Advice needed re Year 9 ds being put in too early for GCSE science

(115 Posts)
frankinsensible Thu 06-Dec-12 16:48:41

Sorry this is quite long...ds school has a policy of putting kids in for some GCSE's in yr 9. In yr 8 he chose 2 options from a limited selection - a language and a practical subject - and has studied them intensively for GCSE next summer. That seems to be going OK-ish although I personally think he is too immature for the language exam. Whenever we query with a subject teacher that it is too early for this step they just blithely say 'he can always take it again'.

The problem is the school now tells us that he is being put in for English Literature and Science GCSE's as well and has module exams in January. At the parents evening the science teacher told us that if ds fails the exam he will not be able to re-take it! When we looked shocked he said it would be fine because ds won't fail.

After a couple of days I began to be really worried about it. Ds is an intelligent boy but he's only 13 and I don't feel he's anywhere near the maturity of written expression and presentation required to get a good grade in these exams. He also suffers from Absence Seizures which are worse under stress. I brought all this up with his tutor who said he had spoken with the science teacher and the exam can be re-taken if he fails (so why tell us that it couldn't?) and that they are certain he will do well.

My biggest worry is I know ds is the type to react badly to a bad result - he will say that he's no good at the subject so it won't be any help to him to have to re-take. Today he had an oral exam in the language and came home pretty crushed saying it had gone badly sad

Can I insist that the school do not put him in for the science GCSE? What is my best course of action? I don't want to get into a big stand-off with them but I am genuinely worried - this is ds's future they're gambling with.

webwiz Fri 07-Dec-12 17:38:24

I think I would want to know how its all going to pan out over years 9, 10 and 11. If he's taking English Literature at the end of year 9 (it sounds like he is from the work already covered) then what next - English language in year 10 and then that's it for English?

Once I knew exactly what exams were being taken when then I'd make sure my DC had the relevant revision guides so that they could prepare properly. If it was a subject that was key to what they wanted to do at A level I might even consider tutoring to give them the best chance possible of getting a good grade.

DS is in year 11 and has just turned 16, he's taking English literature this year and will hopefully do really well. He wants to take it at A level as well but I don't think he would if he'd rushed through it all at 13.

This is entirely for the benefit of the school and not your child.

Only exceptionally advanced DCs will get top grades in year 9. GCSEs are designed for 16 year olds and there is a world of difference in maturity between 14 and 16.

twoterrors Fri 07-Dec-12 17:55:56

I see the problem but I think you have nothing to lose by going to the school with the evidence (and include the ofsted report because that is very firm on how ofsted will view schools compromising children's chances, if memory serves, and anything else you can find)

After all, it is not rocket science - the schools could have guessed before quite so much data was out, as many parents did, that 13 year olds will do better if they wait till 16 to take an exam designed for that age. If the league tables were focussed on kids getting 8 A/A* (I am not suggesting they should be), then it would not be in the school's interest to do this - it is a statistical quirk. They must have known all along I think.

I don't think it will make them change their policy overnight, but it might make them feel they need to explain to you and provide as much extra support as possible, perhaps? And give you a good long chance to hear the head and deputy explain why they do this.

Personally, I am afraid I agree about doing English Literature in year 9. There is a huge leap in maturity and just, well, in being able to cope with Stuff.

Also, the modular system and rules about retakes are changing - are you sure he will be able to retake?

Poor kids. What a slog they are making it.

ravenAK Fri 07-Dec-12 17:58:38

chloe74 'This is the way that schools fiddle the system to make it look like they are getting more A*-C grades and the child's education is collateral damage. If he gets a 'C' grade I imagine they will then make him drop the subject and spend the extra time getting him a 'C' in another subject. If he gets a D they will keep him resitting the exam until he gets the C.

He should be allowed to study the subject until Y11 and get the best grade possible. I would come down on the school forcefully and stop them doing this nonsense. Do not listen to the teachers platitudes, they are only interested in making themselves look good and have little interest in whats best for an individual child. If you have to I would consider legal advice.'

I partially agree with you, chloe74 - it is indeed about getting as many >C grades as possible, as this is a key league table measure. & yes, it does result in multiple re-takes & modules at the expense of breadth of knowledge.

Where you are mistaken is in thinking that teachers chose or like this system. It's what's known as a perverse incentive.

So you wouldn't catch me issuing 'platitudes' about what a great idea it is, as an English teacher, but you might expect to hear some from the Head or the Chair of Governors.

As for 'stopping' the school, or 'legal advice' - I honestly don't think the OP can compel her ds's school to change their curriculum, which is in line with the exam board's own rules...but I'd certainly be expressing concern if it were my dc.

Not least because the guidelines on re-sits etc are currently in such a state of confusion that, frankly, it isn't unknown for departments to drop a bollock & suddenly discover that they've breached a new rule which renders a re-sit impossible/an early result inadmissable...

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 18:11:56

I've no idea what's happening about English long-term - there will still be English Language even if he passes Literature so perhaps they plan for him to take that in yr 11 as it's a core subject?

