Tuesday, 26 August 2014

GCSE Results Day: Now teachers lose their jobs

GCSE Results Day: Now teachers lose their jobs

Pretty girls leaping. It’s GCSE results day. With Performance Related Pay ordinary teachers of bright kids will fare better than those who brilliantly teach those children who don’t make 3 or 4 levels of progress. With the threat of Ofsted for the lower attaining schools results day defines their futures. The incentive to do all one can for the students means sometimes teachers have overstepped the mark. And talking of marks: over-extended exam boards’ standards are deteriorating and few teachers, parents or students trust them. The independent regulator, Ofqual has politicised itself in its toadying and the political parties just need a soundbite. Today, careers are savaged, destroyed by a single statistic and good people are distraught.

That’s everyone covered except to say it sometimes seems that young people are mere statistics.

The dominant phrase “5+ A*-C grades including English and Maths” diminishes education, whilst making schooling at age 15 a bore beyond reasonable tolerance. For schools the phrase spells Ofsted inspection on the “computer says no” model we have come to detest. Fall below the ‘Basement’ figure and your school may be sent into an academy chain. My friend, Fiona, has put much of her life into successfully dragging her school away from the basement in a secondary modern school next door to a grammar school where the most able have been creamed off. Her teachers struggle in the 30% - 40% range with kids who have been told they are failures at age 11. Parents flock to her school and I have seen amazing things done there, for the partially sighted for example. Ofsted will destroy their efforts and abuse their achievements.

Another headteacher friend was so drunk on the joy of this year’s results she was unable to talk to me.

Compare unfavourably in raw data and teachers may spend demoralised months responding to frequent frenzied senior management edicts, policies and strategies as school leaders try to avoid condemnation and dismissal.

At Chauncy in 2012 we had 26 C grade students awarded a D grade in English. The Head of English was summoned and she and I faced resignation.  How could we have cocked up so badly? We had failed the kids. Some of them wouldn’t be getting into 6th Form or college. At least one of us cried that night.

A picture emerged on the internet. Exam boundaries had been changed after the students had completed the course and taken the exams. Gove had said there would be no increase in pass rates and “independently” Ofqual told the exam boards to reduce 10,000 C grades in English to a D grade. Excel – one of the boards were told that if they didn’t reduce the grades Ofqual would. I can’t remember the number of foul words I used to describe this betrayal of students and teachers but I did join in a lawsuit against Gove and his regulator. How could students trust us or the system when they had been cheated? They made fools of us, legally but unfairly.

We do not need the GCSE measure at 16. The damning obsession means even less now that young people must stay in education or training until aged 18. I should have more faith but what’s the point of vocational courses for 14-18 year olds if you exclude them as a measure.

When one’s career, employment, standard of living, status and prospects depend on “5+ A*-C grades including English and Maths” is it surprising that some of us give too much time and help to push borderline students over the grade boundary. Years 10 and 11 are now barren, tedious, repetitive years for students as they are drilled towards the “5+ A*-C grades including English and Maths.”  We are constantly assessing them and parents may recognise the language of  Predicted Grade, Target Grade and/or Challenge Target Grade. GCSEs are too narrow, have too much assessment and do not prepare students for further study or employment. Rote learning is not educational.

Don’t insult us by criticising “teaching to the exam.” Once the test becomes the measure it becomes useless as an educational tool. Did you expect us to lie down after 2012 and sacrifice more kids’ self-worth, just rewards and opportunities on the false altar of unreliable statistics. Exam attainment at 16 is now just a passport. No one expects a driving instructor to teach the glories of the open road prior to a test.

Did you think you could bully us into failing our students? Where was I supposed to lie down?

10% of my blog visitors are in America and this month Latvians, Poles, Ukranians and two of my sisters have been reading my blogs. I’d better explain what is making me cross (this time).

In England GCSE exams are set and marked by five exam boards (also called ‘awarding bodies’). They are supervised by the government regulator, Ofqual. The late Gove appointed Glenys Stacey as Ofqual Chief Executive from a field of one. When she asked a conference of headteachers if they believed she was independent of Gove we shook our heads in unison and she got quite animated in fruitless defence.

Gove said more kids would fail exams, Ofqual immediately did the deed. Gove doesn’t like American literature in English exams – like magic, Steinbeck and Harper Lee disappear. Gove didn’t like the A*-C grading; neither does Glenys. It’s a shame that neither have taught a single lesson in their lives, imagine that sort of empathy when working with kids.

Gove has gone, destroyed by his etonian betters and Stacey can now, settle down in regulatory mode and be a non political civil servant. She has much work to do and I hope she will do it with us.

Like many astute candidates for a job she started a Masters degree course on Educational Assessment just before interview. She has not yet graduated, but one must not condemn her failure to complete, in four years, what is usually a 2 year part time course. Many of us believe we should examine students when they are ready and if you need a little more advice from your tutor, don’t think it’s cheating.

