Archive for the ‘C not D’ Category

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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There are certain responsibilities which fall to you when you become a teacher.

Other people’s children’s welfare becomes your responsibility.

Agonising over the placement of the apostrophes and whether to write become or becomes in that previous sentence! As the welfare is singular, so should the verb be? But is welfare a noun that can be quantified at all in terms of number?

We also acquire a congenital dread of Ofsted, suspicion of Sir Michael Wilshaw and repugnance at the thought and image and voice of Michael Gove. Admittedly, the latter is symptomatic of being a fully evolved member of the human race rather than necessarily just being a teacher.

So when Ofsted came into our rural coastal school, I was already arming myself with vitriolic, bilious and defensive adjectives with which to blog this weekend. I was prepared to be grilled, interrogated and probed – although not in an alien abduction way, there are limits to what I’m prepared to do for an Outstanding!

I was poised to leap to the defence of my Department and to fight our corner against politically motivated judgmental bigots.

And instead I’m reaching towards vocabulary like personable, fair and constructive. What has happened to the world? Is the sky about to tumble about our ears?

Yes, clearly, there was a huge amount of nerves and stress and rather limited family life for the 48 hours of the inspection. But the actual process was…

Okay.

It seems anathema to say it but, I quite enjoyed the process. Enjoyed. That may not be the right word. Relished, perhaps. Rose to? Maybe.

I did ask for (well, I asked robustly. the word demanded has been bandied about somewhat unfairly. A gentleman never demands, he asks robustly) an hour’s one-to-one interview with the English Inspector.

I was asked if 15 minutes would do; I said no.

Robustly.

As a new Head of English, with massive plans for next year, I wanted to be judged against them rather than the outgoing Head of Department’s decisions.

Results, Data, Progress and Pupil Premium were obviously large parts of the Ofsted brief. What were our headline figures? What was our response to last year’s GCSE fiasco? Were we being pro-active or resigned to being at the vagaries of GCSE (politically motivated?) grade boundary variation. I, in fact, had a range of reasons behind our headline figures last year and an even wider range of responses to them in place in the short, middle and long terms.

The Inspectors were responsive to both structural changes (things like iGCSE, English and Language/Literature entries, early entry and exam board choices) and teaching and learning changes (see previous posts for my plans for a skills-led Programme of Study as well as changes to our feedback and assessment).

There was a big focus on Pupil Premium: those students who attract extra funding because they have been eligible for free school meals within six years. They are therefore deemed socio-economically vulnerable.

What I actually liked was that they obviously had the data and wanted me to know and understand it. Colour coded spreadsheets and transitional matrices are, at the end of a day, just another text and as open to interpretation as Of Mice and Men or Composed Upon Westminster Bridge! I like to think I’m competent to understand them. I guess, they wanted to be talked through the data to see that we weren’t simply collating a variety of spreadsheets in a folder entitled Ofsted but we were using them to drive forward strategic planning.

But what the inspectors really wanted was to see that I knew the stories behind the names and data. They wanted to see that there was a reason why Pupil A wasn’t achieving progress and intervention had been put in place to facilitate their making progress; that there were a host of reasons which genuinely did limit Pupil B despite all the interventions; that Pupil C had progressed to a point where she was able to access her next steps even if that didn’t equate to 3 levels of progress.

I liked that. I teach children, not data. I was very much relieved to see that the Inspectors shared that focus.

It is possible that this post is merely the result of a freakish combination of the only decent and humane inspectors available to Ofsted. And I suspect that other conversations may have been more prickly but I can only respond to the conversations I had.

Which were genuinely positive and constructive!

Okay.

This is scaring me, now.

I don’t mean scaring in the sense that children enjoy ‘being scared’ by stories and films. I don’t mean scaring in that delicious hide-behind-the-sofa Doctor-Who style.

I mean fully and totally clenchingly scared!

I want to – no, in my head, I have – turned my entire Programme of Study on its head. This puts the decision to swap from OCR to AQA examination boards on a level with, perhaps choosing between Cadbury’s chocolate and Galaxy. Being now permanently appointed, having a clutch of retirees and new appointments, I am rebuilding our curriculum from the foundations upwards.

And I mean from the foundations!

The curriculum I inherited – and, for my transition ‘Acting’ year haven’t really been happy with but equally, for reasons of laziness primarily, haven’t tackled – is I think a pretty traditional one.

We read books and write in response to them.

We analyse language for purposes and write techniques.

We report a single grade to parents.

We have been – and, in fairness to my school so has every other school I have ever worked in – almost wholly Literature focused, content driven and linear in structure.

So what am I changing to? Language focus. Skills driven. Cyclical and elliptical structure.

Head. Turned. Upon.

