Whilst a bulletin was sent out to interested parties this week, there were no answers for teachers struggling to get to grips with what to tell their year 11 students (anecdotally I’ve seen less emphasis on predicted grades and more emphasis on what to do to improve their answers in schools).
The information did serve a purpose, and that was to remind me how my special school students have been let down by the system. In the email we are reminded “New GCSE content will be more challenging” which is depressing for students who were struggling, because of their learning difficulties, to cope with the content of the old GCSE exams.
We are also reminded that the boundaries have changed, supposedly “The new grades are being brought in to signal that GCSEs have been reformed and to better differentiate between students of different abilities.” What that means on the ground is that most of my students will fall within a two grade range rather than three. That’s hardly better differentiating between students of different abilities.
When you add these factors to the press (and government) talking about a grade 5 being a good GCSE pass and you can see why my students don’t want to take the exams. They are made to feel that their achievements are worthless and that anything below a 5 doesn’t matter.
A government talking about expanding grammar schools has little interest in those students at the bottom of the ability spectrum, but for my students, the GCSEs are becoming less and less accessible with more exams for less recognition and lower grades.
(If you want to receive the 1-9 bulletins too you can sign up here)
I attended a CPD event on Saturday. I’ll admit I attended as a member of our regional committee (for the ASE) so the main reason I attended was to help with the organisation. I wasn’t expecting to learn much but how wrong I was!
It’s been a while since I looked in depth at the primary curriculum (which is far more prescriptive that its KS3 equivalent). It’s easy to write off primary school science because some schools (understandably) prioritise English and maths to the detriment of other subjects (and it’s not just the schools – Ofsted don’t pay much attention to primary science in their inspection reports)
Our event opened with a workshop looking at pulleys with an enquiry based approach. Whilst we used professional equipment, delegates were told how to use cheaper alternatives if funding was insufficient. The practical teaching strategies were explained and teachers left to find out how they work for themselves.
The second half of our morning looked at misconceptions in science and I was impressed to see reference to the rectilinear propagation of light, particle theory (explaining how sound moves through different materials), pitch & frequency and magnetism. Our host (Tracy Tyrell) was careful to use the correct terminology and avoid seeding any misconceptions. There was plenty of science there that secondary schools would be pleased to see their students arrive with.
What struck me was the depth of science covered in the primary years and how primary teachers manage to deliver this content without being subject specialists and still maintain an enquiry based approach. My eyes have been opened and I’d urge secondary schools to link with primary schools and see some of the excellent practice that goes on there.
I read a blog post earlier today by Debra Kidd about teacher workload and the impact it is having on teacher retention. For those of you that haven’t read the blog post you can find it here. I’ve found that as a teacher of 20+ years I’ve weathered the turbulent changes that have blighted education, but even my mindset has changed to one of “if I leave education” to “when I leave education”. I tend to put in ten hour days at work (on top of my 50 minute commute) and have to work on evenings and weekends to keep up. This isn’t unusual for teachers and it isn’t a moan – just a statement of fact.
When I left school for half-term I packed up work to bring home (fortunately as my books were marked up to date this consisted mostly of exam coursework that needed marking). I finished the marking by bed time yesterday which just left the mountain of tasks (policy reviews, emails to reply to, exam board risk assessments etc) and the minor job of planning my lessons for the next week (or even better the next two weeks). At that point I started to feel guilty because I felt that I should have spent more of my holiday catching up so I didn’t have to spend the last day of my time off working (and I might even have returned to work with an empty inbox!)
I tweeted to my followers asking if there were other similar professions where you feel guilty for not working in the holidays.
I have to admit to being pretty surprised at the response I received. The replies ranged from teachers in the same boat feeling the same, to those saying that holidays should be for resting rather than working. At the time of writing this blog post over 100 people have retweeted the post and well over 200 have liked it.
I like to think that I’m an organised person (ruthlessly organised in fact) and that being a school leader I have more flexibility over how I organise my time. I’ve never stopped before to question the culture of teacher workload as I’ve just regarded it as part of the job. Unfortunately nothing will change until the day that we agree that long hours and excessive workload shouldn’t be just part of the job and that is going to take more than teachers retweeting my feelings of guilt to bring about a change.
I don’t have any answers but I can’t help but worry that the 30% of teachers leaving the profession within five years will rise as budgets (financial and time) become even more stretched…
This vital information might have passed you by – a cynic could suggest that is why this information was released on the last week of term without much of a fanfare. Grade boundaries must be one of the most commonly asked questions about the new GCSEs.
The information is here so now we have all the information we need to accurately predict our GCSE grades for the new spec GCSEs. The more observant amongst you may realise the significance of the graphic above.
Grade descriptors for the new GCSEs can be found here. I’ve blogged before about the difficulty in predicting GCSE grades but you know the government was listening to our concerns by the extreme level of detail in the information they released. To save you the effort of clicking a link I’ve reproduced this information below.
Grade descriptors for GCSEs graded 9 to 1: single science (biology, chemistry and physics) and combined science
1.Grades 8 and 8-8
1.1 To achieve Grades 8 and 8-8 candidates will be able to:
- demonstrate relevant and comprehensive knowledge and understanding and apply these correctly to both familiar and unfamiliar contexts using accurate scientific terminology
- use a range of mathematical skills to perform complex scientific calculations
- critically analyse qualitative and quantitative data to draw logical, well-evidenced conclusions
- critically evaluate and refine methodologies, and judge the validity of scientific conclusions
2.Grades 5 and 5-5
2.1 To achieve Grades 5 and 5-5 candidates will be able to:
- demonstrate mostly accurate and appropriate knowledge and understanding and apply these mostly correctly to familiar and unfamiliar contexts, using mostly accurate scientific terminology
- use appropriate mathematical skills to perform multi-step calculations
- analyse qualitative and quantitative data to draw plausible conclusions supported by some evidence
- evaluate methodologies to suggest improvements to experimental methods, and comment on scientific conclusions
3.Grades 2 and 2-2
3.1 To achieve Grades 2 and 2-2 candidates will be able to:
- demonstrate some relevant scientific knowledge and understanding using limited scientific terminology
- perform basic calculations
- draw simple conclusions from qualitative or quantitative data
- make basic comments relating to experimental methods
I blogged recently about the lack of suitable courses for my students at KS4. Having discussed the options with teaching professionals, the exam boards and my governing body we have decided to run with a single science GCSE (and entry level).
The rationale for our decision can be seen in this presentation which I put together showing the key points.
I’d be interested to hear what other schools are doing with their SEN students at KS4.