Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 12:59 UK

Modular GCSE exam courses set out

exam room
The changes still require 40% of marks to be in final exams

Modular GCSEs made up of units that can be re-taken have been launched by one of the UK's bigger exam boards, OCR.

It has set out 43 GCSE specifications for teaching from September 2009, including a PE course that has options such as ice dancing and surfing.

They feature "controlled assessments", brought in to replace coursework because of concerns over plagiarism.

Some fear the qualifications will be easier to pass than those with end-of-course exams, which remain an option.

Students will be able to re-sit each unit once.

A-levels were made modular in 2000, though they are now being reduced from six units to four.

The new GCSEs take advantage of changes made by the regulator, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) - which points out that some subjects, such as science and maths, already have modular options.

Its rules say that subjects that are split into units must still allocate at least 40% of the marks to final assessment.

When it consulted people on the changes, the QCA found that 43% did not feel splitting their subject into units would cause problems, but 35% thought it would.

League tables

The head of OCR's GCSE project, Parool Patel, said: "Teachers, parents and students have confidence in the GCSE qualification and know that high standards are being maintained.

"Flexible assessment is an improvement in the GCSE qualification which is designed to offer teachers the opportunity to implement assessment processes that best suit the needs of their own students."

Professor Alan Smithers, a qualifications expert from the University of Buckingham, said he expected most schools would choose the modular format to boost their league table standings.

"The pressure on schools to maximise results will lead many of them to take advantage of these new arrangements," he said.

"The downside is that assessment becomes dominant throughout the course, rather than towards the end of it."

The OCR PE syllabus which includes ice dancing - popularised by ITV's Dancing on Ice show - also offers surfing, snowboarding and karate along with more traditional school sports.

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