At the heart of this will be something called Covey tables, available courtesy of the PiXL club and named after Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Covey tables – at least in my understanding of them – are at their heart a marking tool.

covey ao4(iii)

It is possible to list key skills that my students will be assessed on and I have ranked those skills along the top of the spreadsheet. They are drawn from the OCR markscheme for Controlled Assessments. In this case, they focus on AO4(iii) the sentence structures, punctuation, grammar and paragraphing. I planned on experimenting with this first because (as noted in the previous post) the changes to the KS2 curriculum and KS4 curriculum are massively raising the status of these skills. To be reporting to parents, students and SLT that a certain student may be “Level 4b” actually tells them nothing about whether they can create sentences, use paragraphs, vary vocabulary….

As can be seen from the example, teachers need to simply grade from 0-2 for each skill to represent their being no evidence of it, occasional evidence and consistent evidence. Through basic formulae and vlookups, these scores can then be converted into a GCSE grade or KS3 level.

Should I be using KS3 APP Assessment Foci for Years 7-9?

I don’t see why.I am being tested at KS4, students are being examined at KS4. What possible advantage is there in tweaking the descriptors and language of assessment between Key Stages? I am prepared to report in the 4c, 4b, 4a, 5c ladder of the KS3 curriculum (or 4.2, 4.5, 4.8, 5.2 for the sake of the mathematics required by the spreadsheet) but why tinker with the language of assessment?

How do I see these Covey charts being used?

In a word (or three) daily, openly and engagingly.

A two week introductory Scheme of Learning will start by assessing prior skill and 1s entered as a result. It is the first piece of work and therefore by definition, there can be no evidence of consistency. Doing this in the first lessons back in September will mean that the quantity of marking is going to be limited (I am really pushing for regular feedback of shorter focused tasks: having achieved a level 5 in your first half page, do I really need to read another 5 pages of the same quality of writing?!) Once initial testing is done, two weeks of teaching will lead to a second round of tests. PiXL language might describe this as diagnosing, treating and testing? After the second test, the Covey table will be updated: 0s will become 1s; 1s will become 2s. A level can then be reported on. As our reporting cycle requires a report produced in October, this will fit perfectly!

And what do we have as a teacher? A partially completed Covey chart from which we can analyse who in each class can consistently demonstrate certain skills (and, therefore, train others) and who needs practise before their skill can be relied upon. It can be projected onto the board. The next time a student forgets a capital letter or a full stop or loses a chance to deploy a colon in anger, their score can be reduced in front of them! Along with a challenge to correct their writing by the end of the lesson. Students using correct apostrophes for the first time can see their 1 being inputted.

Use for discussion with SLT? Invaluable!
A role in identifying Intervention candidates? Incalculable!
Its place in selecting focussed 30 minute skills’ revision rather than wide ranging generic revision classes? Immense!
Parents’ Evening tool? Potent!

Further Covey tables could be (will be) created for the specific AOs: I think that creating a table of this nature for every level of every skill in every AO on one sheet would be far too cumbersome. And finally, an overview sheet could use formulae and vloookups to simply pull the final grades together for each AO and then average them into an overall grade. Weightings can then be applied as well if necessary.

covey overview

The onus is on teaching staff to keep each of these Coveys up-to-date: without up-to-date data, this will fall apart as I envisage the Covey chart being used as both a summative tracking database and as a formative interactive teaching tool. And, it will be an onus for at least some of my staff: another chore that would probably fall to the bottom of their to-do lists.

So what can I do to ease other burdens as I impose this one? Well, let’s think:

  • marking: the Covey sheet is marking! Mailmerge should allow us to create stickers or labels easily in which a grade is given to the child along with a list of skills which justify that level and other skill required for the next one and this could be generated weekly – although fortnightly fits with the rhythm of our curriculum more naturally;
  • planning: if I were to write Schemes of Learning focused exclusively on specific sets of skills – why should a Learning Objective make reference to anything other than these skills which are what they’re being assessed on? – then I both keep control introducing this very new framework and take one other burden from my team.

In fact, all I am asking my Department to do is to deliver (with verve and enthusiasm) my lessons and Schemes of Learning and to differentiate them according to the demands of their own classes.

So, what will this create? An integrated Programme of Study over five years with an integrated and unflinching focus on progress, skills and achievement? A single thread of skills informing Assessment for Learning, Planning, Schemes of Learning and Reporting? A rigorous, accountable and open system of assessment – firming up what may be one of our weaker skill set at Key Stage 3? A consistent marking policy?

Cripes!

And is it a massive burden on me to write Schemes of Learning across all year groups? Well, if it’s the right thing to do, for the sake of the children, that shouldn’t be a bar! And the benefits in terms of reducing marking will apply to me as much as to anyone else. And all I would be doing is sharing and directing others to use the Schemes of Learning which I would be creating for my own teaching any way!

Yes, still scared!

But the more I consider this, the more right it seems!

I have to be trying to teach children to read, write, communicate and (despite its removal from the new KS4 qualification) speak and read. To teach them to answer the set question on a set text is simply not good enough!

