MFL exams: severe grading

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How important do you think Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) exams are for the health of the subject?

Anxious student

The drop in candidate numbers for A level in Modern Foreign Languages has gone hand in hand in recent years with annual complaints from schools that results are depressed by comparison with other subjects, and that outcomes are unpredictable and unreliable.

Exam regulator Ofqual has published statistics confirming that A levels are of above average difficulty (i.e. grades are on average a bit lower than in other subjects for equivalent performance) though sciences are even more severely graded.

At a time when schools have become highly concerned about league tables, and pupils in state and independent schools scrutinise internal and external statistics in order to ensure that they are avoiding subjects that might endanger their university entrance profile, this problem has exerted a considerable negative impact on numbers in MFL.

Ofqual has been working with the exam boards and the MFL community – including both schools and universities – to address the concerns and gain a better understanding of the parameters that may be contributing to actual and/or perceived grading anomalies. However, in November 2018 they published their policy decision stating that they would not be making an adjustment to A level grading. 

The issues have not been resolved. In a 2019 BBC survey of secondary schools, 76% of respondents in England cited ‘perceptions that the course/exams are too difficult’ as the factor with the biggest negative impact on MFL provision. 

Professor Katrin Kohl (who leads the Creative Multilingualism programme) has produced a response to the policy decision arguing that an adjustment is necessary. Read her letter to Ofqual plus supporting documentation on: severe grading,  A level exam analysis, and GCSE grading issues.

What do you think? Tell us on Twitter with #MFLexams.