Thursday, 23 August 2012

GCSE English - what went wrong?

I have worked harder this year with my English GCSE groups than ever before, so it hurts that the results are not what I'd hoped for. As a department we did numerous interventions, changed groups, put on extra classes, pulled students from other subjects and generally made ourselves unpopular!

It didn't work.

Now, it could be that we got it wrong, the quality of teaching is to blame, but if that is the case, it seems a bit odd. Our department staffing hasn't changed; it has 2 ASTs, the kids are roughly the same ability as previous cohorts. That doesn't explain the sudden downturn to my satisfaction.

So what IS new?

Well, the course changed. That means several interesting factors beyond our control come into play:

The above link explains how, when changing from one type of GCSE to another, in the first year, they set out to achieve 'comparable outcomes'. This suggests that there is a quota for this year's exams based on last year's results.

No problem, you would think. We should have got the same results as last year then. Seems fair.

Not at all.

And for the main reason: January entry.

You will have noticed the huge differences in the C grade boundary between January and June. On Unit 1 it is 10 marks different, and on Unit 2 and 3, 3 marks each (16 marks in total). So, basically, it was a LOT easier to get a C in January.

And, looking at the papers we got back from January, I was amazed that some of our students had been awarded a C after producing work well below the standard I would expect from previous years. Some of those students re-sat in June, got higher marks on the paper, but lower grades overall. How do you explain that one to angry parents and upset kids? Did AQA Pass too many students in January? Were the boundaries far too low? If they did, and they had a quota to work to, then it would explain why it was so much harder to pass in the summer.

Of course, what makes this whole thing ridiculous is that students who are more able than others have lower grades because they were entered in June and not January! It makes a mockery of the whole thing. A system supposed to be fair is exactly the opposite.

This is speculation of course, but if the schools who have dropped 10% or so waited until the end to enter their kids it would make sense. We did some and some. There are students with D grades who got better marks than some who got Cs. How can that be allowed to happen?

Schools are hardly going to request a re-mark to move their students down, exam boards are not going to remove Cs from January in order for students to receive the grades they actually deserve for the standard of work, so I guess we are stuck with what we've got.

Of course, the other significant problem teachers have faced with the new course is not knowing where the boundaries were for CA. AQA support meetings told us more than once that a C would be 'somewhere in Band 3'. Most people thought that meant a folder of 8s and 9s would be good enough. In January it was. Not even close in June! To scrape a C in Unit 2 you needed 9, 9, 10. That is not really 'somewhere in Band 3', is it?

When the results were published in January, we felt a bit more secure. Now we knew where the goal posts were. Or so we thought. I wanted to play it safe and aimed a little higher before thinking my students were ok to stop sitting new CAs. Unfortunately, I was way too conservative in my predictions of how far the boundaries would change. We now have the awful situation of having students who thought they were on a C based on January grades ending up with Ds. Fortunately, I'm not stupid enough to make any promises about final grades, but it still stings when you know the individual students behind the headline statistics.

So, why did the boundaries change so much?

Everyone else was working just as hard as we were -interventions, extra classes, changing groups! Teachers moved the boundaries higher by 'playing it safe'. If there is a quota of C+ grades, rather than a quality standard, then ironically, we should all agree to work less and the results would stay the same. However, if you 'know' 25 is the minimum for a C in Unit 2, then you aren't going to stop pushing kids until they have 26, or 27. Just to be sure... you know. If everyone does that, the boundary has to move.

This could explain the Speaking and Listening increase in particular- how easy is it to shift those CA marks up one or two? Our Speaking and Listening marks are below other schools. If you met our kids, you'd know how ridiculous that is. We clearly did not over-reward our students!

So, does any of this stop me thinking there was something else I could have done? Does it stop me feeling gutted for those kids we thought were safe who missed their C by 1 or 2 marks?

No, of course it doesn't. I'm a teacher.

It also won't stop me from pushing those boundaries higher next year by doing everything I can to help my new Y11s. God help them!