Posts Tagged ‘iGCSE’

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!


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…


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.


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!

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.


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!


Also know as… how to freak Year 11 out!



And then a healthy dollop of cheese!

The Final Countdown!

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!

We have inherited a situation where our Year 11s have a high percentage studying an English specification rather than a Language/Literature course. The English specification has historically (by which I mean last year ) had very low A*-C grade results so we are looking at how to insulate them against a repeat of the 2012 GCSE Fiasco. Insofar as that is possible.

What we have found is an Edexcel GCSE-equivalent level 2 qualification which has no Controlled Assessments and two exams. The exams focus on the following:

Paper One:

Romeo and Juliet; and
Of Mice And Men.

Both of which we have covered in the English course.

Paper Two:

Unseen poetry or prose; and
Anthology poetry.

Both of these are papers that our kids could have a decent attempt at, not affected by a lack of Controlled Assessment. I do worry that the subject is deemed to be reducible to a three month blitz – I live and breathe Literature and want that enrichment to be part of my students’ life.

The Edexcel course is really just there to validate the iGCSE First Language English course 0522. We’re eschewing the Coursework element in favour of the two exams.

So, iGCSE.

My Head is wondering whether the iGCSE is the panacea to all ills, the alchemical philosopher’s stone which will transform dross to gold, the buttress, bulwark and bastion against which Michael Gove’s interventions will clang and clatter harmlessly as our students clothe themselves in Cs and above.

I am tasked with investigating.

Currently, like many schools, we have a dual offer of English or Language and Literature. Each of these are independent separate specifications but Language only counts as the grail-like C in English if students are also entered for Literature.

Our results plummeted last year with the GCSE fiasco; other local schools raised their results dramatically (by 15% – 20%) and offered the iGCSE.

Note the use of “and” in that sentence. I am not yet convinced that “because” would be the appropriate conjunction.

Okay. iGCSE. International GCSE. It seems to have been the sop offered to Private Schools to offer a nominally more rigorous version of the GCSE. It is internationally recognised and regulated and therefore potentially proof against Govean or Governmental tinkerings or pressures which quite clearly did not occur in the Summer 2012. We await that court case result still!

Now, I’ve only looked at the Cambridge International Examinations Board specifications and exams and spoken to their advisers. The following seem to be key facts:


    No CATS;

    A number of routes through the specification;

    An unseen media / non-fiction examination lasting 1 hour 45 minutes or 2 hours depending on tier;

    Three pieces of coursework of 500-800 words each; or

    A second 2 hour examination in writing skills.

There appears to be no literary element at all to this specification and the skills being tested are those we – and all GCSE exam boards – teach in any event.

There is no Speaking and Listening element to the iGCSE: it can be added as a discreet module and receive its own grade but does not contribute to the GCSE grade.

In terms of Literature, there appears to be the following:


    No CATS;

    3 set texts on which there is an examination;

    The exam has a complicated rubric but offers a range of responses to the literature: close detailed analysis of a given passage (what I spent most of my three years at Uni doing and still call Practical Criticism); a typical whole-text essay; or an imaginative and empathetic response.

    And an unseen literature exam.


Three set texts instead of the six required at GCSE. More time could be spent on each one. A wider and more responsive teaching style adapted.

At first glance I was concerned that the course would be too narrow and restricted in its texts to prepare students for A level. But in retrospect, it’s a massively broader course: the only way to prepare for an unseen literature exam is to feed a diet of literature from all ages to the children. I’d need to look again at the specification but we could deliver to them all those texts we love but which just don’t fit into GCSE. Moby Dick. Wuthering Heights. King Lear. Gawain and the Green Knight. The Book Thief. American Gods. We would be teaching them to read and to engage with literature rather than to read a text.

From a practical stance, the overlap or lack thereof of texts is a financial concern. As is the gamble of setting it up as a 100% terminal examination.

Could we run either of these with our current Year Groups?

Year 11: with six months left I have serious concerns about compelling them to do an additional 4 hours of examinations; there is the risk of confusion over which exam goes where; there’s the risk of resentment and kickback from the kids. Clearly there’s no time to fit Literature in. And only a rather limited number are doing GCSE Literature. Therefore, in terms of securing us English C grades rather than Language, there is limited scope.

But those sets already taking Literature… Who may appreciate the opportunity to have a second string to their bow in achieving an A or A*… That shows potential!

Year 10: there is at least one set who are struggling with GCSE Language and Literature. And they are at the C/D border. Perhaps swapping to iGCSE English and Literature as a more fluid and responsive course…

Perhaps taking the 50% coursework route rather than 100% exams…

If I were to put myself in a purely results and outcomes driven mode, I would probably keep Literature as it is with the conventional GCSE. And I would offer (by which I mean compel) entry to GCSE Language and iGCSE English. Because – and this is where I balk a little – actually, by that, I mean a massive amount – the specifications only require that Literature be entered. Not passed. Not passed at a certain grade. Just entered.