KS4 Consultation 2012 – My Response

1 Do you agree that the new qualifications should not be called “GCSEs”?

I don’t (with the exception of the comment below) think that it really matters what you call them – unless the aim is to create the impression of change or to secure some sort of legacy for the Secretary of State.

2 a) Do you agree that the new qualifications should be called English Baccalaureate Certificates?

I strongly feel that this will cause confusion.  Students will be working on their EBacc Certificates, and towards and EBacc?

Will employers understand the difference between having an EBacc and students getting their EBaccs?

2 b) If not, what alternative title should be adopted?

Please see above.  I do wonder why the phrase ‘GCSE’ is no longer acceptable to the Secretary of State.

High expectation of performance and accurate grading

3 Do you agree with our expectations for grading structures, set out in paragraphs 5.4 to 5.5?

Any grade structure should be very clear.  It is not clear in the consultation document who or which body would be setting these grading structures. I would want there to be clear lines of communication and consultation in their drawing up.

4 Do you believe that we should insist on a common grading structure for all English Baccalaureate Certificates or should we allow Awarding Organisations the freedom to innovate?

I’m not sure that the difference is between common grading and ‘freedom to innovate’.  I am sceptical that you can draw equivalence between an EBacc in say, art and one in history, or maths and history.  The idea of a common grading structure that works for all subjects therefore seems illogical for me.

The whole idea of ‘common grading structures’ seems to be predicated on the grounds that students of a certain ‘ability’ level (if such a thing can be adequately measured) should get uniform levels in their end of compulsory education exams.  In reality students often make different levels of achievement in different subjects.

In short whilst there might be a kind of equivalence between some subjects (English, History), (Maths, Physics), it will be very hard to achieve across all subjects.  What is not clear from the consultation is whether these exams will be criterion referenced or based on arbitrary comparative performance within  each year (the bell curve model).  I strongly feel that to go back to a system which enables only a fixed top percentage of students to get a particular grade is unfair and will detract from the Secretary of State’s aim of encouraging students to have high expectations and ambitions.  Rather such a system would be regressive, in that it would confirm entrenched social class determined outcomes.

No tiering

5 Do you agree that it will be possible to end tiering for the full range of subjects that we will be creating new qualifications for?

This is a change I wholeheartedly agree with.  I would be very pleased if a students’ achievement is not capped by the expectations of accountability systems.

In my experience, working in a non-tiered subject, students can be motivated and can achieve higher than their expectations if ‘the sky’s the limit’ and if a growth model is stressed by teachers.  A non-tiered system will help this to be done across the school system.

6 Are there particular approaches to examinations which might be needed to make this possible for some subjects?

The paper will have to be carefully written so that a range of students are able to demonstrate THEIR level of understanding, knowledge and skills.  This will mean that some questions are easier than others.

This will require politicians (of both sides of the political spectrum) to avoid the temptation of unfairly cherry-picking the easy exam questions in order to read them out at party conferences in order to attempt to show how dumbed down the exam system is.

Assessed 100% by examination, or minimising reliance on internal assessment

7 a) We intend that English Baccalaureate Certificates should be assessed 100% by externally marked examinations.  Do you agree?           

I think that this decision should be made in consultation with each subject’s professional organisations and other interested parties.  Each subject is different, and if done well, coursework can offer students opportunities to gain independence, pride and confidence.

 7 b) If not, which aspects of English, mathematics, the sciences, history, geography or language do you believe absolutely require internal assessment to fully demonstrate the skills required, and why?

The skills of argument preparation, investigation and communication involved in extended independent study for coursework are invaluable in those wanting to study history at A level and at university.  I would therefore urge that some kind of coursework is retained for history at KS4.

Size requirement for syllabus

8 Should our expectation be that English Baccalaureate Certificates take the same amount of curriculum time as the current GCSEs?  Or should schools be expected to place greater curriculum emphasis on teaching the core subjects?

This seems to me to be two different questions.  At the moment schools generally teach history for 4-5 hours a fortnight at GCSE and maths / English 10 hours a fortnight.

I think that this is probably about right, and should stay the same.

Examination aids

9 Which examinations aids do you consider necessary to allow students to fully demonstrate the knowledge and skills required?

It depends entirely on the subject, and on the nature of the skills and knowledge being assessed.   In Chemistry a periodic table will allow a student to show that they know how elements inter-react without having to recall atomic weights.  In this way some source material stops examinations turning into parlour games in which people who can quickly recall abstracted nuggets of information are awarded for memory tricks rather than understanding.

