The Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU) welcomes the opportunity to furnish you with our views on your Consultation on Proposed Changes to GCSE and GCE Qualifications for Summer 2021 by CCEA awarding organisation. The UTU represents approximately 6,500 members of the teaching profession including Principals, Vice-Principals, Teachers and Trainee Teachers. UTU members are employed across all the sectors in nursery, primary, post-primary and special schools.
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We are responding as a Teacher Trade Union representative of over 6500 teachers across Northern Ireland. We have sought views from members since the consultation began.
GCSE Agriculture and Land Use
The members consulted supported the omission of Unit 1 but have concerns over the Unit 3 assessment. Guidance must be issued urgently about how teachers will supply the experimental data that pupils would normally collect and how the marks will be redistributed.
GCSE Art and Design
Members of the Ulster Teachers’ Union report that while they are pleased that the volume of work is being reduced due to the scrapping of the external set assignment, they have been left in the dark in terms of how to proceed. It is our understanding that a message to cease working on Component 1: part B has been sent to some schools and not others. Many schools have continued to direct their pupils to work on these components. (Members have reported this from comments on an Art and Design Facebook page) and are very displeased that CCEA have now decided to set a new theme for this unit.
An issue reported at the start of September is that pupils are now with their Art teacher, but the theme is unknown. Could this not have been sorted earlier? It shows a lack of urgency from CCEA, and this is putting a lot of stress on Art and design teachers when they are already under enough stress and pressure from the change to school routines and new practices that must be implemented in the art room.
It should be noted that a number of Art teachers have concerns over how pupils’ work will come in and out from home. Although some are using new initiatives in helping their students such as taking photos and emailing them as a way to give feedback to students, the current situation is proving challenging for this subject area.
GCSE Business and Communication Systems
Although the feedback we have had from teachers of BCS has been somewhat supportive of the omission of Unit 1, there are concerns over the amount of content that will have to be covered in Year 12.
This now means that Unit 2 and the Controlled Assessment must be completed within the Y12 time-period. There is frustration from members that time was “wasted” during lockdown and had this been communicated earlier then time could have been used in ensuring this was underway.
A suggested approach would be to cut the controlled assessment and instead assess Unit 1 and Unit 2. This would ensure the skills in Unit 1 are assessed.
GCSE Child Development
Although it is welcomed that Unit 1 is not being assessed, members report frustration that this could not have been communicated earlier during lockdown. Had it, then the Y12 work and especially the Unit 3 Investigation could have started during the lockdown period.
GCSE Digital Technology
Members of the Ulster Teachers’ Union reported that now the focus is on Year 12 work, which they agree with. Students will be assessed on 60% of the overall course.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union welcomes the changes proposed. The time lost last year during lockdown appears to have been considered. The concerns and restrictions over social distancing when performing in groups have both been addressed by the amendments. It should be noted that the assessment reduced is the Unit 1 Devised Component, and this is an important skill in this subject area which now will not be assessed. This may disadvantage some pupils who are stronger in this area but unable to fully articulate and communicate answers through the written externally assessed unit.
GCSE Engineering & Manufacturing
The removal of Unit 2, the externally assessed practical exam, means that pupils will no longer be assessed in an important skill that is taught via this subject. There is anecdotal evidence that this is the very unit boys of a lower ability do better in, tending to underperform in the 2 hour (50%) examined unit.
GCSE Food and Nutrition
There has been no omission for the external assessment. Ulster Teachers’ Union members report that this course already has a lot of content to cover over the two-year course. The only change has been to the Practical controlled assessment where two meals are prepared over 2 hours instead of three meals over 3 hours. Extended time of 3 hours may be necessary due to issues regarding social distancing and accessing the equipment needed within HE rooms.
We accept that the assessment of the practical skills is necessary in this subject and are relieved that this will be assessed.
However, we question the rational to the amount of content that must be assessed. We understand it is due to the 40% rule, but we suggest that CCEA urgently examine the amount of content that has to be delivered in this subject.
