This seems ominous to me…

An element of back watching? Because Ofqual has no idea of the effect of their own machinations? A symptom of Ofqual’s chaos? A warning that ‘uncertainty’ will lead to another pressing down of GCSE results?

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Something must have happened.

The world shifted on its orbit, perhaps; the polarity of our planet reversed; the sky fallen…

Michael Gove has tinkered with the GCSE syllabus (no change there then!) but has done it with… wait for it… some degree of consultation and for year groups not currently half way through their course! I’m almost grateful for this! And feel guilty!

Is this what Stockholm Syndrome feels like?

So there are various sources of information linked below:
The TES
Ofqual
The BBC and
the DfE

So, my first question is: when do these reforms take place?

They are described for first teaching in 2015 (at least for English Literature and English Language and Maths) which would mean when our current Year 8s hit Year 10, they will be subject to these. Twenty months to go.

Grades will be replaced with numerical .. well… numerical grades I suppose. The current 8 pass grades of A*-G will be replaced with 9 pass grades of 1-9. I see nothing terribly objectionable in that… but also nothing terribly constructive. I don’t see the point. Why? It replaces one arbitrary ladder with another. Are we meant to believe that schools will not simply replace the C/D border trauma with an equally traumatic 5/6 border – or whichever grades become synonymous with that border.

Tiered exams will disappear. Ok. Again, no massive issues in principle if I have confidence that the exam boards have the ability to set questions which genuinely challenge the most able to differentiate between the 9s and 8s and give the 1s and 2s a fair chance. And if I have confidence that a marker will be able to give full credit to the full range of marks. And I should have that confidence – after all, we as teachers are doing it day-in day-out – but, after the last two years’ results, I’m sorry but I just don’t.

Coursework and Controlled Assessments are removed in favour of a 100% terminal exam.

Now, this I do object to!

English is not apt for exams in my humble opinion. The key processes of reading and writing – by their very nature – are slow and ruminative and reflective. I spend time teaching kids to craft each sentence, to carefully make lexical choices, to control their writing, to balance control with a certain responsiveness to the text which they are creating.

For heaven’s sake, I even review, amend and redraft text messages before I send them!

To force either creative or analytical responses in – let’s say – forty-five minutes will not result in either careful or thoughtful or effective writing. What it will result in is content-led teaching in Literature where “the book” is taught rather than the skills of reading. Feature spotting. Writing toolkits. Similes shoehorned in; metaphors wrenched out of shape; alliteration abounding out of control. Skills demonstrated with no real understanding of whether they work or not.

It has been an eye opener doing coursework for the iGCSE alongside CAs for OCR GCSE and C/D students in controlled assessments are producing C/B quality work as coursework. I know there’s the risk that parents give undue help. But – notice the carefully chosen co-ordinating conjunction to open the sentence because it ‘fits’ with my current and somewhat conversational tone even though “However” might be more technically correct – you see, I think like this! – But some kids will just work better at home with nagging parents and away from other kids.

What other changes will we see?

More “whole book” testing. How can that be consistent with exam situations?

More 19th century novels and Romantic poetry. Well, fair enough! There’s great stuff there. Blake remains my favourite poet! But there’s a treasure trove of modern literary gems: Purple Hibiscus, Things Fall Apart, Mister Pip, Tsotsi. Yes, I do have a penchant for post-colonial literature! And I fear from the information released thus far that the curriculum is increasingly like the government: white, male, middle class, bound to the safety of the ‘classics’ and worryingly Anglo-centric!

And why is it that every time the BBC report an education article they use the same picture of the same exam hall every time?

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In the final throes of marking coursework for the iGCSE Unit 4 in preparation for the November exam, I felt the need for a break. Three days of a poorly baby and 2-4 am feeds have taken their toll! More on the beautiful Mrs P than me, but their toll has been taken!

So I thought I’d share the tracking spreadsheet I’ve come up with.

It’s pretty straightforward, to be honest.

I’m simply recording the score given for Speaking and Listening (out of 30) Reading (out of 10) and Writing (out of 40). There are an additional 50 marks up for grabs in the exam.

I’ve found last year’s grade thresholds. These are out of 125 whereas according to my maths the raw marks add up to 130 but it doesn’t take too much to convert the C threshold of 72 / 125 into 75 / 130; nor the A threshold of 93 / 125 into 97 / 130 raw marks.

