical Baccalaureate is a performance measure, marking achievement by young people aged 16 to 19 in three areas. It was introduced for courses beginning in September 2014, for reporting in the 16-19 performance tables from 2016.|
|Technical certificate||Vocational qualifications for post-16 students wishing to specialise in a specific industry, occupation or occupational group. The purpose will be to prepare students either for entry to employment in occupations where employers recognise entry at level 2, or where a level 2 qualification is required before students can progress to a Tech Level.|
|TL (Tech Levels)||A vocational qualification. From September 2014, vocational qualifications at level 3 have been classified as either Tech Levels or Applied General qualifications if they are approved for performance tables.|
|Vocational qualifications||Work-related qualifications suitable for a wide range of learners, built to accommodate the needs of employers and allow progression to university. They provide a more practical, real-world approach to learning alongside a key theoretical background. These include BTECs.|
|Tiered/untiered||In many subjects, there are two different 'tiers' of examination offered and students will sit a different exam based on which tier they have been placed into by their teacher. The grades available to them are determined by the tier they are in. For example (in relation to the current GCSEs): |
For reformed GCSEs the tiering structure changes to:
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Version 1.9 - The information on this page, and in the PDF below, was last updated 22 August 2016.