On 31 January 2013, Professor Jim Milton from Swansea University will give an inaugural public lecture considering the ongoing debate over the standard of GCSE French.

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Prof Jim MiltonThe lecture is part of the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities (RIAH) public lecture and event series, and is entitled: 'The race to the bottom: has GCSE French really diminished in standard? Applying vocabulary measures to examine the change in the standard of age 16 French exams over time.'

The debate over the standard of GCSE exams has extended for nearly 25 years without resolution and even with changes to the format of the exams, arguments largely continue because there is an absence of reliable, quantifiable data with which to form a judgement about change over a set time period. In the case of the French GCSE in Wales, however, we have various vocabulary measures which allow us to compare the knowledge and abilities of learners from before the days of GCSE up to the present day.

Measurements of vocabulary size taken in the O level period, and more recently from GCSE candidates, suggest that the vocabulary knowledge requirement of the age 16 exam may have fallen by as much as three quarters.

Students can now take and pass the GCSE French exam with far fewer than 1000 words and this means they cannot hope to be as communicatively able as students who took and passed  the O level exam 25 years ago with a lexicon in French three or four times larger.

Whilst not discounting the effects of grade inflation over much of this period, almost certainly the bulk of this decline occurred within the first five years of the introduction of GCSE and it seems to be an inescapable conclusion that it is this decline in the standard which has driven the increase in the numbers who pass it; the lecture will explore some of these tensions.

Director of the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities, Professor Chris Williams said, 'Every year there are debates about whether exam standards have slipped, and whether our education system is "dumbing down". Professor Milton's research brings robust evidence to bear on these questions and his findings will undoubtedly be of interest to those in charge of our education system.'

Professor Milton came to Swansea in 1985 and set up the Centre for Applied Language Studies before creating and heading up the Applied Linguistics Department. Professor Milton has worked extensively on consultancy and material development projects both in the UK and oversees. He has published extensively on vocabulary in language learning and measuring and modelling vocabulary acquisition.

The lecture will start promptly at 6 pm. Venue: Wallace Lecture Theatre, Wallace Building, Swansea University. Light refreshments will be available from 5.15 pm. For further information please contact RIAH, email RIAH@swansea.ac.uk or telephone 01792 295190. Everyone is welcome and admission is free.  

For further information on RIAH's public lecture and event series, click here.