Many schools teach the units in order and therefore have already taught unit one. Hence, the proposed changes will not help alleviate percentage of content which needs to be taught. For centres that have not taught unit one in Year 11, to scrap it means potential AS and A Level pupils will not have been taught any physical geography since year 10 (key stage three). This will greatly hinder these pupils’ progress with A level physical geography. With the rise in interest of STEM subjects, Geography teachers who are UTU members from numerous schools have expressed their concerns regarding their future A level intake. If unit one is not delivered in some format, pupils who enjoy physical geography may decide to not choose it as an A Level option.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union has had members suggest that the last two units from units one and two are omitted. This will enable all pupils to have experienced both papers.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union members who raised concerns with us all understand that the volume of content being covered and studied should be reduced. However, many are concerned about the potential impact of omitting all of the International Relations section (Unit 2). This means that no new content is introduced in Y12, and this may cause some pupils studying any new content in Year 12 to "switch off", creating issues around motivation. This may also disadvantage pupils who wish to study History further. The UTU would also like to be noted that the skill set assessed in Unit 2 is of immense value when coming to teach module AS1 and A22. For example, the material studied in Unit 2 is valuable for the History A-level Module A21 "Clash of Ideologies".
Indeed, this may have an impact on students who will not want to study the subject further and concerns about the pupil enjoyment must be weighted up with the potential assessed units.
The UTU would also like to note that we agree that the work missed during lockdown should be fully covered and assessed. However, by “repeating” unit 1 for the whole year may lead to distorted grades.
The UTU therefore proposes that an element of Unit 2 (covering Europe in the period 1945-1968) be taught and assessed through an adapted examination paper containing source work questions. This would bring the volume of material covered in the CCEA GCSE closer to the 75% mark of the total course that OFQUAL have recommended in England, and it would also maintain the interest of pupils.
GCSE Leisure Travel and Tourism
Most schools have delivered unit 1. This is arguably the most accessible unit which is the foundation to units 2 and 3. Pupils generally enjoy this unit more than unit 2 and can attain higher grades in it. The Ulster Teachers’ Union members responding felt some assessment of this unit could take place. A suggestion would be reducing the content of unit 2 and also unit 3.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union has had contact from a number of Modern Language teachers who have indicated their anger and frustration that these subject areas have had no reduced content. We have asked them all to complete individual responses in the CCEA consultation. The UTU members would like CCEA to note that the inequality of assessing these units fully when reducing the assessed content of other units will mean the students will be overwhelmed and anxious in taking the four examined units. This may drive further the decline of the uptake of Modern Languages at post-16 qualifications. For example, GCSE French has almost 100 pages of vocabulary that must be learnt.
During lockdown three months of teacher contact time were lost, a time when face to face work to improve pronunciation and fluency in oral work could not be completed unless pupils were in a classroom with a teacher. Oral work could not be given the focus required, pupils could prepare questions but not practice the oral skill with their teacher. This now needs to be quickly re-established with students who are already anxious about the lost language skills over the past few months.
Speaking tasks are most affected by performance nerves and pupils who are already stressed due to COVID-19 will be less likely to show their full ability in an oral exam due to nerves. The UTU members are also concerned over the health and safety and practical arrangements for speaking exams which will more than likely still be an issue by April/May 2021. How will teachers maintain 2m from pupils whilst recording the conversation? For the safety of teaching staff it would be sensible to externally grade pupils based only on the three skills of Reading, Writing and Listening and the grade required for oral work could be based on teacher assessment during class-time.
In any normal exam year, it is already difficult to complete modern language courses so members are already reporting fears that it will be even worse this year or impossible to complete all work required in time for the external assessments.
Unit 1 has been omitted with no change to the assessment of Unit 2. Members have welcomed this. In Unit 3 we have had concerns expressed regarding how the pupils will observe the teacher and answer questions. We need clarification on how this will work, the time it will take and, if it is the entire class, how will individual responses be able to be maintained?
The proposal is unclear and states “the proposal is that Booklet A remains”. This causes concern as a number of centres study Unit 2 in year 11 and Unit 1 in year 12 so are at an advantage in that they have already completed most of the content for Unit 2.