I note a comment in the consultation document, which refers to the use of sources in history as ‘examination aids’.  I think that this is a misconception of the role of sources in the study and examination of history.

The use of sources is vital in history lessons and in history examinations if we are to teach students to approach history actively rather than passively.  Their use is also essential we are to teach the skills of source comprehension, interpretation and evaluation that are required not only to study history at 6th form and university.  Being able to actively approach sources should be part of every citizen’s education, and therefore should be included in history exams at KS4 and 5.

Subject suites

10 Do you agree that these are appropriate subject suites?  If not, what would you change?

I have no comment on this directly, but I would like to add that I do not agree that there should be ONLY one KS4 English syllabus, or maths syllabus, or history syllabus.

Rather that such syllabi should be required to meet common standards set by OFQUAL, or some such body.  Even if one examination board is awarded the contract to deliver say an English KS4 qualification, they should be able to offer different content choices.

In history for instance there is a rich diversity of high quality courses at KS4.  Whilst in my own school we teach Modern World, and focus on the 20th Century in Europe, it should be possible for schools to opt to study more synoptic courses such as those offered by Schools History Project courses, or those which cover classical, medieval, early modern and other periods of European and world history.

11 Is there also a need for a combined science option covering elements of all three sciences?

These courses are popular.  I would think that they are unlikely to be taken by students who wish to study sciences further than KS4.  As long as this is clear, and as long as students who do want to take science study further are able to do so with single science options, then I think this should continue.

Track Record

12 What qualities should we look for in English Baccalaureate Certificates that will provide evidence that they will support students to be able to compete internationally? 

Whilst enabling those lower attaining students who attempt them to access the examinations, those with the potential should also be given the chance to show the highest level of attainment (bearing in mind the curriculum and the age of those concerned) in the same exam.

Whilst we should engage with businesses, universities, learned societies and with international comparisons, we should also be talking to teachers and education experts.

Teachers, teacher educators, researchers of education and of subject specific education and professional bodies such as the Historical Association are well informed (through evidence and practice rather than anecdote and prejudice) about the ideas, misconceptions and progress routes taken by students and pupils.  They are well versed in spotting the evidence that shows understanding on the part of a candidate, and in seeing when a student has not understood something.  They should therefore be heavily involved in calibrating the levels of performance required in order to get a particular grade or level. 

Assurance of literacy and numeracy

13 Do you agree that we should place a particular emphasis on the successful English language and mathematics qualifications providing the best assurance of literacy and numeracy?

It depends what you mean by best.  What we want is for most students to leave school functionally literate and numerate, and with an interest in language and maths.

We should not require every student to be capable of advance mathematics in order to access an end of KS4 certification that will help them make their way in the world.

We will not ensure that levels of achievement will rise merely by setting tougher exams in literacy and numeracy.  What causes educational standards to rise is investment (by teachers as well as government) in the teaching that happens in classrooms.

The work of John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam, Paul Black, Ben Levin and many others has shown that it is in improving the practice of teachers that we will raise standards.

Unfortunately this will be especially difficult in maths.  Maths is struggling in this country because there is a severe shortage of well-qualified and experienced maths teachers.

Record numbers of teachers are leaving the profession because of the pressure of workload and political rhetoric that has been piled upon them.  This last has through cherry picking and distorting international comparisons led to a very bad crisis of morale in the profession.

If the secretary of state is sincere in his desire to raise standards in our already very good education system, then I believe he should cease this rhetoric and instead focus on building bridges with the profession and start to tackle this crisis of confidence and morale.

School and Post-16 institution Support

14 In order to allow effective teaching and administration of examinations, what support do you think Awarding Organisations should be:

a)  Required to offer?

They should be required to show us the expected standard by examples of student work, through suggested short term and medium term plans and schemes of work, and by arranging meetings of teachers in which we can share good practice and learn from each other.

14 b) Prevented from offering?

 The exam paper before the test.

15 How can Awarding Organisations eliminate any unnecessary burdens on schools and post-16 institutions relating to the administration of English Baccalaureate Certificates?

By ensuring that marking is accurate, fair and consistent, and by admitting early if there has been a mistake in marking.  We have in the past had to fight tooth and nail for redress for really obvious marking errors.

