Dropping GCSEs only for 'exceptional circumstances', leaked DfE guidance states

School leaders will be told to only allow GCSE students to drop a subject in “exceptional circumstances” next year, according to draft guidance on the reopening of schools.

Leaked details of the proposals were first revealed yesterday by HuffPost UK, which reported that the guidance set out how “some pupils may have to drop some GSCEs altogether in year 11 to allow them to catch up and achieve better grades in English and maths”.

Schools Week can now reveal the full details of the guidance on the topic (see below), which states GCSEs should only be ditched in “exceptional circumstances”, when it is in the “best interest” of the pupil and with their parents also consulted.

An example given for when this would be appropriate is where pupils “would achieve significantly better in their remaining subjects as a result, especially in GCSE English and mathematics.”

Dropped subjects at A-level are also “expected to be rare”, because doing so is “likely to significantly limit choices for further study and employment”, the draft guidance adds.

Another point in the draft guidance that proved controversial was allowing schools to make up for lost teaching at key stage 3 by “suspending some subjects for some pupils”.

Further details on this state the option is available for pupils “up to and including key stage 3”. But the draft guidance does state that “prioritisation within subjects of the most important components for progression is likely to be more effective than removing subjects, which pupils may struggle to pick up again later”.

The guidance is still in draft form, and may be changed again before Thursday. However some schools are already acting.

The BBC has reported the Harris Federation, one of England’s largest academy trusts, may narrow its pupils’ GCSE choices next year to as few as five GCSEs.

Harris Federation’s director of education, Carolyn English, told the BBC the trust would do “whatever suits the child best in order to make sure they’re ready to do their A-Levels and consequently ready to go to university or do the careers they want to do”.

Here is what the draft guidance says. We have quoted in verbatim.

 

GCSEs and A-levels

  • The vast majority of pupils in year 10 and 11 are expected to continue to study their examination subjects. This is more likely to secure their preferred route to further study.
  • In exceptional circumstances, it may be in the best interest of a year 11 pupil to discontinue an examined subject because the school judges that, for example,  they would achieve significantly better in their remaining subjects as a result, especially in GCSE English and mathematics.
  • School leaders are expected to make such decisions in discussion with pupils and parents and informed by ongoing assessment of a pupil’s progress and wellbeing, using the existing discretion that schools already apply on these matters.
  • Schools are expected to review any plans for early entry among year 10 pupils in summer 2021. It may be in the best interests of the pupil to take their exams and assessments the following year when they are in year 11, if the curriculum can be adjusted to provide further teaching and study time in the summer term and academic year 2021/22.
  • Pupils in years 12 and 13 are more likely to undertake self-directed study but may still need additional support. Compared to key stage 4, there is less scope to drop an examined subject as fewer qualifications are studied at this key stage. Discontinuing a subject is therefore likely to significantly limit choices for further study and employment, so is expected to be rare.

 

Key stage 3

  • Teach an ambitious and broad curriculum, but make use of existing flexibilities to create time to cover missed content: Up to and including key stage 3, prioritisation within subjects of the most important components for progression is likely to be more effective than removing subjects, which pupils may struggle to pick up again later. In particular, schools may consider how all subjects can contribute to the filling of gaps in core knowledge, for example through an emphasis on reading. However, schools may consider it appropriate to suspend some subjects for some pupils. Schools should be able to show that this is in the best interests of pupils, will be subject to consultation with parents during the autumn term, and that there is a coherent plan for returning to their full curriculum for all by the summer term 2021.
  • Aim to return to the full curriculum by the summer term: Substantial modification to the curriculum may be needed at the start of the year, so as to prioritise teaching time to address significant gaps in pupils’ knowledge and aim to return to the full planning curriculum by summer term 2021.