I heard about the system on retakes changing and in my original post I mentioned that the science teacher said told us face to face that ds would not be able to retake the January module if he failed it. When I took my concerns to the tutor he said the same teacher had now told him that ds could retake so 'don't worry' which certainly didn't stop me worrying. His tutor was my big hope, he has always seemed so down to earth and sensible but he still came out with the same stuff - kids become more mature, get more exams, are more motivated - that the Head preaches. Knowing ds as I do I really can't see him sitting down and writing a long essay analysing Romeo and Juliet or a piece of poetry. He still relies on me a lot for help with homework and is very undisciplined with self-study.

I have planned to get the study guides and I think they are probably going to use them at school anyway as it's all about the exam. I don't think I like the idea of tutoring tho' - he's already doing so much work at school as well as the after-school science revision, I think tutoring on top might just push him over the edge and I know dp will be opposed to it.

lljkk Fri 07-Dec-12 18:17:43

I don't see how you lot can change the whole school timetable.

Do you want the school to set an individual timetable, just for your DC, so that they can study all subjects right to the end of yr11? (Mind boggles).

I am trying to figure out how anyone could stomp up to a school and demand that their child be taught differently to all the others.

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 18:22:59

You are being deliberately provocative lljkk, I am not asking to change 'the whole timetable'. I am concerned that my ds is being used by the school in a way which is not of benefit to him and that he has been selected where others have not. If I go to the school I will expect to have a rational discussion with them where I hope they will understand my worries are all about ds's future - I certainly won't be 'stomping' in to throw my weight about on some whim.

webwiz Fri 07-Dec-12 18:25:47

lljkk I don't think that is what the OP wants - she just wants her DS to be given a fair chance to get decent grades in his GCSEs. So if the school insists on such a mad system of exam entry then they need to put the resources into supporting the DCs through it and helping to compensate for their lack of maturity.

All the schools where I live take nearly all GCSEs at the end of year 11 when DCs are 16 and get very good results because that is the way the system is designed.

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 18:42:05

So have I got this right: the school looks better in the league tables because they can say they have more A*-C grades even though the majority will probably be C grades?

I am really not well-informed on all this stuff. As far as I can see the schools in our are that are top of the table all take exams in yr 11.

twoterrors Fri 07-Dec-12 18:49:54

Yes: although the league tables are now including more detail, the measures people seem to look at are the % of 5A*-C inc English and Maths, % of 5A*-C, and the number of points. The last two are boosted by kids getting lots of Cs.

Oh and don't be fooled by the number of A*s.
They count D* BTECs as GCSEs and they are nothing like the same.

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 18:59:52

So do Universities take a lot of notice of GCSE grades? Aren't they more focussed on A'levels?

ravenAK Fri 07-Dec-12 19:00:27

Yes, frankinsensible.

I had a group last year of 'able but idles' - lowest English set in higher stream. Mostly very much capable of grade B.

All entered early for Foundation tier English Language, the idea being they'd bag a 'safe C' & go on to do Higher in the summer.

First part of plan worked flawlessly.

& then, pretty much to a man (overwhelmingly boys in this group), they cheerfully & unabashedly informed me that having got the C they needed to get into college, they had no intention of doing a stroke of work for the Higher paper.

Some were willing to have a punt on the day, some asked not to be entered for it & some announced their intention of not turning up/spoiling their papers if school insisted.

& you know, this was a perfectly logical response on their part - why graft to take another exam, taking time away from your socialising revision for other subjects, when you've already got the grade you need for the next stage of your education?

Didn't matter much to school, either - our 5 A*-C was great.

But those kids certainly didn't get the grades they were capable of.

Like I said, perverse incentives.

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 19:06:21

ravenAK - is that the way English is structured for GCSE - a lower and a higher exam? What age were your group? It is very interesting to have input from teachers here!

ravenAK Fri 07-Dec-12 19:33:48

Year 11s.

They had (it's being knocked on the head now) an opportunity to sit the exam in January & again in June of year 11 - some schools also sit one of the exams, often one of the Eng Lit papers, in June of year 10.

In theory this means you bung everyone in for the appropriate tier (Foundation - targets grades C downwards, or Higher for C upwards) in January, see who fails, & then put them in for a re-take in June.

In practice, if you're gaming the system & focusing on the 5 A*-C measure, just about everyone (all but the obvious A/A* candidates) gets put in for Foundation because it's generally seen as an easier way to get a C.

You then put all your Ds & Es in for another crack at Foundation, & all your 'got a C, but has a higher target' kids in for Higher - although as explained above quite a lot of them think 'sod that!'.

The Gs, Fs, Bs, As & A*s get left in peace.

By the end of this process, every kid who is capable of getting a C should have one (the borderliners who fail in January get booster classes, off timetable etc).