In November 2013, Gove changed the rules, announcing major policy in “The Telegraph” rather than parliament. Two weeks before students were due to sit ‘early entry’ exams he declared  that resit results would not be allowed in  League tables.  Many schools immediately and at considerable expense withdrew early entries. Many headteachers made up excuses for the students and parents, sadly avoiding the truth.

Glenys Stacey had no experience in education but did claim at interview that being a mother was good preparation. Primary headteachers in particular find a front gate forum of parents who know how to run schools because they went to one themselves. I recently considered taking over my local petrol station on this basis.

If Ofqual has tinkered with results again this year, teachers will lose their jobs, some will be demoted and some will give up the profession they love. The feared ogre of Ofsted roars into schools on these results and the work of teachers is dominated by the havoc wreaked by the ungodly Gove-Wiltshire–Stacey trinity. With disingenuous disregard for students and teachers, Stacey has warned us to expect “greater volatility” in this year’s results. Apparently, this year’s students may be of different ability to last year’s. There are new, harder exams with less coursework and tougher boundaries. I hear that there are, indeed students, teachers and schools inexplicably in dire strairts today, yet  Stacey boasts, “We have maintained standards.” I fail to understand how English results going down and Maths going up can be the same standard. Add to this that one is meant to be able to compare a “B” grade in 2014 with a “B” grade in 2011 and that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have their own grades and maintaining standards is a falsehood not worthy of your paygrade.

Ofqual’s  job is to make sure the system runs smoothly, overseeing the exam boards, specifications and syllabuses and ensuring the boards mark properly so that the qualifications are fairly awarded.  Good students earn their grades and should receive them.

The exam system is outdated, deteriorating and near collapse. It brutalises and demoralises good people with inadequate, inaccurate measurement of memory-test exams. Teachers will happily embrace constructive, planned and rational change designed to promote and celebrate achievement. Consider this please: our students would benefit from more assessment during their studies, and less examination at the end.

Ofqual should advise the government. Introducing new tests, exams, qualifications and curriculum for every age group from 4 to 19 at the same time is educationally unsound and daft. To create a new History curriculum you have to introduce the age 11 course to students four years after the age 7 one. This cannot be done concurrently to suit a political thirst. Think building blocks.

Don’t call us cheats. Gove gave us the inelegant term, “gaming.” Independent Stacey adopted the word and concept, asking teachers to let her know, anonymously, where their schools were “gaming” the exam system to secure higher grades. Gaming refers to practices helping kids do better than if they walked into exams unsullied by preparation and practice, wearing blindfolds and mittens. If this is the standard of your academic investigations let’s hope you can resit the Masters, after guidance, advice and a walk through the specification. I bet it’s a non exam course.

My wife has been gaming my daughter’s exams. They do it in the evenings, behind closed doors. They speak French before tests and this gives Cathy an adavantage.

Is it only half the middle class world who use private tutors: gaming, dependent on private wealth?

“Gaming” is forever with us; how innocent am I?

My school has (that means I have) increased the timetabled curriculum for English and Maths with more teachers and smaller classes. From age 11 we target the skills that will be examined  at 16; from age 14 we practice exam questions; at 15 we target likely questions. At 16 we do early entries and we double entry some students for GCSE English and the private schools’ preferred iGCSE. We do practice essays, and “walking talking mocks.” On exam day  we get the kids in early for a warm up; feeding them them toast and bacon rolls. Each student is given a bottle of water. We have a team of dedicated invigilators, an air conditioned hall and a very big clock. Students are provided with a black pen and we are nice to them. No barking attacks the students. As an exams centre we administer public examinations faultlessly according to exam board inspection.

Gamers such as Lewis Hamilton? He has a team of dozens, millions spent designing better car stuff, nutritionists and fitness trainers, coaches using every device to analyse his racing style, He has on board computers and pit stops where he doesn’t even put the petrol in himself . He practices in the car and in simulators, on the track he will race. My goodness, they virtually drive the race for him.

I’ve heard of candidates trying to spot interview questions, newsreaders using notes and prompters, firefighters simulating fire rescues, actors learning lines and fuel tanker drivers being shown exactly how to transfer toms of fuel. Gamers all.

There has been cheating. Extra help or time in SATs, model answers where kids change a few words, constant correction of coursework, inflated marks in oral exams and too much help in practical exams. Yes, it has always been done and it is wrong. To prevent such malpractice we need effective monitoring exam boards, to  visit schools during controlled assignments, talk with students, film oral exams, read coursework submissions and use computer plagiarism checkers. Warn, penalise and publicly ban centres found cheating. Headteachers will quickly impose internal checking to save their school’s reputation. Put this alongside an ethos of trusting schools and abolishing league tables and we stand a chance of integrity returning. Simply using a mountain of terminal exams which exam boards fail to mark properly is not the answer. Do away with resits, Modular exams, early entries and access to iGCSEs and you will remove a burden on markers. But with the 16 million papers (Guardian Jan 2012) all now to be sat in June the exam boards stand no better chance.