If I get the computer to then subtract the total marks so far from the thresholds to indicate how many marks are needed from the exam to achieve either threshold. In order to build in a bit of leeway, I’ve also got the computer to generate a best and worst case scenario to create a target range for students. Best case scenario is 2013 grade threshold x 95%; worst case scenario is 2013 thresholds x 110%.

It’s working out that some of our C/D borderline kids only need between 11 and 13 marks out of 50 to achieve a C!

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This is an extraordinarily difficult day for me as a teacher in the South West and a member of the NUT.

It is our turn to take part in the rolling strike action.

Do I strike or do I not?

I am not, by nature, particularly militant or aggressive or easily riled. I’d rather read a book, to be honest

I have, however, seen and lamented and grieved over an economic climate in which teachers have been made compulsorily redundant. I have known teachers take early retirement because the profession has been twisted to become target and results driven. I have talked to teachers who have simply left the profession because the pressure from government is to hit targets rather than to educate. And training children to pass exams in not the same as educating them. At all.

A month ago, though, I may have taken the view that, whilst I fundamentally disagree with the way the Government and Gove operate and treat my profession, I might not have gone on strike.

I wasn’t comfortable that pay and pensions seemed to be being reported as the reason for the strike in the newspapers and media. I wouldn’t strike to get an additional few pounds a month! Especially not in an economic environment where getting a job at all is increasingly difficult and – according to today’s news – having a job is no guarantee of receiving a sufficient wage to live on!

Nor, being honest, did I think the strike likely to achieve its ends. Michael Gove is so entrenched in position that he is unlikely to be ousted. Ever. And the representatives of every union has – I believe – been in talks with him and pointed out the misunderstandings, errors and unfairness in all he has done and proposes to do. And he appears to have ignored every professional and expert opinion he has been given.

So, why then, am I at home today, currently feeding my baby?

Because, since September, the children I teach have had the rug ripped from under their feet. And the floorboards beneath the rug. And the on which the floor was built. Changes are made to core elements of their curriculum: Speaking and Listening just struck out of their English GCSE course; massive changes about early entry just announced without consultation or advice; timing of announcements and changes have been so suspicious that it seems to be deliberately undermining teachers’ ability to make considered decisions; continued changes to the wording of the early entry new rules snuck into the DfE’s website. The list goes on.

I have taken the decision – and it has been a really hard decision – to strike because our children are being deprived of great teachers; because the Government are changing the rules half way through a course and preventing children achieving; because the Government’s culture of targets, performance tables, accountability have created a situation where schools’ interests are divergent from children’s interests; because this government puts good results down to cheating and bad results down to poor teaching.

Whether I gain an extra £20 a month or not is, frankly, immaterial; whether I lose a day’s pay today is immaterial.

I am striking because I care about my students’ education.

And that’s it.

The NASUWT website puts it succinctly.

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Couldn’t resist adding these images!

A giggle for an uncertain world!

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And my favourite:

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The originals of these can be found here.

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What a great photo!

It looks like a police Wanted poster. Wanted for crimes against…

I am still reeling from Sunday’s announcement.

I still find myself in a quandary. Do I want to believe that this announcement made to coincide solely with Party Conference season and Michael Gove is utterly ignorant of the imminent deadline for entries? Alternatively, do I want to believe that he deliberately chose to make the announcement at a time when schools had no time to respond thoughtfully? Neither bodes well for the relationship between the profession and Government.

Maybe the impending NASUWT/NUT Industrial Action (17th October for us) had missed a trick. Perhaps… just perhaps a strike to oust Gove would have more support?

Anyway, I digress.

Unlike the teachers that Gove fears are fiddling the system, we selected students for whom we felt the November entry would help them. For some, that support will come from achieving the C now. For others, the focus and motivation that comes from taking an external examination as well as the practical skills of time management and meeting deadlines and the emotional support in feeling part of a group are huge, regardless of whether the November grade is a C or a D. The opportunity to call back exam scripts and actually scrutinise their own work is an enormous benefit.

Michael Gove’s announcement cannot change those benefits to the student. He has simply created a situation where the school’s interests are at risk if the child obtains a D in November followed by a C in May.

If this course of action benefits those students and if, as teachers, we genuinely believe that, my view is that we have a moral imperative to continue to enter in November. The school may – inevitable will – suffer a public hit in terms of league tables but that is immaterial if the students benefit.

So, if a school pursues that moral stance to its own detriment in league tables, what will happen?

Publicly available league tables will reflect a downturn in results.

But a school website can record the true “best” result; local newspapers can run stories containing the true results; literature can be produced declaring the true results.

