Exam Factories

(65 Posts)
ObjectionOverruled Fri 28-Mar-14 06:50:00

My DC is at a grammar school after all the stress of the 11+. Now, I can totally see how kids can leave that place with an impressive string of glittery A*s but not have been properly educated, purely because of the extent of spoon-feeding that is going on in there. And speaking to some friends (i.e. employers) who are receiving similar young people at the other end, they will tell you that they have been seriously let down. How are they going to compete internationally? There is so much pressure to produce "results" for league tables. I don't know if it is any better at the indie schools.
Then, of course there's the kids who can't take X subject at A'level because they only got a B at GCSE, which then limits their access to particular university courses by age 16! I am having serious concerns about what is happening to our education system. sad

Slipshodsibyl Fri 28-Mar-14 07:24:21

What do you mean by spoon feeding exactly?

cory Fri 28-Mar-14 07:50:19

When you say "our education system", OP, the grammar school system only applies to a small part of the country. And even there, it would still be possible to attend the local comprehensive and work hard and achieve well in a less pressurised system.

We are in a part of the country that does not do grammar schools. The same schools take in both the highly academic pupils who will be aiming for top universities and the ones who will be aiming for vocational careers- and the ones in between who haven't decided yet.
This imo makes for a more open atmosphere. My dd believed from the start that she would go down the academic route but has now realised that her real interest lies in the performing arts. Ds otoh thought he would be doing something vocational, but is now beginning to think of university.

Most schools do not have a sixth form so virtually everybody goes to sixth form college. Some of these are more vocational, some more academic, but there is enough overlap to allow students at a more academic college to also do BTEC's.

Colleges around here tend to allow you to do a subject if you got a B, but they do warn you that in some subjects there is a very steep climb from GCSE to A-level and someone who only got a B may well find that e.g. A-level maths is beyond them. Dd has friends who got A at GCSE who have been unable to keep up.

Nocomet Fri 28-Mar-14 08:06:56

The spoon feeding, scaffolding and handholding are just as bad at DDs Comp. and for all levels of students.

I can't see how it helps at collage or sixth form if the grades on your application were only obtained by the teachers running piles of revision classes, chasing you to drama rehearsals, chasing your HW and damn nearly doing your art for you.

But that's what it takes for them to make their pupil progress targets.

cory Fri 28-Mar-14 08:31:53

OP, are you not slightly contradicting yourself, though?

Otoh you complain about students being spoonfed through their exams, otoh you complain about them not being able to do their chosen A-level if they don't manage A's (despite spoon-feeding).

But surely Nocomet is right: if you only manage your grades through spoon-feeding, then that you are going to struggle in college.

And if you only manage a B despite spoon-feeding, might not that be a sign that you are likely to struggle with an A-level in the same subject?

MagratGarlik Fri 28-Mar-14 10:31:27

There is surely something wrong with a system where a B at GCSE is considered insufficient preparation for A'level. This does not mean that A'levels should be made easier, but that surely GCSE's should be designed to provide better preparation for A'level?

Slipshodsibyl Fri 28-Mar-14 11:53:14

Qualifications at 16 are (were) reasonably basic school leaving qualifications intended to demonstrate skills levels appropriate to students of that age, and that a school leaver had reached a certain level of education.

Qualifications designed to screen for and prepare for A Level study are ideally likely to look a bit different.

The need to chase children as they do is a tough one. Teachers will be hauled up to explain if their subjects's results aren't up to par. What would you prefer them to do? Punishing children by failing them at this time for lack of motivation isn't usually the most effective way of helping them go in to the next stage of their lives in a way that allows them to take a rewarding part in society.

Scaffolding is a demonstration of a suitable way to structure an essay isn't it? How would you teach a child to do this? Especially if they have trouble structuring a logical argument? The stronger students will not be bound by the framework.

Nocomet Fri 28-Mar-14 13:14:39

Yes, by scaffolding I mean the way teachers help DCs step by step through essays and extended written answers especially those for controlled assessments.

However, the hand holding problem extends to the exams themselves. We did three hour exams with 1/2 page and full blown several page essay questions. DD seems never to have to write more than a few lines.

The exam questions themselves lead you through, 1,2,3 and 6 mark steps and give an awful lot of guidance as to the answer required.

If you don't understand something there are enough clues to make a damned good guess and if you do there's no room to show your extended knowledge.