There are too many exams and too many end of course exams. Properly moderated school assessments in most subjects would be a more efficient and accurate way of assessing student achievement. The only way forward is for the assessment system to be built on trusting teachers and reported student achievement broadened. Have fewer formal assessments, with a new role for in-school trained, responsible assessors. Schools are really very, very good at knowing their students and assessing each one’s ability in each aspect of each course. Ofqual must look to use this knowledge rather than rely on statistical models of assessment. A lack of trust explains the removal of Practical assessments from the new Science A levels.

And. Please can we make the tasks assessed a bit more exciting, stimulating, challenging and rewarding. Problem solving maths is on the ball here.

A student’s grade should not be based on the choice of board . I am in favour of one board, one syllabus. However, the AQA Drama results were so crazily wrong in 2011 many schools switched other boards, saving thousands of students from irrational failure. This is by no means a unique example. Government and Ofqual seem to agree that speaking and listening should not be examined in English, so many switched to iGCSE. I want one resourced good board funded by the massive fees we already pay them and regulated by an Ofqual free of political catchphrases and interference. Any money received by an exam board employee for writing exam textbooks should go to reduce the cost of exams.

We should abolish league tables as unfit for purpose.  We now have the Govian exclusion of resit grades, many vocational subjects, “discounted” subjects which, for example, counts one of Art and Textiles as meaningful. The official, published result will be the first exam sat, so if Art was sat on Monday 10th June and textiles on Tuesday 11th June Art counts in league tables and Textiles is rubbished. Well, it isn’t as if any one designs, makes, sells or even wears clothes is it?

NAHT, ASCL and PiXL have combined to support schools with “end of Year 11” statistics including early entries, unintentionally wrecking league tables in the process. How then will Raiseonline enable Ofsted to condemn on figures alone? And by the way, what’s wrong with a Leaving Certificate/Graduation standard that records all student achievement as a passport to job interviews and further study? And goodness, how will we cope if more young people achieve this standard?

If the league tables are there to entice or deter parents on such simplistic measures do we really think families are that naive? I know dozens of people who love our school despite the drawback of a blogging headteacher..

Exam boards make many, many mistakes. Schools paid exam boards £328 million in 2013 (Channel 4, 15-08-14). Every year incompetent marking leads to incorrect grades given to candidates and attempts to get injustice corrected are met with bureaucratic, defensive obstruction from exam boards. We have seen our ICT coursework, marked by the same teacher for 12 years, reduced by 3 grades per A level student. Our English language coursework, marked by the same teacher for five years, has been marked down an entire A Level grade. There are countless examples of this across schools When a candidate gets a remark the remarker receives the original script with the first marker’s marks. This is bound to influence the second marker and is a highly dubious practice in academic matters. Appeals cost schools £5.5 million in 2013 (Channel 4, 15-08-14).

The arts suffer more than most from interpretive moderation. Just two recent cases in my experience:The Drama A level moderator told the head , that’s me, that she was happy with our marking. All kids were then downgraded. Our appeals were dismissed without explanation An experienced Music A level teacher resubmitted the exact same lower sixth work a year later.  All grades went up.

Exam marking is outrageously hit and miss with the misses failing good students. Marking is neither accurate nor fair (HMC Report 2012) “12,250 grades changed at A level and 26,270 grades changed at GCSE” after schools appealed (Ofqual Statistical Bulletin March 2012). Real people, real mistakes that could cost teachers and students their careers.

Schools pay dearly to appeal badly marked exams and Ofqual’s response was to add this to the gaming accusations. Stop appealing results, you said, because the examiners doing the remark were often tempted to give a higher mark on appeal.

Parents, teachers and students do not have confidence in the exam boards. Ofqual’s own polls showed that, “89% of headteachers had ‘considerable’ concerns about GCSEs, citing worries about incorrect marking of papers, grade boundary issues, incorrect grading and lack of information and knowledge about standards.”  (Ofqual, May 2013)

When Ofqual polled 4,696 people they found that “one in five of all teachers (20%) believe that around a quarter of GCSE students get the wrong grade.” Alarmingly, Ofqual declared this “a broadly positive statistic.” (Ofqual 2012) My Masters course emphasised research methods and use of statistics

In the same survey Ofqual reported 41% of parents ‘not confident’ students got the correct GCSE grade, 33% likewise concerned about inaccurate A Level grades. Goodness, Glenys, how high do these figures need to be before you demand higher exam board standards?

Chauncy has scored 24% on EBacc measures, 62% on First Entry only measures, 72% on the results achieved by the end of Year 11 and 73% if we include vocational courses in full. I reckon appeals may bring us to 74%.

Someone protect me from this nonsense.

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