Archive for the ‘English Literature’ Category

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?




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 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?


This will be a teeny tiny post but I found this absolutely gorgeous photograph of Rita Hayworth:



As a comparison to Curley’s wife, it bears a range of uses:

  • an analysis of her body language exquisitely echoes Curley’s wife’s body language in Chapter 2;
  • the sensuality of her half-closed eyes, half open lips is a parallel to Curley’s wife’s sensuality;
  • an analysis of small details such as the cigarette can encourage students to identify how the image of class and high society – with hints (more than hints) of phallic symbolism – has become in the twenty-first century perhaps almost taboo – a range of interpretations based on different cultures’ perceptions;
  • her dress and heavy make-up bear similarities to Curley’s wife’s red lips, heavily made up face and peacock-feathers all of which suggests a reaching towards sophistication which is artificial and a mask and does not reflect the truly lonely and damaged creature lurking inside Curley’s wife;
  • as a H0llywood actress, Hayworth – or actresses like her – would have been the role-model that might have inspired the pre-marital Curley’s wife to dream of being in the “pitchers”;
  • the image captures the glamour (in its more faery connotations) and appearance of sophistication propagated by Hollywood which would have appealed because of the extreme poverty and harshness of life on the ranch;
  • the girls in my top set went even further comparing the patriarchy of Hollywood and the patriarchy of the farm, suggesting that the sensuality and sexuality of both the image and of Curley’s wife are imposed rather than natural;
  • the direction of her gaze through the camera to the viewer was taken to suggest a desperation for attention that echoes Curley’s wife’s need for attention;
  • her body position, whilst undoubtedly sensual and sexual, is also artificial and unnatural, suggesting that she and Curley’s wife may both be uncomfortable with the role ascribed to them.

One unexpected side effect: exploring the possibility of the cigarette being a phallic symbol has so appalled everyone in the class that they have declared they will never be able to smoke.

No bad thing!

So, now Mr Gove seeks to recreate the GCSE specification. Again.

Now there are many things I just don’t get about Michael Gove. How he holds down a job; how anyone else manages to work with him; how no-one has discovered that he is, in fact, an alien probe sent to infiltrate us; how on earth he got a job in education when he appears to denigrate and despise both pupils and teachers.

However, more specifically, how his proposals for GCSE reform make any kind of sense at all.

Firstly, the headline that the media focused on that students will undertake

detailed study of a range of high quality, intellectually challenging, and substantial whole texts, which must include:
 at least one play by Shakespeare
 a selection of representative Romantic poetry
 at least one nineteenth-century novel
 a selection of poetry since 1850
 British fiction or drama since the First World War.

I see nothing inherently objectionable in this, to be fair to Mr Gove. There are some brilliant texts available within those criteria. The nineteenth century novel is, perhaps, a tad daunting and I fear there may be a sales run on A Christmas Carol! But there’s an awful lot of literature of equal weight, interest and value missing from the list! I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what options are made available to us.

What the DfE have also produced, however, includes Assessment Objectives and weightings.

These are worth a read for all Heads of English because there is a significant change here!

Let’s take Language first. This is the list of future AOs.


and a list if the current AOs, drawn from the OCR specification.


Firstly, speaking and listening is shunted out entirely. How do students, people, adults, professionals communicate in the majority of the time? By speaking? And by listening? Surely by removing this from the qualification, you devalue and denigrate the most critical communication skill that we have and you run the risk of de-skulking a generation of children in oral communication skills.

Now, before anyone complains, yes I know that Spoken Language will remain as a compulsory element of the GCSE – although note the absence of listening from its new title! – because the proposal states

While it is compulsory for students to demonstrate the skills in AO4 in spoken language it will not count towards the overall grade awarded.

It will not count but is compulsory. I’m sorry, but that is a fudge, a sop.

What might be the logic behind this? I suspect it is because lots of students – and perhaps mainly boys – do well in this unit. Anecdotally, how many parents evenings have I had when I’ve explained that Little Johnny is articulate and engaging verbally but cannot put his thoughts coherently into writing? How many databases show C grade written work complemented by B grade oral work?

So he removes it?

He removes the one area where many children excel and receive the validation that they can achieve in English.

How? What? Why? It is incomprehensible to me.

Especially as the iGCSE which the DfE has confirmed to me will be accredited at least until 2015 and rumour suggests into 2016 as well (thereby overlapping the no-speaking-and-listening, 100% terminal exam GCSE) does include Speaking and Listening at 20% weighting and Writing Coursework at 40%.

Is it any wonder that CIE experienced a 300% increase in entries this year?

If we look at writing, the score for AO4(iii), the sentence structures, punctuation and grammar. Currently it accounts for 33% of the writing grade, which comprises 35% of the overall grade. Therefore AO4(iii) comprise 11.55% of the overall final grade.

The equivalent Assessment Objective in the new GCSE is worth 40% overall of which half derives from sentence structures, punctuation, grammar and spelling. That raises the weight attached to that skill from 11.55% overall to 20%, nearly doubling it.