Jumping from this format to my almost totally essay based biology A level and complex Chemistry and physics papers would have been very difficult.

chicaguapa Fri 28-Mar-14 13:43:21

DD(12) is at an exam factory. It's resolutely a comp not a grammar school.

Their exam results are amazing but the school bends over backwards to make sure the DC pass their exams. If it's not on the GCSE syllabus it's not taught in KS3 (other than with a cursory nod).

If a child needs one-to-one after school to help them get their target grade, they get it. Whilst you could argue that every child should be entitled to this level of indiviual attention, the DC is not asked to accept any level of personal responsibility at all. The teachers even have to find and take some DC to the exam hall and provide pens, calculators etc if they haven't brought them. The number of rearranged controlled assessments where the DC didn't turn up is staggering and the school would not even consider making the DC miss it and it affect their results.

DC are largely ignored until they reach KS4. As such they have a big problem with the current Y11 who look likely to not acheive their predicted results based on their KS2 SATS (which were the highest in recent history) and this will trigger an automatic OFSTED. This problem is attitude-based, not ability, and this could have (should have?) been picked up and dealt with earlier IMO.

In the school's favour, their focus is on exam results because the HT genuinely believes this sets up the DC well. It's not entirely alturistic because obviously the school benefits from the excellent results too, but it's not knowingly done at the DC's expense IYSWIM? But the flip side is that it's known at the local colleges that DC from that school require much more support at A level than any other school in the area.

When I asked DH why he supported DD going there when he knew all that, he said that it is all about the exam results at the end of the day. It's depressing really.

ObjectionOverruled Fri 28-Mar-14 16:43:39

Cory, maybe I am contradicting myself. I don't know what to think, to be honest. Maybe everything is fine where you are.

What I do know is that many, many people got B's and worse at 16 and still went onto achieve academically. Even if I said it all wrong, my point is that (and I appreciate I can only speak for myself) but it feels like so-called "results" and league tables and teachers' appraisals are coming first, at the expense of a real education for my DC's and preparation for their working lives.

Nocomet Fri 28-Mar-14 19:00:46

I'm all for all DCs achieving their potential, but I really pity collages taking DCs on to practical office skills and business course like several of my DFs did only to find they don't finish a single touch typing exercise or assignment unless you chase them and they are totally incapable of googling or reading a manual because they have been given everything on a plate to get them that precious 5Cs

ObjectionOverruled Fri 28-Mar-14 19:16:20

googling? how would they cope on a reference library then? or is that an obsolete skill these days?

JaneinReading Fri 28-Mar-14 19:26:02

I pay fees to avoid that. I want them to learn lots that is nothing to do with the syllabus or exams in all kinds of general senses and do a lot of sport and music.

Surely no one should do an A level if they cannot even manage a B in GCSE? It's a very wise requirement given plenty of children at academic state and private schools get mostly As and A*s and A levels are a lot harder than GCSEs.

ObjectionOverruled Fri 28-Mar-14 20:28:27

I know one dc at a top fee paying school who is doing just that, with extra support of course. He might not get that A* at a'level but a B in a "facilitating" subject has to be better for his future options than A* in meeja studies. That will not look as impressive for the school league-tablewise but the parents know what they are paying for. Fantastic for the later developers.

lottysmum Fri 28-Mar-14 21:08:47

I just think its a shame that our children are pushed so much ....I have a bright child she may not achieve her full potential at the state school she attends ..shes blooming in some subjects where the teacher has motivated her and clearly is a motivated teacher who loves the subject that she teaches and seeing her pupils become enthusiastic too ...I have began to see a direct link between how well a teacher can convey there love and enthusiasm/teaching of a subject to my child's progress in any subject ...last year she had a brilliant music teacher ...she loved music...this year the teacher of music is lack luster...daughter is turning off from music ...so pushing a child to me wont work ...but motivating a child does work ......

LaQueenOfTheSpring Sat 29-Mar-14 13:10:39

Have several friends who teach in secondary schools. There is a big jump from GCSE to A Level, still.

If a pupil can't even manage a grade B at GCSE (which I am reliably informed equates to a grade D at old school O Levels) then they're really going to struggle to get a decent A Level grade.

At best they're going to end up with a handful of Ds and Es at A level, and really what's the point?

housemad Sat 29-Mar-14 13:41:17

I always think grade A* should not even be created at the first place. Since there the beginning of A* the new A = the old B, the new B = the old C. So now in total how many acceptable grades do we have? From A* to C or from A* to B? Is the C still a wroth anything in reality?

