30 Sep GCSE Tactics: Stick or Twist
The lack of coordination between OfQual and DFE in relation to exams reform is so frustrating. Two major mid-stream announcements have put lots of schools in a difficult position, essentially having to decide between their students’ individual exam successes or the school’s overall performance. We’re reducing exam preparation to a matter of tactics rather than teaching, learning and assessment.
My daughter is one of many thousands of students who will now be caught up in the maelstrom.
Her school has opted to enter all Y11s for English Language in November because they did their Speaking and Listening assessments in Y10 and it’s the last chance for them to count. However, the premise was that it was a no-risk decision because students who did not deliver their target grades could resit in June. Now that has changed.
Well, actually, it hasn’t changed for the students. If they need another go in June, they can take it again. But, for the school’s performance measures, it’s now a question of making a tactical decision: stick to November, to use the S&L or go for June and teach them all for longer.
It’s a right old mess. In truth, I wish they hadn’t ever switched to the November sitting…it’s always struck me as foolish to make tactical decisions of this kind in a hurry. But now, as a parent, I want the school to stick with November…but not because I feel the speaking and listening will make much difference. In my daughter’s case I think her Controlled Assessment and exam performance are more or less aligned..with or without S&L, she’ll get the same grade. I want them to stick with November because she’s already working towards it and the message given by changing, given that she could well resit, would be the wrong one. It wouldn’t be fair. Schools should just take the hit, and let the students get on with it.
We’ll see what happens. So far they have a ‘mock exam’ arranged for tomorrow. Sounds like a filtering process to decide on the November entries. Another rational tactical move, but rather unsettling.
But why are we here? It isn’t necessarily a popular view in the blogosphere but I think there are sound reasons for both of the decisions in principle.
With speaking and listening, I don’t doubt that OfQual’s evidence base is such that the profile of marks across the country has compromised the integrity of that component of the exam. There are some wild inconsistencies…and if the grades would lose credibility then action needs to be taken to restore it. Basically the moderation processes aren’t robust enough and it’s become too easy to prep students to get inflated good scores.
People are concerned about the potential damage to the value given to S&L in the curriculum..and I understand that. However, I think it is akin to practical work in science. Practical work is supremely important but I still don’t think it should be part of the exam…actually, practical work is better when it isn’t examined. It is just part of the learning. The ISAs are like S&L…it’s quite easy to get students a solid baseline score..but the mark range is very narrow, making grading very precarious.
With multiple entry, again, I think it is a good call to introduce a major disincentive as the DFE has just done. The argument about allowing students the opportunity to achieve success is fair but unfortunately, again, the pattern of school behaviour has distorted the whole system. It’s a simple truth that standards are determined by the performance of a whole cohort on a particular test. If certain students have multiple attempts and the others don’t, the whole structure of the assessment is distorted. It’s like giving half the long-jump field more jumps than the others. All students would benefit from taking a test twice or three times and using their best score. But when standards are set using this information, and some students only have one attempt, they are at a significant disadvantage. It has to be the same for all, within any exam series. It’s naive to think that multiple entry is OK for some students but won’t affect anyone else; there are winners and losers.
HOWEVER… Both of these changes have been introduced in a fashion that is inappropriate. DFE and OfQual should have got together (with OfSTED in the room too!) to look at the concerns that have emerged in recent times, to plan a proper set of reforms. They should have consulted widely, flagging changes to be implemented ahead of the next exam series. That would have built trust and confidence whilst also allowing schools to give coherent information to students with appropriate curriculum plans in place.
As it is, we’ve got guessing, tactical maneuvering, and a fair bit of gambling. The stakes are too high for that.
UPDATE: A final comment: I must admit I have been surprised by reactions this week that indicate how ubiquitous early entry is as a strategy, done in order to give students two attempts at the exam. I don’t doubt that this is done with students’ best interests at heart and with an eye on making RAISE look as positive as possible (which the whole school benefits from) BUT… now students are paying the price. Grades are derived at least in part from patterns of attainment across the cohort. If large numbers of students, but not all, take an exam twice within one series, the exam outcomes will be distorted. Students will fall from C to D somewhere, just as often as students push up from D to C. It was never going to be a sustainable strategy.
We need a system where all students take the exams in a similar pattern within each series, with opportunities to continue to improve in the next series. Meanwhile, all efforts should go into classroom practice instead of exam entry tactics; that’s the only legitimate route to genuine improvement in standards. Shoot me down from my lofty perch for saying it, but I think that’s true.