Changes to MFL GCSE oral exams

Continuing in my quest to get up to date I’ve done a little research into changes to the MFL GCSE exams. The BBC had this to say. This the Guardian’s take on the subject and this is the main Times Education Supplement Forum thread on this topic.

The main gist is that they will be removing the dreaded oral exam – where you trot out your pre prepared and learned by heart presentation on a subject of your choice and then do a role play with your classroom teacher – and replacing it with ongoing teacher assessment. The general feeling is that these exams are too stressful. The main benefit of this is that this could be considered a more realistic assessment of speaking ability, the pupils would be speaking more ‘off-the-cuff’ rather than in rigorously practised sentences. It also removes the element of ‘a bad day’ or ‘nervous blank’ and will help to ensure that the really able and hard working students are appropriately rewarded. 

However, this also means that there will be very little in the way of accountability for the outcome of the exam – the oral exam is at least recorded so it can be considered by a third party. More opportunity for schools to fiddle the system to make sure that they get good exam results for the purposes of league tables. Also, by removing this ‘stressful’ exam they are doing the pupils a disservice. The oral exam is a rare chance to test your ability to perform at the correct time – this is a very useful skill out in the real world. 

Personally I think the oral exams could do with shaking up a bit – we do need to test pupils ability to think on the spot, rather than their ability to learn by heart, and despite the opportunities for cheating I do think that this is a better way to ensure that the students who deserve the As are the ones who receive them than the current system. I would still add an ‘interview’ or some other one on one method of assessment, for which the student could prepare, as a way of giving the student who doesn’t like to speak out in front of the class a chance to shine, and as a way to inject a little of that ‘real life stress’ feeling into their language learning. It can be stressful to be in a foreign country trying to get a point across, and we need to make sure they’re prepared for that. 

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