This looks great in the league table, but it certainly doesn't mean everyone gets the grade they should...

lljkk Fri 07-Dec-12 19:47:21

I thought that some posters were adamant that the OP should insist to school that her DS do EngLit exams at end of yr11, so apologies if I misunderstood that.

Frankinsensible were you told back when GCSE options were chosen, what the schedule would be for when your DS would finish which GCSEs? Is it in writing? I would have thought parents would always be so well-informed, but from what MNers write, seems often to be a mystery.

Also, were you told, back when touring & choosing secondaries, what kind of schedule the school followed for GCSEs? I just finished tour of secondaries for DD & am amused that not one school explained that except after I asked specific questions.

But then I like the multi-yr system for GCSEs, anyway.

creamteas Fri 07-Dec-12 19:55:08

Raven we have this at my DC's school and it really works for them. I have two with ASD who are really anxious about exams, being able to sit the foundation paper and bank a C gave them chance to attempt the higher papers in English.

If all entries were at the end of year 11, they would only ever get the chance for a C because the risk of failing the higher paper is too great.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 07-Dec-12 19:59:25

If you look at the schools at the top of league tables - judged by A/A* and EBacc not just A*-C - I bet you'll find very few of them playing these stupid games with their pupils' education. They just get on and teach the subjects properly for the full time.

My DD is 13, she's very good at science - no way would she be ready to do a GCSE at the end of this year. No way would she have the maturity to do English literature. She's currently predicted to get A*s in these subjects, taken at the right time.

OP, if they aren't making everyone do this then you certainly should insist your DS doesn't - the epilepsy is a good reason they ought to find hard to challenge (not that you should need an excuse to avoid their shennanigins).

ravenAK Fri 07-Dec-12 20:04:43

Oh yes, I'm not saying it's a disaster, & going to all terminal exams will absolutely clobber dc like yours.

But early entry definitely means able but less motivated kids 'settle' for a banked C.

Personally, I reckon my bunch of feckless loveable rogues last year self-limited & fair enough - why should they end up with the same grade as someone of equal ability who is prepared to work their socks off for a re-sit in hopes of a B?

They would, however, have achieved higher grades with an 'all or nothing, your target's B, you're doing Higher' approach.

Just goes to show that one system is never ever going to suit everybody...

ravenAK Fri 07-Dec-12 20:08:51

Grimma, we do very very nicely on A/A* & Ebacc too.

Trust me, there's a lot of clever people putting a lot of hours in as to how to play these stupid games to best effect.

I completely agree with you that it serves schools first & children second.

(& teachers last, definitely - I don't know very many who wouldn't far rather just 'get on and teach the subjects properly for the full time')

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 20:13:22

At the options evening in yr 8 we were given a list of 4 to choose 2 from and told that ds would take the GCSE in his two chosen subjects, as long as he seemed able. He would also of course continue with core subjects, maths english and science.
We then went on a fairly confusing conveyor belt of quick meetings with subject teachers. We were told he had been identified for the 'triple science route' but there was no in-depth explanation of what that meant and I am ashamed now to think how passive we were, just sitting and nodding as they all told us what a model pupil ds was, as if it was still primary school. Apparently the 'triple science' involves taking the combined science GCSE in yr 9 and then concentrating on the separate 3 science subjects in the following years.

I felt pretty relaxed about the idea of him taking the exams in his option subjects, both the subject teachers seemed to feel he would have no trouble but I can see I wasn't thinking clearly, just going with the flow and now I feel i've let him down. It was not explained to us that he could end up taking 4 GCSE's and there has been nothing in writing. I also don't see how he can have the depth of knowledge in the language to get a good GCSE grade and presumably there won't be any space in the curriculum next year for him to continue with it if he doesn't take the exam.

Grimma you are quite right, I can just sense that I'm going to have to get in a battle with them about it and it feels pretty daunting - I have no real understanding of the jargon teachers use and no knowledge of the plan for yrs 10 and 11.

chloe74 Fri 07-Dec-12 20:30:04

ravenAK - I completely agree with you about the perverse incentive and that teachers don't do it by choice. As a parent however we have to fight the teacher to overcome that incentive to get the best for our children. Almost a lose lose situation sad

Its my understanding that a parent can refuse to permit a child to sit the exam at Y9 or Y10 the school has a legal obligation to continue teaching English etc. then at Y11 you can sit the exam at a different center if needed.

I would also raise this issue with the board, making it very clear that you will be meeting with the Ofsted inspectors at the next visit and expressing your horror. I wonder could this matter be raised with the education department, a visit to your MP would also me worth while.

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 20:45:37

At the last Ofsted inspection in March this year they were apparently full of praise for this system!

webwiz Fri 07-Dec-12 21:09:45

What grade did the school get frankinsensible? DSs school was inspected by OFSTED in October and they were graded outstanding. The school makes it very clear that they do not like early entry for GCSEs and OFSTED were very happy with that.

chloe74 Fri 07-Dec-12 21:26:47

If Ofsted liked that system I can only imagine it was because no parents told them how much they hated it. If they did I am sure it would make for a different report...

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