The government is being urged to “get its act together” over delays to the approval process for new GCSE and A levels, after education secretary Nicky Morgan admitted that most specifications had still not been approved with just 16 school weeks to go before they are taught.
Figures from exams watchdog Ofqual and highlighted in this week's TES magazine show that 66 of 156 specifications have been accredited, leaving 90, or 58 per cent, still in draft form. This includes all GCSE science papers, none of which have yet been officially approved.
Ministers insist the delays are "no barrier" to schools' preparations. But the Department for Education has also revealed that ministers have spoken to Ofqual and the exam boards to "press home how vital it is that all GCSEs and A levels specifications are accredited quickly".
Labour shadow education secretary Lucy Powell told the House of Commons today that teachers had been given "just weeks or no time at all" to prepare for the changes.
But Ms Morgan rejected the accusation, claiming that Ms Powell "clearly doesn't want to raise standards in our education system".
"Ofqual are working with the exam boards to make sure that all of the specifications are ready,” she said. "We absolutely want to give teachers as much notice as possible."
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the government should step in to “sort out the delay” in getting the new qualifications ready to be taught from September.
“It’s the second week of March and teachers are still waiting to find out what they are being expected to teach children in September because half of GCSEs and two-thirds of AS and A levels have not been approved by Ofqual,” she said.
“The government’s qualification reform programme, which is on a massive scale and being pushed through to an over-ambitious in schedule, continues to be a major cause of stress for teachers.
“Ofqual should have had more sense and not have agreed to the Government’s timetable for this huge reform programme in the first place.”
Paula Sherriff, Labour MP for Dewsbury, told the House of Commons last week: "Last Friday, I visited Greenhead College, at which many of my young constituents study. Deep concern was expressed about the delays in the accreditation process for some of the government’s new-style A-levels that are due to start this September.
"Without that accreditation, planning for the new curriculum cannot take place. This is leaving many teachers in limbo. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on this issue so that colleges and sixth forms can make the necessary plans for their new intake of students?"
TES reported in October that headteachers had told Ofqual they felt like “Mystic Meg” because they were trying to tell pupils and their parents about the new qualifications before they themselves had seen approved specifications.
But Julie Swan, Ofqual’s acting director for general qualifications, has insisted that the regulator is “not complacent” about the process of approving the qualifications.
An Ofqual spokesman said: “We remain committed to keeping schools, teachers and students up to date with accreditation progress. To this end, we regularly update our website with details of approvals and anticipated submission dates.”
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: “We have reformed GCSEs and A Levels so they now represent a new gold standard and it is right that the highest standards are applied to developing and accrediting these new qualifications.
“Content for core subjects including GCSE science, modern foreign languages, history and geography were published as long ago as April 2014 and the content for all of these subjects was published by February 2015 to help schools prepare for their introduction. Draft specifications for all subjects were available from August 2015, with agreed specifications now available in the majority of subjects, so there is no barrier to schools getting on with preparations.
“We have made clear to exam boards that they must produce high quality specifications as quickly as possible and will continue to work with Ofqual to ensure this happens.”