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Last Updated: Monday, 18 February 2008, 15:34 GMT
Shake-up of GCSE language orals
Pupil writing in French lesson
A language to GCSE level is no longer compulsory in England
GCSE language students are to face a number of assessments rather than a single "oral" examination at the end of the course, the government has said.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said the new assessments would test a broader range of skills than they do currently.

Another key change is that candidates will be assessed by their teachers, rather than external examiners.

The announcement comes after it was reported that oral tests were being dropped as they were "too stressful".

The new oral tests will be just as challenging but will also be fairer and give a true reflection of students' ability
Jim Knight
Schools Minister

Mr Knight said the changes were being made because the standard oral test was no longer considered to be a "reliable test of a candidate's ability".

Repeated assessments of speaking a foreign language over a long period was a much more accurate indicator of ability, he added.

The changes are in line with recommendations made by Lord Dearing, who was asked by the government to review language teaching after the number of language students fell significantly.

Under the new regime, candidates might be asked to take part in an interview or make a presentation to a group.

Or they might get involved in basic business-style negotiations or product pitches.

'Not dumbing down'

They would also be expected to think on their feet as part of "spontaneous discussions".

"This will provide students with a chance to use a range of communications skills that have practical applications in the real world, rather than relying on memorised responses to predictable questions," the government said.

Mr Knight said: "The new oral tests will be just as challenging but will also be fairer and give a true reflection of students' ability.

"Now candidates will have the chance to do themselves justice over the whole course of their studies - not just a single, hit or miss, 10-minute test."

He added: "Learning chunks of phrases by rote or artificial role-play situations will become a thing of the past."

Mr Knight said both businesses and higher education institutions wanted students who could display a range of linguistic talents.

"This is not about making language GCSEs easier - it's about making them more rigorous, relevant and accessible."

'More rigorous'

Lord Dearing said the changes were a welcome response to the criticisms his review heard that present oral assessments were undertaken over too short a period and narrowed learning.

In his report, Lord Dearing had said that many people remembered their orals as a "stressful experience".

"We therefore proposed that these parts of the examination should be over a period through moderated teacher assessment."

The QCA, which was due to publish a report on the issue on Wednesday, said the changes were about bringing about more rigorous assessment.

"It's changing the way it's done, not getting rid of it or dumbing it down."

Currently GCSE oral tests are carried out by teachers, recorded and sent to external examiners for marking.

Children being taught French at school

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