Yesterday, Ofqual announced that it would be adjusting the grading standards in GCSE French and German next summer.

This is long overdue as we argued in this blogpost.

But although the proposed adjustment is welcome, does it go far enough?

MFL grading in 2018 compared to English and maths

Ofqual has decided to bring awards at grade 4 and above in French and German in line with Spanish. Whereas French and German have historically been graded more severely at almost all grades, Ofqual argues that this is not the case in Spanish. Furthermore, Ofqual took into account criteria other than grading severity in reaching their decision, for example GCSE and A-Level entry numbers have been increasing in Spanish.

Ofqual’s analysis of GCSE subject difficulty covers the period 2006 to 2016. I’m going to look at 2018 data for state-funded mainstream schools and compare grades awarded in modern foreign languages with the grades that pupils achieved in English language and maths. This is a simple way of looking at subject difficulty, but English and maths are the two subjects that almost everyone takes and so form a good enough basis for comparison.

The charts below show grades awarded in each of French, German and Spanish compared to entrants’ grades in English and maths.

Several things leap out.

Firstly, that Spanish awards at grade 9 are in line with English and maths.

Secondly, that the most common, or modal, grade in Spanish is 3.

Thirdly, that far more entries are graded below 4 in all three MFL subjects, including Spanish, than in English and maths.

Spanish grading in 2018 compared to geography and history

But perhaps English and maths don’t form an appropriate comparison group given that they take up more curriculum time. What if we looked, as Ofqual does, at geography and history instead, neither of which is graded particularly leniently?

Fewer pupils (68,000) took Spanish and one of these subjects than took Spanish and English or maths (80,000).

But nonetheless, the pattern is familiar. Spanish entries are more likely to be graded 5-2 and less likely to be graded 9-6.

So although the decision by Ofqual to adjust grading standards in French and German is welcome, it perhaps does not go far enough. Bringing them in line with Spanish will still leave MFL more severely graded than other subjects, particularly if Ofqual is only going to consider grades 4 and above. Pupils are more likely to achieve grade 3 or lower in MFL than in English and maths and that applies to Spanish as much as French and German.

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