Archive for the ‘First Language English’ Category

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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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.

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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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.

vlookup

 

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!

Also know as… how to freak Year 11 out!

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And then a healthy dollop of cheese!

The Final Countdown!

Yesterday was the PiXL Main Conference.

PiXL – for those who don’t know which included me until recently – stands for Performance in Excellence and is variable described as a club or a family by those who are fully engaged! Broadly, in its own words

The PiXL Club is a collaboration of school leaders, headed by Sir John Rowling, this is a club that some have said to be “the best thing they have seen in education”.

The PiXL Club is about sharing new ideas with school leaders; it is a partnership of focused, determined and dedicated professional practitioners. It is a not for profit organisation that focuses on supporting and developing the GCSE results of thousands of students in many schools across London, the South East, West and the North.

Their own website is here and no doubt describes them better than me.

Up until yesterday, my only real knowledge of PiXL was that the plan to dual enter Year 11 into UK GCSE and iGCSE had derived from them. A plan that I actually disagreed with vigorously for the majority of my students: the iGCSE is only valid with a Literature grade, and, for historic reasons, we have a large cohort of C/D students not taking Literature.

So I was a bit of a cynic.

For a national club starting a conference in London at 0930 “prompt” also militated against them: I had to get up at 5am to get there! And still couldn’t physically be on time.

The conference location was spectacular: disembarking at Waterloo, I ambled past The London Eye, wove between tourists over Westminster Bridge, jogged past the Houses of Parliament and veered right by Westminster Abbey to reach Westminster Hall. The sun was shining, birds tweeting, Big Ben chiming, traffic grumbling (mainly at me as I’d abandoned the pavements to tourists and was scuttling along in the road itself).
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Being a tad late, the conference had begun and I was bereft of the customary small talk with strangers (not a huge loss) and coffee (a keenly felt loss!). And the hall atmosphere was… Odd. The closest analogy was to a Billy Graham rally I went to as an impressionable youngster… a rapt audience applauding loudly, a passionate speaker with a clear zeal, a very definite message about the right way to do things.

Inspirational for many I’m sure; over-zealous, pushing towards evangelical for me.

And being a mite perverse, I balked a little. The temptation was to sit there, arms folded, cynical sneer on the face…

However, there was a good deal of sense being delivered – yes, delivered, not discussed – there was no time for discussion points or questions: it was very preachy.

But some excellent practical advice in there: it’s still not too late to do additional Speaking and Listening; manage the exam day sensitively and carefully; provide spare equipment, water and cereal bars rather than relying on teenagers to bring their own; continue to focus on intervention.

There really was a strong ‘can do‘ attitude.

Although the ‘you can do staying at school until 8 in the evening‘ attitude did not chime well with me!

Lots of acronyms were thrown around DTT and D3 and L5 which I think I got a handle on eventually – good example for the effect of jargon in a future language lesson? – and there really was a sense of a homogenised and perhaps formulaic PiXL way of doing things. And an implicit suggestion that you were missing something if you did it differently. There are only so many times you can listen to “why reinvent the wheel” before you start hearing “thou shalt”.

However, overall, despite some concerns over philosophy and language, there was much said that was sound and despite my natural cynicism and the 5 am start it was somewhat energising.

I’m now also able to access the cloud-based resource sharing on a platform named Huddle too – again somewhat put off by the name that brings to mind repressed memories of rugby games and sweaty male bodies…

I do have one gripe though. And I know it will come across as extraordinarily petty and small minded…. but then I never pretended to be otherwise. Food. Beef cobbler. Hot food. On a plate. With nowhere to sit, perch or lean on. I ended up with a plate in one hand and a glass in the other – because I didn’t trust the flimsy wobbly glass holder clipped to the side of the plate! – and nowhere to eat it! And the beef was really gristly!

I have never understood how OCR and other GCSE exam boards manage to moderate Speaking and Listening.

They require seven sheets of paper per teaching group sent to them. The cover sheets contain a description of the task undertaken and a description of the students’ performance to justify the mark given. But that’s it.

Personally, as a teacher, and now as Head of English, I also include the mark sheets I use to award those marks with my own arcane, generally illegible and personal set of underlings, arrows, highlights and annotation. But they have nothing to compare it to. Visiting moderators do attend but so infrequently:I think I recall one in my teaching career. Time after time, our marks are ticked off on a purely paper exercise.

Compare this with the Speaking and Listening moderation for the iGCSE.

They have a set formula to randomise the sample: the first five students by candidate number plus the highest graded student, the lowest graded student and a mid-ranked student. And, because one task is paired, each student has to have a partner not already from the sample. Making a total of 16 for our entry size.

There is, as always, an OMR form to complete for a computer to be able to read students’ score and a cover sheet to record what these students have done.

But CIE also require a CD of these students’ performance in an individual and paired activity.

I like that!

Genuine moderation.

The way we conducted it was to take a day, give each student a time slot and do it all in a day. Instead of our historic practice of performing in front of the class – thereby having 25 odd students having very little to do – they performed to myself and a member of SLT who also teaches English.

It’s a format that students are familiar with: it’s how MFL do their Speaking work. And they really did rise to the challenge! Shyer students were freed up from the intimidation of the whole-class audience; less “engaged” students raised their game in response to being withdrawn from other lessons, in response to having two senior teachers listening; and we were able to moderate and chat about the marking as we went through.

It did feel a little like being a judge on Britain’s Got Talent – I really wanted a big red buzzer – and it was a long and quite intense day. But a jolly successful one which bears embedding into Departmental practice.

Being late entering for the iGCSE hasn’t helped: we were really butting against deadlines with this. However, we now also have the video of these performances… what a jolly useful standardisation tool for future years!