Members have informed the Ulster Teachers’ Union and reported instances in which they are not currently in labs for Y12, so pupils will not be able to carry out any experiments. Instead pupils are relying on videos of experiments, impacting their understanding of experiments covered in this syllabus. They will be unfamiliar with apparatus and by not using it may not perform as well in the booklet B.
GCSE Science Single Award
There have been no omissions with Unit 1 Biology, Unit 2 Chemistry and Unit 3 Physics all still being assessed. The only omission is the Practical Unit 4. This means that some practical skills already taught (in almost 2 complete units) are now not going to be assessed. The SA Science is taught and generally assessed at the end of each module by the November, March or June Series exams. The delay by one week of the November 2020 exam will simply not give pupils a chance to consolidate the learning undertaken during lockdown with their science teacher.
It is understandable that the Practical Booklet A will not be able to be taken but this takes an important assessed skill away from the subject. The UTU would like to note this is inconsistent with the assessment of Double Award Science.
GCSE Science Double Award
The Ulster Teachers’ Union has concerns over the wording in the proposal. The public consultation information regarding Double Award Science Unit 7 appears inaccurate and incomplete. UTU members have been contacting subject officers, and this appears to indeed be an error.
Members have concerns regarding the exam-based demonstration. With pupils now already back in school the focus many of science teachers is the November module examinations. Moving these by one week, although we are supportive of this, will have little impact given the cautious return to school that was needed. Double Award science has much content to cover in a normal two-year period. Indeed, the Y12 units are content heavy and some consideration would have been welcomed in reducing this.
Ulster Teachers’ Union have had members already reporting issues regarding the impact the COVID-19 hygiene measures in place in school is having on teaching time. With Double Award having twice the content of other GCSEs the impact on these measures is having an impact on pupil and teacher anxieties and concerns.
Pupil practical would require more time in collecting materials in an organised way to maintain social distancing as best as possible. The UTU question if any consideration has been given to CLEAPSS return to school routines in any measure when considering that Y12 pupils should still be assessed on the practical skills. Indeed, from March to June for many schools an entire unit of Y11 work has been taught remotely, yet the practical element within these units remains to be assessed. We are worried about the impact this will have closer to the May/June examination period on students.
We also wish to note that in some schools with newer builds, the labs are larger with a teaching area in the middle and lab tables around the outside, allowing for some practical work to be completed. However, many schools are reporting issues regarding space. Practical activities at this moment are impossible and labs are in use by class teachers with tables facing forwards, maximising 1 m distance between pupils as advised by CLEAPPS and PHA. The rearrangement of the original position of tables takes up class-time and still would not allow for social distancing pupil / pupil and staff / pupil. This is causing anxiety and stress.
Booklet A being completed with a teacher demonstration is welcomed as it would be impossible to complete with pupils at this time. However, with Booklet B still being assessed the pupils will have to gain practical experience during the year and at this time this is almost impossible, especially with some equipment requiring quarantining for 72 hours (if not used as a class bubble), or equipment requiring to be sterilised before use with another GCSE class. This will add additional pressure to already overstretched science teachers and technicians.
Biology and Physics also need to be taken into consideration. However, there is a vast amount of practical work in DA Chemistry when you include the additional practical pupils could be examined on in Booklet B.
Science teachers need to be informed as soon as possible of any changes that are being made. At the moment, CCEA appear to have given little consideration to the response that schools have had to make in the classroom. It appears not to have been considered in this Double Award suggested way forward.
The UTU is concerned that the information presented for consultation is unclear around the assessment of the Practical booklets.
GCSE Technology and Design
The time lost during lockdown in a practical subject such as Technology was considerable. Although it is welcomed that the project and portfolio of evidence has changed, UTU members are still concerned about the time period and if practical work and models or mock-ups will be able to be completed by all students in the class. This should be considered by the subject officers.
At AS the removal of the skills and fieldwork questions and at A2 the decision making would make the teaching content much more manageable. However, we would have preferred these skills being assessed and some of the content being reduced.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union have had members very concerned with the volume of work needing to be covered. Even though work was set and completed over lockdown the time to complete the course is a big ask of students. A reduction in content would have been preferable. The A2 pupils especially will be disadvantaged this year also because they have missed the AS exam which is often used as an indicator to their progression into A2.