How will schools respond?

There is a Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test at KS2 now but I don’t know how many Secondaries would rely on that?

I am thinking of introducing a two week grammar unit full of games and fun activities across the board at the start of the September term and repeating it every single September to reinforce and develop students’ skills as well as demonstrate progress. This would also upskill my staff in grammar and provide them with a range of short snappy fun grammar activities that would be ideal as starters throughout the year.

And AO1 includes some very low-order skills on Bloom’s taxonomy: retrieve information; summarise… These lower order skills simply do not appear on the current AO list: “selecting material appropriate to purpose” is qualitatively different and more challenging than “retrieve information”.

There is also the introduction of the skill of synthesise: to be able to “evaluate … and synthesise [information] for specific purposes”. Another explicitly new skill and, here, at the top if Bloom’s taxonomy! It is very close to the iGCSE Directed Writing component (or as I want to rephrase it, Text Transformation) where students read a travelogue (for example) and then imagine they are the writer and write a letter home persuading a relative to visit the are using the attitudes and views and information of the original article.

Now, don’t get me wrong! I like this skill! Actually, I like it a lot! But it is a higher order skill and, if it is combined with a Draconian approach to grammar and sentence structures and divorced from Speaking and Listening, it could price a real challenge to achieve.

Turning to Literature, the proposed Assessment Objectives are


and the current equivalents are


The new AO1, to read for comprehension is again a very low order skill! Low enough not to be currently tested at all! To describe features of a text currently would attract some (very few) marks in Language but here could attract up to 20% of the final grade in Literature.

The new AO2 basically comprises all the current AOs together and is only worth 50%, 20% of which must derive from unseen texts. Now I do like that: it means we have to teach students how to read literary texts rather than how to read this book which is great! That content-driven focus has been the worst part of the current Literature course. But, students will need a wide range of reading across genres and contexts to be able to do so. I suspect this unseen element will focus on poetry for exactly that reason of timing.

But AO3 is sneaky: 30% of marks will be made available for writing – presumably essays – in a literary manner. 30%.

Again, how schools react to that will be interesting. I’m thinking that, again, an explicit essay writing unit, repeated throughout the course, explicitly teaching essays as a persuasive text could become embedded in my Department.

Anyway, the links to these documents are below:

One question for you though, both these DfE documents capitalise English but not language or literature. Surely it should be! It is the name of the course, the name of the examination, the name of the qualification. It is a proper noun, isn’t it?

And finally, for all fans of Michael Gove, some delightful pictures:




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…


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


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!

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”!

KS4 template

It’s that time of the year again… when I revisit the Departmental Database and wonder how it could be developed and improved.

And this year, in addition, how to include the iGCSE into the growing range of qualification that we are offering.

So, last year, I was using a fairly basic =IF formula to compare the scores given by teachers into indicative grades. It was a little clunky and a little ‘Heath Robinson’ but it did the job.

This year, I am intending to use =VLOOKUP formulae to look the score given up in the table of grade boundaries on a separate sheet. It has taken a bit of time just inputting the grade boundaries (each possible score in each element of each qualification needs a grade allocated to it.



Once done, however, the hope is that it will be straightforward enough to simply fiddle with and amend the grades accordingly. Obviously, the =VLOOKUP will amend itself according to the data entered on the lookup sheet. And alterations in grade boundaries can be applied and grades amended according to the changes in data that we have.

In terms of staff inputting, all I need will be the score for each Controlled Assessment or mock exam. With judicious use of protected cells and suspicious passwords, that should in fact be all that the staff can do.

Their “dashboard”, if you like, will look like this:

database template


Obviously there will be a range of data to be inputted for each child to track vulnerable groups, pupil premiums, intervention groups, withdrawal groups and accelerated groups – we have a tendency to generate five or six overlapping lists of students which no-one has any real overview of! – which can be done in anticipation of the start of term.

The database should also add up and / or average out scores for individual tasks to create the final figure to be entered into the OMR at the end of Year 11.

It should also be able to identify students whose Controlled Assessments pull down their raw ability; students who underperform in exams; students who might benefit most from specific forms of intervention.

One other item from the PiXL Club main conference that I liked was what I have dubbed micro-tracking.

This database is a broad-brush, specification wide tracking system. I intend to supplement it with a range of micro-tracking databases that track students’ success in individual exam questions to track their ability to perform certain skills rather than overall. A revision session on summarising skills for a select group of individuals persistently falling down on that skill will be more effective than a revision session on the OCR Information and Ideas Examination or the iGCSE Paper 1 or 2 which only touches on summarising. The same goes for directed writing skill, analysis skills, language skills, presentational devices responses or imaginative writing.

Additional sheets can be added at any time which could record mock exams on a question-by-question basis and a formula can easily add those up and record them in the main database.

Obviously, getting antiquated and somewhat Luddite staff to actually complete the database is another matter!