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GCSE and A-level delays will cost teachers their summer holidays, union leader warns

More than a fifth of new specifications still not approved by Ofqual less than 10 school weeks before they are to be taught.

Teachers will have to spend their summer holidays preparing for the introduction of new GCSE and A-level exams because delays in approving the qualifications mean they still do not have all of the information they need, a union leader has warned.

There are now less than 10 school weeks before the end of term but more than a fifth of new GCSE and A-level specifications that will be taught from September have still not been approved by exams regulator Ofqual.

The watchdog has admitted that progress in accrediting the new qualifications was "certainly not at the pace we had hoped" and that this has left schools with "much less time to choose their preferred exam board and associated resource materials, and prepare for the new school year".

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, told TES that delays in approving new qualifications had reached a “ridiculous” stage.

“The process of GCSE, AS and A-level accreditation has been dogged by delays since it began,” she said. “With just 10 weeks to go, with a fifth of qualifications still not accredited, that’s a really untenable situation.

“It’s ridiculous. It means teachers teaching those subjects will basically have to use their summer holidays to prepare. Given the stress and workload teachers are under, it’s unacceptable.”

Dr Bousted said preparing to teach new qualifications involved a “huge amount of work”.

“Teachers will start to get time now [to prepare for the new specifications] and if the syllabuses aren’t there they could lose that time to prepare for what will be a radically different qualification requiring different areas of knowledge and different ways of working.

Figures from Ofqual show that 123 of 156 specifications, or 78 per cent, have been accredited. Seventy-three of 86 GCSE specifications have been approved, as have 50 of 70 AS and A-level specifications.

“Something is going badly wrong with the accreditation process,” Dr Bousted said. “I don’t know whether that’s with the exam boards or with Ofqual or both, but in between getting grammar questions for 11-year-olds wrong, Nick Gibb should be focusing his attention on getting these qualifications accredited."

Papers from an Ofqual board meeting in January, published last week, show former chief regulator Glenys Stacey met the chief executives of all of the schools exam boards “to discuss the reasons for delays in the resubmission of their specifications… and to consider ways in which it would be possible to accelerate the accreditation process without compromising on standards”.

The board papers said: “We are making sure there are no delays in the process within Ofqual, dedicating additional resource where necessary.”

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 report to Parliament, published last month, said: "Progress during 2015 was certainly not at the pace we had hoped, and as a result schools have had much less time to choose their preferred exam board and associated resource materials, and prepare for the new school year.

"There have been particular challenges with religious studies specifications, for which the content has changed substantially. It is also a subject where agreement amongst stakeholders has historically proved more challenging.

"More generally, we must ensure that all GCSEs see an uplift in the level of demand. A levels languages and geography must also reflect the advice of the A-level Content Advisory Board. We are reviewing the general themes for rejection that might inform the accreditation process for subjects to be taught from 2017.”

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