Assessment at GCSE

Jon Mayled

The non-statutory national framework for Religious Education (2004) states on p.31 that, at Key Stage 4:
While there is no legal requirement that students must sit public examinations, students deserve the opportunity to have their learning in the statutory curriculum subject of religious education accredited.



Accreditation can be through courses leading to qualifications with the title ‘Religious Studies’ and/or other approved courses that require the study of religion and ethics. Agreed Syllabus Conferences (ASCs) are recommended to include a requirement that religious education should be taught at the following ages through accredited qualifications so that, from the earliest opportunity, schools provide:

for all students aged 14–16, at least one course in religious education or religious studies leading to a qualification approved under Section 96.

This guidance is usually taken to mean that students should follow either a full course or a short course GCSE in Religious Studies even though in some instances they may not sit the actual examination.

However, it applies equally to Entry Level Qualifications (ELQ) in Religious Studies and these may be chosen for those students whom, for whatever reason, are unlikely to be successful in GCSE.

The requirements for both GCSE and ELQ courses are laid down in the relevant specifications from the UABs (Unitary Assessment Bodies).

Which specification?

Which specification?

a_Pencils-11.jpg There are many factors which might influence the decision as to which particular specification teachers decide to follow. Obviously these may include past experience with a Unitary Awarding Body (UAB) or specification or brand loyalty. However, other factors are the style of questioning and whether teachers decide on World Religions or Gospel style papers or perhaps the more recent Philosophy and Ethics based studies. In considering their choice teachers also need to be aware of any particular requirements of the Locally Agreed Syllabus.

Although a qualification is approved by QCA it does not necessarily mean that it meets the requirements of a particular Locally Agreed Syllabus. For example, the Cornwall Agreed Syllabus 2005-2010 states that:
Schools are required that pupils follow an accredited course at Key Stage 4 and in 6th Forms. The accredited courses offered must include Christianity and at least one other religion at KS4 and 6th Form from the religions studied at Key Stages 1 to 3. It does not follow that pupils must be examined in more than one religious tradition but they must have had a clear opportunity to develop their thinking in relation to more than one religious tradition.(p.57)

  • The current GCSE and ELQ qualifications were revised for teaching from September 2009.
  • Of course teachers need to take careful note of the aims of the specifications and, in particular, of the current requirements.
  • AOs (Assessment Objectives).
  • Under the current approved subject criteria for GCSE Religious Studies (September 2007) the AOs are:

Assessment Objectives

% weighting

  • AO1 Describe, explain and analyse, using knowledge and understanding 50%
  • AO2 Use evidence and reasoned argument to express and evaluate personal responses, informed insights, and differing viewpoints 50%

There are three important points to be made about these AOs:

  1. They closely reflect the two RE attainment targets of AT1 Learning about and AT2 Learning from
  2. The weighting of 50/50 significantly increases the importance of the AO2 objective
  3. AO2 now specifically requires ‘personal responses’ and these will need to be demonstrated in order to reach the highest levels of attainment.
Delivering the course

Delivering the course

There are several key factors of which teachers need to be aware when delivering a particular qualification:

  • Unless there are specific choices or options involved in the specification, teachers must ensure that they deliver the entire content to students. It is never safe to decide to ‘leave things out’ on the basis that students will probably have enough choice of question without a particular area of study. A specification is the maximum the examination body can ask questions on and the minimum which students need to be competent in.
  • Students need to learn, understand and be able to explain all the specialist terms on the specification itself. This is probably best done by the use of a vocabulary book in which they write each new term as it is encountered. Additional words and concepts can be added as they are encountered during the course. This should ensure that students do not come across any unknown words or terms in the examination papers.
  • Students need to have seen at least one real examination paper (even if it is a specimen) before they sit the examination. In this way they may become familiar with the style and appearance of the paper and not waste time in the examination room.

Assessment of GCSE answers

The key issues when assessing a piece of student’s work are:

  1. Does the answer directly address the question asked?
  2. Does the answer give reasonable and sound detail and explanation? The issue here is whether the student has produced a good answer to the question. The answer may not include all the information which the candidates have been taught but this does not stop it attaining the highest levels. The examiner is only assessing against the question itself and the levels of response which are used for marking.
  3. For the best grades – does the answer show good use of relevant terminology and a comprehensive coverage of the material (for a GCSE student in the time available)? In order to make this assessment teachers should always use the Levels of Response published by the examination boards.
  4. In order to help students attain the best grades they need to understand the Levels of Response. These are often not readily accessible to students at this level and teachers should consider producing a set of ‘I can…’ statements for each level.
  5. Students should be trained to use the ‘I can…’ statements. They should use them to assess their own work and then for peer assessment. Peer assessment can be difficult to establish but can be very effective. It is recommended that students are paired in ability groupings and read each others work aloud, commenting as they go. This then leads to consideration and discussion of how it can be improved.
  6. Finally, in assessing AO2 it is recommended that students begin with a writing frame such as:
    Some people, such as… would agree with this statement because…
    Some people, such as… would not agree with this statement because…
    I think… because

Using this model, students can easily see when they have not completed all six points.

  • They need to be made aware of the requirements of the specification as to whether they have to respond from two religions or just one
  • They need to be aware that they may use different views from the same religion
  • They need to be aware if they can use secular viewpoints and arguments
  • They must give their own opinion and support it even if it is the same as another they have already considered.

a_Pencils-11.jpg Using this technique, the more able will soon be able to dispense with the writing frame whilst others will need to continue to use it for some time until the procedure is learnt thoroughly. Its use should ensure that all students have the opportunity to achieve the best grades of which they are capable.