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GCSE English will no longer be handwritten under exam board plans

March 19, 2024

Original Article:

GCSE English exams will no longer need to be handwritten under plans by one of the country’s largest assessment boards.

From 2025, pupils taking both English Language and English Literature with the exam board Edexcel will be allowed to type their answers.

The move, which experts have warned must not signify the beginning of the end of handwriting for children, aims to make it easier for pupils to edit their answers and simpler for papers to be marked.

Up to 125,000 GCSE English candidates – around 20 per cent – will have the choice to complete their exam either on-screen or by hand under the plans which are being reviewed by the Department for Education and Ofqual.

Pearson, the company which runs Edexcel, hopes to be able to offer an on-screen option for all GCSEs by 2030 to increase accessibility for students.

‘Benefits all students’
Sharon Hague, the managing director for Pearson Schools, said: “On-screen is a better experience for students who need accessibility adjustments.

“Students can zoom in to increase font size and choose colour filters on-screen during exams, something their schools or colleges would otherwise need to request in advance of their exams.”

She added: “On-screen brings benefits for all students too. They can highlight and annotate information, cut and paste text and make easy edits to their answers.

“It’s what many students are used to doing when they work at home and in the classroom, and it’s undoubtedly how they will work in their careers too.

“Students are asking for the choice to take exams onscreen. In summer 2023 we had 15,000 typed responses for GCSE English alone as part of access arrangements or a preferred way of working.

“We fully welcome continuing the important discussion on the investment and support required to ensure all schools can be in a position to offer on-screen options. This is a whole sector challenge and we will play our part.”

Warning of loss in handwriting skills
However, experts stressed the importance of maintaining handwriting as part of children’s “literacy toolbox” and warned of the dangers of the loss of the skill.

Mellissa Prunty, the chair of the National Handwriting Association and divisional lead for occupational therapy at Brunel University, told The Telegraph: “Handwriting is very important for young children when learning to read and spell.

“It has a deeper level of processing as you have to map the sound of a letter, to the visual representation of the letter and then produce the sequence of strokes to write the letter. It supports these early literacy skills.”

She added that educators must therefore promote a “hybrid world where we have a number of skills in our literacy toolbox, the ability to write by hand, type and of course text. It is not about one over the other”.

It comes as a number of the UK’s major exam boards have taken steps towards digital assessment.

Last month, Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations announced it would offer a digitally assessed GCSE in computer science for pupils starting their course next year.

Meanwhile, AQA, the country’s largest exam board, is aiming to roll out on-screen exams and it hopes that students will sit at least one major subject digitally by 2030.

The reading and listening components of GCSE Italian and Polish would be the first to move to digital exams in 2026, according to the proposals by AQA.

Disadvantage gap a challenge
Headteachers have warned of the dangers of a move to online assessments widening the disadvantage gap between pupils.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The move towards online assessment is positive and overdue, but does not come without challenges – including the ongoing disadvantage gap between those who may have more access to technology at home and therefore more familiarity with its demands.

“It’s vital that schools are clearly guided through this process and have the necessary resources to put in place the digital infrastructure they need to deliver online exams going forward.”

Peter Thomas, a former GCSE principal examiner and a spokesperson for the National Association for the Teaching of English, told The Telegraph: “The move to online is worrying because it puts a premium on those kids who have the facility for keyboarding as a form of written communication.

“Lots of kids are whizzes at using a keyboard for gaming and leave parents mystified by their expertise. But when it comes to reproducing the conventional communications in sentences and paragraphs I think that the QWERTY board is not as familiar to them as other forms of digital communication.”

He added: “I think it would be better to have sloppy handwriting in an exam and have speed than to hold everything up to get the same sort of response required on a keyboard.”

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