Stand back, goalposts moving again…

My English teacher colleagues return to the fray next week with the GCSE rules changed without consultation or forewarning. OFQUAL has decided that Speaking and Listening should now play no part in the final GCSE English grade. The excuse once again hints that this is because teachers have been cheating (though they can never quite bring themselves to use that word). Teachers are used to a having to implement new schemes with insufficient warning,  that have not been properly trialled and for which scant resources are available, but changing the scheme partway through is a new one on me. It shows contempt for the teachers (nothing new there, then) and for students moving through from Year 10 to 11 and who are, therefore, halfway through the course.

Speaking and Listening are vital skills for anyone, in work and in everyday life. In the day to day life of many, I suspect, it is the prime means of communication. But apparently, it’s too difficult to assure consistency of assessment.  In reality, it comes down to money. Years back, the exam boards sent a moderator to schools to assure that the marking of Speaking and Listening conformed to agreed standards across schools. In Languages and in some other subject modules, such as Music Performance, recordings are made and sent off for external moderation or marking. That’s obviously too expensive or too much trouble for a core subject with a mass entry. Much easier to say, “We can’t be bothered!”

Now they’ll reportthe Speaking and Listening grade separately, which I’m sure will be of little interest to employers and will not, of course, register on those blasted ‘accountability tables’ for schools. In the end, it’s just another subtle (or not so subtle) way of further depressing the exam outcomes and, by the way, of saying, “We don’t give a fig for the teachers and pupils.”

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If only it wasn’t for those flipping teachers…

Like you, I’ve been following the many comments on the GCSE results with interest over the last few days. Let me see if I’ve got this right: the problem with the system, the one which needs most urgent attention, is the way those teachers and those schools have tried to get the best results for their students and their schools. Apparently, they’ve been following the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again” when in fact, if children fail an examination once they should be told to give up. Taking an exam several times with the aim of getting a better grade, including the illusive grade C,  is now called ‘gaming the system’, which sounds very much like ‘cheating’ to me.

The same goes for all those children who schools have made sit the same subject lots of times with different exam boards. Of course, all the exam boards are exactly the same, OFQUAL having ‘maintained standards’, so what are you whinging about, Mrs Stacey? Stories of young people taking eight different exams in the same subject sound a bit dodgy anyway, since there are only four exam boards in total. They also all agree to have their exams for the same subject at the same time so quite how you manage to sit, say, GCSE Maths with AQA and OCR I don’t know. I agree, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but if schools, who, after all, are now trusted to know best what best suits their pupils and parents (well, as far as deciding term dates is concerned) think it’s a good idea, then why not? It’s not in the best interests of children, eh? Well, let the schools decide that, thanks Mrs Stacey. The same ‘caring’ argument is suddenly being used for children taking subjects EARLY. Coincidentally, I was today reading the OFSTED report for a school which was PRAISED for doing this. It clearly can be in the interests of certain children, in the right circumstances – as before, it’s up to the schools to decide.

‘Freedom for schools’ is a ‘good thing’, until the ‘powers that be’ don’t like the outcome. What I don’t like is the clear implication that schools, trying, as I say, to do the best for the kids and, yes, trying to get the best results for themselves so they avoid falling into Mr Gove’s trap door and re-emerging as an academy, are cheating. Let’s get back to discussing the very real problems with the accountability regime that have grown up under successive governments and which are not being addressed. After all, I think we all know who has been ‘gaming the system’.

“Go back and check for mistakes…” *

brian-lightmanAlways sound advice at the end of an examination and even at this late stage OFQUAL, the exams watchdog, may be forced to go back and correct the results of this summer’s examinations. The High Court starts hearing today the arguments put by, amongst others, Brian Lightman (left) of ASCL (a pretty moderate ‘union’ representing  head teachers and college principals) that OFQUAL and the examination boards acted unfairly in raising the GCSE English grade boundary for achieving a C by ten marks between January and June this year. Schools believe thousands of students were unfairly awarded a D when their work merited a C with, in some cases, serious consequences for students’ future education opportunities. Continue reading

If you don’t want to know the result, look away now…

Latest from Mrs OFQUAL (aka the so-called government ‘exams watchdog’). An edict was issued a couple of weeks ago that students who take the January module of the GCSE English exam. will get their ‘raw scores’ reported in March but not an indicative grade. On the face of  it, this seems sensible as it will enable the exam boards to manipulate the final grades when all the coursework marks and June exam marks are in, thus avoiding an exam debacle two years running (as Oscar Wilde might have said, “To have cocked up one year’s exam results looks like…”, never mind). However, there are problems for schools and students (why on earth does that matter?!).

Examination Hall

Some of the students planning to take the January exam already sat it once (in June at the end of Year 10) . This is their second and last chance (contrary to popular propaganda, students can’t continue taking exams until they pass – they can just take them twice). They can’t do anything about not knowing the result until August although a ‘pass’ in March might give them an incentive to do well in the remaining parts of the qualifications. The dilemma for schools and teachers is, do you continue with the entry they are geared up for in January or continue teaching on the grounds they might do better with more teacher input (has to be offset against the fact they’ll have lots of other exams at the same time)?

Other students, also in Year 11 are (or were) planning to take it early so they could have a second crack in June if they don’t pass. If you don’t know what they got you can’t decide whether they need to take it a second time.

Overall, the main problem has been the lateness of the announcement of the decision although exam boards have offered a ‘free withdrawal’.

It was all my fault…

student sitting an exam

Ok, I admit it: it was all my fault. As one of those teachers who prepared students for the English GCSE last summer, the  debacle that followed – where  students got lower grades than anticipated – was, according to OFQUAL, the fault of teachers. I’ll remind you what happened. Students who sat the paper in January received their marks and an indicative grade in March. Teachers therefore thought they knew what the ‘pass’ mark was when the summer cohort took the exam, hence the big stink when it transpired that the grade boundary had shifted a whopping ten marks. Cries of ‘foul’ rent the air but Mrs Ofqual, (Glenys to her friends) said that the grade boundaries in June were correct and the January candidates had “got lucky”. Various excuses were give for why examiners hadn’t spotted they had been generous in January.

This being England, we had an enquiry. When it reported a few weeks ago,  our Glenys was proper shocked. It turned out those pesky teachers had over marked the ‘controlled conditions’ (what used to be coursework) to ensure their students got a pass. THAT was why the examiners had had to raise the grade boundary in June. Just two teeny problems with that explanation, Glenys : why didn’t this explanation emerge in August (after all, the exam bodies must have known why their grade boundaries were so high)? And second, why didn’t the moderators notice that teachers had marked too high and reduce the marks? You see, every way you slice this, it seems to me OFQUAL was at fault. So, sorry, no, it wasn’t me after all!