And the performance tables will be revealed for what they are: shallow, inaccurate and irrelevant. The law of unintended consequences is a strange and untamed beast. Could the outcome of this announcement actually be the end to league tables in their current form? We can but hope!

Conversely, what will happen if schools take the ‘safe’ option? Last minute withdrawals from examinations, uncertainty, confusion, angry parents. All the hallmarks of a failed qualification system which, I fear, would play into Gove’s hands and we would return to the proposed scrapping of GCSEs we were facing twelve months ago.

Therefore, Mr Gove, my protest against your change will not be to spout vitriol, nor to make rash decisions in the remaining 24 hours before entry deadline, nor to pull in my antennae and batten down the performance-table-hatches. My protest is this.

I will continue to do what is right for my students.

I will campaign for the management and government of my school to take the public hit in performance tables in order to serve our children best.

I will hope that other schools possess the leadership to do the same.

And I will look forward to the day when there is a different Secretary of State for Education.

Early Entry

Posted: September 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

I have a fairly even nature, as a rule.

Pretty stable.

I enjoy a certain equilibrium. I think. Mainly.

But I am appalled today. Appalled. And aghast. And, for the sake of an alliterative rule-of-three, positively agog.

At Michael Gove.

It was bad enough that, on the final week of the Summer holiday, he removed Speaking and Listening from the components of the GCSE. But now he has essentially outlawed early entry, as of 29th September 2013.

Well, not outlawed but declared that early entries will be the result which counts towards performance tables, even if a student obtains a higher grade later. I think that the student can still benefit from and cite the higher grade.

So, let us consider two hypothetical schools perhaps only a few hundred yards apart. One entered its current Year 11s ending their KS4 studies in June 2014 for iGCSE English First Language in May 2013 at the end of Year 10. Those students who obtained a D in May 2013 can resit in November 2013 or in May 2014 and the higher grade will “count” because

For those who have already completed a GCSE, IGCSE or Level 1/Level 2 certificate (summer 2013 or previously), the performance tables will still record their best result from either their previous attempt or from the next time they sit a qualification from the GCSE family.

The second school, however, may have elected not to enter in May 2013 because of concerns that their students may not have had the maturity to do justice to themselves and, now, they will be stuck with the November result even if it is a D which is converted to a C in May 2014 because

Those who have not yet taken a qualification from the GCSE family will have their first GCSE, IGCSE or Level 1/Level 2 certificate taken after 29 September 2013 count in performance tables.

Now, I’m sorry but if you are Michael Gove and if you believe that early entry is so invidious and damaging that you have to disrupt an exam course after it’s commenced, why accept the very early entry but limit the early entry. That cannot be a fair result!

And, look at the timing! It I’d four days before schools need to finalise entries for November exams. Four days! Within four days, every school that is intending to use the November entry will need to reconsider, re-evaluate and refine its decision. Will you enter your – in PiXL speak – D1s in the hope of converting them to Cs when there’s a reasonable chance of the school being stuck with a D if the child fails to convert it? Will you simply abandon November entries, even if the process is deemed to be of benefit to those children for May as a consolidation of their skills and practice?

And is not that invidious? Schools’ interests in terms of performance tables may well be at odds with students’ interests. Because, Mr Gove, teachers do not play the system. We do not leap onto bandwagons. We do not manipulate figures and results. We just don’t.

We select routes that suit our students.

If we enter students in November, it is because we feel they benefit. They may not get a C – or any other grade – but they would benefit: discipline, organisation, dealing with pressure, time management, deadlines. These are skills which simply cannot be replicated fully in internal mock situations. We can come close but it will never be the same.

And let’s consider my own situation. Since July, I had four days booked into the calendar. Two intensive focused coursework days taking kids off-timetable (with the consequent disruption which that necessitates) followed by two days of Speaking and Listening Appointments. That was 26th. 27th. 30th September and 1st October. That takes planning. Intense planning. We sweated blood. And get an announcement like this.

As I started this post, I am appalled!

I am appalled at the timing, so close to the exam and entry deadline and in the midst of the prime coursework completion time.

I am appalled that I found out last night via Twitter rumours and BBC news. Where was the formal announcement? Even the exam boards – as of midday – knew nothing other than rumour.

I am appalled that this has been introduced for a year group already thirteen months into their Key Stage 4 studies.

I am appalled at the implication that schools put their league table position above the interests of their students.

I am appalled that there has been no consultation.

I am appalled that I now have no confidence that a similar announcement won’t be made about dual entry.

I am just appalled.

The link to the DfE announcement is here.