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Modern Languages/Biblical Hebrew

Volume 622: debated on Thursday 2 March 2017

The Government are tomorrow publishing subject content for AS and A-levels in a range of languages with smaller cohorts. This fulfils the commitment made in 2015 to work with the exam boards to ensure the continuation of these qualifications.

The reformed GCSE content for modern foreign languages, published in 2014, is suitable for all the modern languages which have been redeveloped as part of the GCSE review process. These are: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, modern Greek, modern Hebrew, Polish, Panjabi, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. The exam boards have either already developed specifications for these GCSEs, or are currently doing so.

At A-level, we have worked with the exam boards to develop specific content for modern languages with smaller cohorts. These languages are named in the content as follows: Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati, modern Greek, modern Hebrew, Japanese, Panjabi, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish and Urdu.

The content for modern languages with smaller cohorts is largely identical to the reformed A-level (and AS) content which applies to French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Russian. This was developed by the independent A-Level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB), appointed by the Russell Group to meet the expectations of higher education, and was published in 2015.

This content for modern languages with smaller cohorts addresses the risks associated with examinations for smaller numbers of candidates, including the challenges of recruiting specialist examiners. The requirement to demonstrate speaking skills is not included in the content, which is consistent with current AS and A-level qualifications in the relevant languages—with the single exception of Urdu (in which speaking skills are currently examined). We have, however, included a clarification that specifications should encourage the development of speaking skills, although those skills will not be formally examined. To secure a level of rigour which is comparable for all modern languages, the Government are introducing a new requirement for modern languages with smaller cohorts. The proposed content requires students to apply language skills (reading, writing and listening) in combination, by responding to spoken and written sources addressing common subject matter.

The A-level (and AS) content for modern languages with smaller cohorts will apply to courses beginning in September 2018. The current specifications for these languages will remain available for courses beginning in September 2017.

The Government are also publishing tomorrow revisions to the ancient languages subject content, at both GCSE and AS/A-level. This was first published in 2014, to apply to all ancient languages. For Biblical Hebrew, however, it has become evident that certain aspects of that content could not apply directly, or would be inappropriate at this level of study. To clarify how particular requirements will apply to Biblical Hebrew, and whether any requirements will not apply, we have worked with independent subject experts and others with a close interest in the subject. The revised content maintains the overall level of demand of the content while ensuring clarity as to how certain requirements should be met in Biblical Hebrew specifications.