JaneinReading Sat 29-Mar-14 13:41:40

When we had O levels and CSEs the jump from O level to A level was not such a shock. My younger children are doing iGCSEs. Whether that makes them closer to a O level I don't know.

Lotty is right that good teachers can turn a child on or off a subject. That has always been so. That is how it will always be for many children.

BoneyBackJefferson Sat 29-Mar-14 13:54:17

until you come away from
Ofsted
league tables
PRP
and PM targets where one has to be how well your exam cohort did.

This will always be the way

housemad Sat 29-Mar-14 16:46:24

Moreover why do we need so many different gcse exam boards? Do professional and vocational exams need different exam boards from all over the places!

LaQueenOfTheSpring Sat 29-Mar-14 16:54:15

Agree housemad no need to have A* ...just give a grade B to more people.

At this rate we're going to end up with everyone gaining some variant of a grade A.

Grade AAA* with Gold Star & Platinum Cluster
Grade AAA with Gold Star & Gold Cluster
Grade AA with Silver Star & Silver Cluster
Grade AA with Silver Star & Bronze Star

Honestly it's just a joke.

Nocomet Sat 29-Mar-14 17:10:43

Housemad is right, but not only because A* down graded an A (and all other grades), but because an A* needs a very high mark.

In a lot of our essay based exams anything over 80% was exceptional. To be absolutely certain of fairly distinguishing A*/A you need a very very prescribed mark scheme.

DDs DF spent all last year learning exact answers to physics questions (because she's too good a physisit an kept wanting to give A level answers). Her teacher had to explain that her paper could be marked by any old science teacher under orders to stick to the mark sheet, not a physics graduate with any imagination.

ObjectionOverruled Sat 29-Mar-14 18:16:53

...and just like fate I overheard with my own ears on a train just now: "Our German teacher lets us cheat on the controlled assessments... All of us who failed had to redo it. She just wrote out all the answers on the board and made us memorise them...."

You couldn't make it up. No doubt there will be a few A*s amongst them. Don't believe the hype.

creamteas Sun 30-Mar-14 08:45:09

One of the things we struggle with at university level is that students, no matter what type of school they have been to, really don't understand that learning is about them thinking rather than being told stuff.

They have been over assessed, and assessment in most subjects does not allow any creativity in thinking. Even what should be discursive subjects have become formulaic.

The need for formulaic marking schemes has arisen, I think, for two reasons.

First, the massive expansion of exam entries. As qualification rather than education has become central to society, the numbers have increased. So we have many more subjects both academic and vocational needed to be assessed. For example, I have been volunteering with a charity for many years. But in order to 'validate' my skills, all volunteers are encouraged now to go through an assessment process to get a qualification. The rising population also contributes to this issue. With so many assessments needing to be graded, the process has been streamlined. Tight marking schemes help this.

Second, the obsession with exact grades. Exam Boards need to be able to defend the exact number, despite the fact that in many subjects, marking is always a judgement. If the difference between an A and a B is just as high stakes as that between a pass and a fail, the only way to ensure this happens is to eliminate as much of the markers judgement as possible.

Until society relaxes a bit about both of these, schools and exam boards will have no choice but to continue to teach rather than educate.

And unfortunately, universities are being pushed to go in exactly the same way (for example, the calls to end the current classification system because you can't tell a 'good' 2:1 from a 'poorer' one).

happygardening Sun 30-Mar-14 09:37:38

I'm reading this with interest as I have a particular horror of "exam factories". I just want to comment on the you must get a B at GCSE to do A levels. DS1 is currently doing A levels at a 6th form college. He was not allowed to do then at his "high performing" academy because he didn't get B's in two of the subject he wanted to do he could have gone there and done film studies/media but it's not his interest. But he's dyslexic with severe processing problems although IQ top 5% and was made to choose 12 GCSE's which he struggled every day to cope with and organise the volume of work that 12 GCSE's require. Now he only does 4, 4 subjects he's passionate about, he teachers say he could easily get A's at AS/A level if applied himself, he's thought about it and doesn't want too but he's easily on track for B's. The college was saying that they believe and have found that children like my DS cope better and can do very well at A level even with C's at GCSE.
My DS tells me that the "high performing" academy was nothing but an exam factory by the way where all the teachers were interested in was getting them through the GCSE's, at the 6th form college he feels teachers are genuinely enthusiastic and passionate (like him) about their subjects.

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