Posts Tagged ‘Michael Gove’

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.

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.

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

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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

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and the current equivalents are

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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:
Language;
Literature.

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:

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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”!

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:

English:

    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:

Literature:

    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.

Interesting.

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.