Hmmmm…

I wonder whether the fact that GCSE Prose From Other Cultures exam is on tomorrow accounts for the following spike in views of the blog in which I present my thoughts on Tsotsi…

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Looking at the search terms linking the Internet to my blog, I think quite possibly that is the case!

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Bless them!

And if anyone else wants to view it, the blog is here and the Tsotsi posts are here.

I wonder if any of those were my own students….

Good luck to you all tomorrow morning, but for now, for the sake of all that is sacred, get some sleep!

This is it.

By now some of my Year 11s will have secured their first English GCSE grade.

It really is all out of my hands now.

And rarely if ever have I seen so many happy faces leave the exam room. Now I wonder whether “happy” is quite the right word. Content? Satisfied? Some were downright smug! The phrase

“I enjoyed that one!”

was heard. So yes, maybe, “happyis the right word.

We’re talking of the iGCSE First Language English course, of course. Half our cohort were taking it alongside OCR GCSE. Our entry into the iGCSE route – or our leap for the iGCSE bandwagon, depending on how healthily high your cynicism levels are – has had a troubled gestation. Senior Leadership were looking to use it to maximise C grades; I was perhaps more interested in maximising A-A* grades and moving progress on from three to four levels; we have a high English to Language and Literature ratio which further complicates matters; our Speaking and Listening needed “juggling” to ensure compatibility with both OCR and CIE.

But we did it.

And I prepared them for it as best I could.

In fact the most gratifying response I heard from several students was that the revision classes I ran were really helpful and they knew exactly how to approach every question. I also took the opportunity of the captive audience to soliloquise about my approach to exams in general: they’re an opportunity to have fun, show off, and enjoy yourselves with language. And as they are dual entered, they could take the risks on the iGCSE that they may not want to take on the OCR course.

One student may have taken my advice at that point to heart. He sought me out yesterday to tell me how he had answered the question asking him to describe a place that was both old and powerful.

Which he took as an invitation to describe his own imagination.

Okay.

The right examiner in the right mood on the right day could really enjoy reading that!

Of course, Paper 3 on Friday did have two potentially problematic circumstances:

• one, we had our Leavers’ Service on that morning which reduced half the cohort to blubbing emotional wrecks, consuming tissues and snivelling onto their ties. And the girls cried a bit too!

• two, it clashed with Spanish so as the end-of-school bell went for everyone else, about 35 of our lovelies faced a second two-hour exam!

We did what we could to make it as little irksome as possible: I and our exams officer – who has my huge thanks – spent Thursday night baking lemon cupcakes, chocolate butterfly cakes and fairy cakes to keep their energy levels up in the break between exams and to make them feel cared for. Considering the circumstances the following phrase may be the most memorable:

Best exam ever!

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We have less than a week with Year 11 left in our school!

For some, that is a cause for celebration; others of emotional goodbyes; for yet others, it is a moment of terror asking themselves “Have we completed the course yet?!”

And with the OCR deadline for CAT marks looming on Wednesday, this is the weekend when finally and completely it is possible to say to all our students:

This is where you stand. These marks are safe and banked (subject to external moderation).

And it is – broadly – possible to take the next step and say (with all the caveats and warnings about Ofqual, Michael Gove and grade boundaries after the GCSE fiasco last year)

These are the marks you need to get this grade overall.

marks left to grade boundaries

I am basing the maths here on the June 2012 OCR Grade Boundaries for raw scores which can be found here. I ummed and ahhed about perhaps adding a couple of marks to the boundaries to insulate us against the vagaries of Ofqual… but I decided that there was little to be gained from trying to second guess what appears to be a particularly volatile set of politics so left it as it was.

With the additional tweak (a particularly geeky and SLT-friendly tweak!) of colour coding on a scale of 0-80 in English and Language and 0-40 in Literature, we have a nice visual record of who is more and less likely to obtain the A and C grades. Thanks to Excel, the deeper the shade of green, the closer the student is to the boundary; the deeper the shade of red, the further away they are.

We also put our students doing Literature in to take the Prose from Other Cultures examination in January. so the final two columns simply compare the scores required to get a C or an A with what they obtained in January. Again, it is colour coded: green shows that they need less than they obtained in January; red shows that they need to raise their game. The deeper the shades of colour reflect how far from their January achievement they are: a nice deep green suggests that they need actually far less than they obtained in January to reach that threshold; a deep red suggests they need to up-their-game a lot!

If this would be useful to anyone out there, the (appropriately anonymised) document is linked here with the OCR grade boundaries.

(Anonymised) Marks required in exams to obtain a C

Students at this point respond very well to conversations that go along the lines of:

“Look, you only need 38 marks for a C”

“You need less to get C than you got in your last exam”

“You only need 27 for a C. But you could get higher!”

Those conversations seem more positive than “Well, I suppose it is mathematically possible”!