Qualification supports progression of lower achievers

16 Which groups of students do you think would benefit from a “Statement of Achievement” provided by their school?

Very few.  The KS4 exams should be constructed so that only a very few children will be unable to access them in order to show what they have achieved – as with the current GCSEs actually.  70% of our students took GCSE history last year (about 175 students) of these only 3 of them were entered for the basic certificate, and one of these was due to circumstances other than their potential.

I cannot stress enough that EVERY student with the exception of only a very few (less than 5 percent) should be given a mainstream end of KS4 certificate, which should reflect what they have achieved.

17 How should we ensure that all students who would benefit from a “Statement of Achievement” are provided with one?

I still think that a national certificate should be provided – as with the current system.

Equalities

18 a) Do you believe any of the proposals in this document have the potential to have a disproportionate impact, adverse or positive, on specific pupil groups?

If the right kind of investment is not made in terms of time for teachers to address and plan for the new examination, and if the exams themselves are not properly quality assured, students in schools with fewer resources will suffer disproportionately.  These schools will blunder into the new exams.

This will be the case when we consider the place of these reforms in the context of schools becoming academies, KS3 curricula being reformed, KS5 curricula and exams also being reformed and in the light of the record number of experienced teachers leaving the profession.

18 b) If they have potential for an adverse impact, how can we reduce this?

Start to raise levels of confidence and morale in the profession and the standing of teachers in the community by ceasing the unfair rhetoric of failure.

Invest in more, better-qualified teachers though school based university education courses.

Give teachers opportunities to invest in their own professional development through the creation of common professional standards policed by a body such as the GTC and through post-qualification education such as the Masters in Teaching and Learning.

Stop cherry picking evidence from the international comparisons and focus on high performing international jurisdictions like Finland and Canada for examples of good practice.

Implementation

19 Should we introduce reformed qualifications in all six English Baccalaureate subjects for first teaching in secondary schools in 2015, or should we have a phased approach, with English, mathematics and sciences introduced first?

I think that the reform of KS4 qualifications requires much more consultation.  All subjects should be reformed for first teaching in 2017.  This will allow all parties to have a say, for groups to be formed to decide the content of curricula, for teachers to prepare, for books to be written and shemes of work to be created.

 20 How best can we prepare schools for the transition to these reformed, more rigorous qualifications?

By giving them plenty of time and resources.  By allowing exam boards to properly train and inform teachers about new exam rubrics and content.

By taking more time to consult and allowing teachers to play a part in drawing up the new examinations.

21 How long will schools need to prepare to teach these reformed qualifications?

Teachers will need at least 18 months from the publication of new specifications to find resources, plan schemes of work and lessons, organise assessment materials and source textbooks.

Schools will need time to plan human resources and to change timetables, to assess and purchase equipment.

Languages

22 Should all languages in which there is currently a GCSE be included in our competition?

23 Should the number of languages for which English Baccalaureate Certificates are identified be limited? If so, which languages should be included?

A language qualification at KS4 should not only recognise a facility with a particular language, but for language itself.

To limit the languages that count for an EBacc would mean that ONLY the needs of business are recognised, would have the potential of disproportionately affecting those from particular backgrounds, and would de-value the facility of language acquisition generally.

24 Given the potential number of new languages qualifications to be developed, should they be introduced to a later timescale than history and geography English Baccalaureate Certificates?

This would not be necessary if the timescale for introducing new KS4 qualifications was more realistic.

Post-16

25 Should we expect post-16 institutions to be ready to provide English Baccalaureate Certificates at the same time as secondary schools?

We want to mitigate as far as possible against the possibility of having students one year with a valued qualification and the previous year having a qualification that has been successfully de-valued by political rhetoric.

28 Please let us have your views on responding to this call for evidence (e.g. the number and type of questions, whether it was easy to find, understand, complete etc.).

I think that this consultation is incomplete.  It is very interesting to consider the matters upon which we have not been consulted:

1 – the question of retaining GCSEs with changes to examination rubrics and performance indicators in order to meet the requirement of ‘more rigour’.

2 – the question of whether changing exams leads to higher educational standards

3 – the question of awarding grades by reference to fixed standard criteria or by reference to relative performance each year.

4 – the issue of teachers and classrooms.  The tone of the consultation is one which assumes that tougher and tougher exams will lead to a raising of standards.  Exams may have a role to play, but unless attention is paid to the classroom and to teachers then standards will not rise.

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