GCE Life and Health Science
The AS and A2 will continue to have practical assessed units. Members of the Ulster Teachers’ Union have expressed concerns about how these will be completed in the time given, due to guidance regarding public health and from CLEAPSS when carrying out these activities. One example is that some equipment necessary is expensive and some science departments may only have one set of equipment or may even have to borrow it from another school. (eg, expensive ray and lens equipment or a colorimeter). Problems will arise over the time it will take to safely and adequately complete practical activities given quarantining equipment or ensuring it has been washed thoroughly. A suggestion may be to reduce the number of practical activities submitted in the AS unit from 12 to 6.
Members are concerned about the A2 investigation and how this can be carried out given new routines in school. It would appear no consideration was given to schools and their COVID response at all.
At AS level the decision to remove booklet A will only be made in January 2021. This is when it is hoped that the public health situation is clearer. The UTU feels that this decision would be better if it was made now. It appears other practical work is going ahead (GCE Life and Health Science) so we would question the difference in this subject area.
The removal of practical skills booklet A at A2 has already been made; this is inconsistent within this subject area and also other subjects at GCSE. The practical skills Booklet B will continue. This gives some reassurance that skills taught can be assessed.
In neither AS nor A2 has any content been removed. The only concern would be if pupils are absent for no fault of their own due to a period of self-isolation, how will content be covered?
Q3. To what extent do you agree or disagree that CCEA should provide guidance on the order of unit delivery in a specification?
The Ulster Teachers’ Union strongly feels that guidance must be provided regarding the order of unit delivery. In many subjects a detailed programme of study is already available and should be changed to indicate to teachers what has been omitted and in what way it should be taught.
Q4. Could you suggest any other information that CCEA could provide that may assist delivery planning?
With the omission of many units it would be important that this is communicated clearly to teachers, parents and pupils. Our members report that often pupils and parents are directed to the CCEA specifications at the start of Year 11 and in Year 12 to support the learning. Information regarding changes must be easily accessible and clear for teacher, pupil and parent.
Q5. To what extent do you agree or disagree with our proposal that in Summer 2021, students in the second year of their A level studies should be required to take A2 unit assessment only?
The Ulster Teachers’ Union accepts that this is a time of uncertainty and challenge and we agree that pupils should only have to take the A2 unit assessment.
Q6. Other than public health adaptations (outlined in Appendix D), do you think course content should remain largely unchanged at AS and A level at this time?
The Ulster Teachers’ Union has concerns that if course content of AS and A2 remains unchanged and is assessed fully in 2021, this may have a disadvantage to pupils who have missed work due to either self-isolation and/or illness during the period leading up to the external examinations. Although “blended” learning may be possible, a small number of pupils may be disadvantaged by having no access to internet or devices at home. We also have concerns that the challenges of bringing and accessing notebooksand/or textbooks may prove difficult at times due to COVID-19.
Q7. Do you have any additional comments on the proposed arrangements for CCEA AS and A level qualifications?
The UTU feels there has been no coherent approach in some of the Science Subjects with regard to practical activities.
In some subject areas a reduction of content would be welcomed.
Q8. To what extent do you agree or disagree that all 2020/21 Year 12 students who started their course in September 2019 should, where possible, be permitted to omit assessment in one unit in each GCSE qualification to be completed by Summer 2021, if they wish to do so?
It is important to note that all these CCEA qualifications have been established for a number of years, and much work across all units is needed to gain the qualification. The Year 12 work builds upon the Year 11 work. We are in unprecedented times and action is needed to reduce the burden on students and their teachers. The omission of assessment units is at times necessary but this is not consistent. No units have been reduced in Modern Languages, English and Mathematics and we would question the logic of that.
We do welcome the approach from CCEA that all units will be available for assessment should candidates wish to avail of this, with no detriment to their final grading. However, it is the feeling of many members that content should have been reduced instead of units being omitted.
Q9. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed approach that, where omission of a unit is possible, CCEA should specify the GCSE units to be taken, with the intention of ensuring consistency, as far as possible, for schools and colleges?
If this is the final approach taken the Ulster Teachers’ Union agree that CCEA must specify the units being taken with schools and colleges. This must be communicated quickly to teachers, parents and pupils. It is important that consistency is followed.
Q10. Do you have any comments on CCEA specifying required examination units for GCSE specifications?
The Ulster Teachers’ Union would like CCEA to make all changes to specifications to be communicated quickly with teachers, parents and pupils as soon as possible. We have concerns that now the academic year has begun the process is already taking too long. We accept that we are in uncharted waters with the response to COVID-19 and accept that CCEA have spent considerable time working on the cohort of 2020 examination results. However, CCEA must also consider carefully candidates who will be sitting examinations in 2022.
Q11. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the total amount of any qualification adjustment in 2020/21 should not exceed 40% of the specification?
The Ulster Teachers’ Union agree that qualification adjustments in 2020/21 should be made and agree that it should not exceed 40%. However, we would have preferred all subject areas at both GCSE, AS and A2 to have a more consistent approach.
Q12. Do you have any comments on the arrangements for limiting the amount of change to 40% of the total assessment?
Although the reduction of the course assessed is by the omission of some units, it may have been preferable that content was reduced in many subject areas. The UTU would also have concerns that in some subject areas the skills being assessed are no longer assessed and focus remains on a written terminal exam which may disadvantage some students.
Q13. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the 2021 exams should not include more optional questions than usual?
The Ulster Teachers’ Union disagree with the use of optional questions.
Q14. Do you have any comments on the use of optional exam questions in the 2021 exams?
The use of optional exam questions could be a way of ensuring a range of topic knowledge can be assessed. However, the change of papers at short notice and the lack of samples would undoubtedly hinder some lower ability pupils. It takes practice and skill in identifying which question is the best to answer and it is the Ulster Teachers’ Union position this would disadvantage pupils in the lower ability range.
Q15. Do you have any additional comments regarding GCSE arrangements considered in Section 4 of the consultation document?
Already incorporated into the response.
Q16. Do you think that students should be assessed in all elements of GCSE English Language and Mathematics?
The Ulster Teachers’ Union have had many members contact us with strong feelings that some pupils will be disadvantaged in having to sit all modules in English Language and Mathematics. Pupils attending non-selective schools and those of a lower ability may be at a disadvantage when compared to others in their cohort. It will be difficult to complete both the English Language and Mathematics GCSE course in the amount of time that remains in Year 12. There appears to have been no consideration for weaker students. It is these pupils who will be disadvantaged against others in the cohort. For all pupils it is important that the course is taught and often reinforced through extra tasks, both in class and at home, and because of the missed period during lockdown already members have reported gaps in pupil knowledge. Some staff have already indicated that pupils are having to be gently encouraged back to their best learning styles. The lack of exams and therefore results in Year 11 also means that useful data is now missing. For example, some students who may have had lower marks and knew they had to work that little bit extra or repeat a unit in Year 12 may not have the opportunity to release their true potential.
Teachers in both subject areas strongly feel that yet again the focus of GCSE results falls on them. With the Education and Training Inspectorate over the past number of years focusing on the GCSE pass rate of English, Maths and the combination of both, this is already putting extra pressure on these staff with no reduction in content. We believe this will significantly discriminate against pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who, as supported by multiple research studies, were most affected by the COVID-19 school closures. Many of these students also need additional support in the classroom to achieve success in examinations and the additional workload that would result in CCEA’s proposals would heavily impact this. CCEA claim they want to reduce workload and make it more manageable in the current climate, and in some subject areas this seems to have been achieved; however, their proposal for GCSE Mathematics would in fact double the workload for students and staff in the year ahead. This is against a backdrop of reduced teaching time during the day due to handwashing routines and necessary restructuring of timetables to facilitate better social distancing, containment of bubbles and reducing cross-contamination.
There have been no omissions for this subject area. The Ulster Teachers’ Union has members feeling angry and frustrated that no consideration has been given to this subject area. Reports of the new normal and a reduced time to teach the students as well as the impact of lockdown have led to concerns over how the course will be completed in the time available. The time to complete this course in a normal two-year period is just sufficient. Time to complete it by 2021 is the major issue. There are strong feelings that some consideration needs to be given to these students, especially to those weaker students. A suggestion would be for CCEA subject officers to give a detailed time plan showing how this course, already impacted by school closure and pupils with different experiences of learning during the lockdown period, should be delivered in the time available.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union has had strong opposition that GCSE Maths should be assessed fully for 2021.
Students were entered for their first Maths module in June 2020 and CCEA’s guidance in April 2020 meant they would only have to sit their usual second module in Y12 and their grade would be calculated on this, which teacher members appear happy with. CCEA also facilitated the completion of the first module in January 2021 should schools/students wish to do so. This was fair and reasonable given the COVID-19 situation. CCEA now appear to be having a complete U-turn. This means that pupils must sit both mathematics modules this year. The Ulster Teachers’ Union members contacting us find this unacceptable!
The question has been asked why CCEA are not sticking to the decision they made and shared with teachers, pupils and parents in April 2020. This is what maths staff have been working and planning for over the last few months. To change this with a consultation at the start of the academic year is ludicrous.
Members of the UTU are already reporting major concerns for the impact this additional workload will have on the health and well-being of themselves and students and members of their department. This is added to already increased levels of stress and anxiety in response to coming out of lockdown and acclimatising to new processes and routines on school, along with the increased health risks in true working environment.
Q17. Do you have any additional comments regarding students being fully assessed on all elements of these qualifications?
Q18. Please outline any potential equality impacts which you feel we should consider.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union have concerns that the proposals contained in the consultation will have a detrimental impact on pupils in non-selective secondary schools in comparison to those which use academic selection. We also have concerns that many subjects in reducing some units are actually reducing the unit that can assess pupil skills. Not all pupils can access a terminal examination in the same way and the removal of some teacher assessed or practical assessed units will have a detrimental effect on some pupils who could make, build, construct, draw or perform sufficiently well to gain high marks but in an examined unit do not have the literacy, numeracy or confidence to answer written questions.
We are also fearful that boys may be disadvantaged in some subject areas by omitting the coursework or practical unit. Studies have shown that girls often do better in examinations involving writing.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union has concerns that should pupils have to self-isolate or take time off due to illness this is going to have a detrimental effect on the learning experience. Although we are early into the restart of the academic year, we have already had reports of students having to self-isolate. The blended learning experience for some students will not be as sufficient as the classroom teacher led one.
The Ulster Teachers’ Union also wishes to request that CCEA take into consideration an extension for the deadline for those requiring special access arrangements. It is already reported that this will prove challenging as schools adapt to the new normal.
Do you have any other comments you would like to make regarding the consultation proposals or other potential changes to qualifications?
CCEA need to be responsible in their decisions and protect the mental health and well-being of all stakeholders in the examination process.
This consultation from CCEA should have started much earlier. When lockdown occurred and we entered a period of uncertainty, surely someone at CCEA could have foreseen and begun to consult regarding all qualifications.
We are also alarmed that at the moment no consideration has been given to the class of 2022. They too will be impacted, and a plan of urgent consultation and action is needed to ensure they are not disadvantaged due to the current COVID-19 circumstances.
Ulster Teachers’ Union has had members report frustration and anger that this consultation is only for GCSE, AS and A2 qualifications. The Occupational Studies which many students follow appear to be left out of this consultation or indeed any consultation. This is a failing on the part of CCEA. A major cohort of our pupils appears to be left as second class citizens and an afterthought. The teachers and pupils accessing these subjects must urgently have consideration paid to their courses.
Following the end of the consultation, we will publish a summary of responses and may publish copies of responses on our website (www.ccea.org.uk). We will not include personal details.
We will also publish an annex to the consultation summary listing all organisations that responded. We will not include personal names or other contact details.
Regarding this, is there anything in your response that you would like to be kept confidential?
The Ulster Teachers’ union consents to our response being listed in the consultation summary.
We will be issuing the consultation to members and making it available on our website.