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New GSCEs too difficult?

(384 Posts)
Trishtrash Mon 11-Jun-18 09:42:32

"In GCSE English it's all exams – there is no coursework – and pupils are not allowed to bring in any of the texts. They effectively have to memorise three texts and 18 poems. The expectation is killing them.'

The above is a quote from today's Daily Mail - sorry!

Am I being unreasonable to think that that is not an unreasonable thing to require of an A-Level Student? I did my A-Levels over 30 years ago in a bog-standard comprehensive and we couldn't do any coursework ahead of the game and we certainly couldn't take any of the texts into the exam (that would have made it so much easier!!).

I remember having to memorise vast swathes of poetry (Keats, Wordsworth, Somerset Maugham etc...) and chunks of text (Doris Lessing, Return of the Native, A Winter's Tale are ones that I vaguely remember) in the expectation that we would need to quote from the poetry/texts to support a variety of themes/ideas that we might be asked questions on.

I have no idea about the rest of the curriculum as I did Art, English and History. I definitely had to memorise tons for the History element (I did modern History so stuff about Russian Revolution, WW1 & 2 and the EEC). I know that kids are under enormous pressure now and I got an A for my English Literature but there was no A* around then from what I remember (it WAS a long time ago!)

Is the problem that the teachers haven't been adequately prepared or supported to teach for this style of exam? If the kids are going in after two years of expecting another style of exam then I really feel for them but is this the case?

GinandGingerBeer Mon 11-Jun-18 09:47:57

The quote refers to GCSEs not A levels?
A levels you had 3 subjects.
Some y11 students have had to sit 30 exams this year. 30! It's insane.
My DS has been put off A levels now because of the pressure he's under.

Thunderpunt Mon 11-Jun-18 09:50:19

@GinandGingerBeer I agree, DS in Y10 and now hating English where he quite enjoyed it previously. Easier when only one of a few subjects to study, but whentake 11/12 subjects it's too much

lostinsunshine Mon 11-Jun-18 09:51:24

Not allowed texts or calculators when I did my exams 30+ years ago. And we had a lot too. I could take in a logbook, though grin.
Stuff's hard because it is.

MyOtherUsernameisaPun Mon 11-Jun-18 09:53:10

I agree that it's perhaps more reasonable for A level, but they are discussing GCSE and I think it is too much.

I also think it's absurd in principal to make pupils memorise the texts. English literature has nothing to do with how well you can memorise a poem - and nor should it! It should be about how well you understand and are able to discuss the themes, the construction, and the criticism of a piece of literature. There is no benefit to the memory test element at all except that it satisfies puritans like Michael Gove and Damien Hinds who think that education is a class of children lined up in front a chalkboard reciting lines learned by rote.

xyzandabc Mon 11-Jun-18 09:54:21

There's a huge jump between GCSE and A level though.

GCSE English is sat by pretty much everyone regardless of ability, memorising and quoting vast swathes of text is just absolutely beyond some students.

By A level, the won't be doing A level English unless they've already proven to have at least some ability in the subject and an interest in it which always helps.

DingDongDenny Mon 11-Jun-18 09:56:10

At O'level English, which was the equivalent back in the day we still had 3 books and poetry, including one Shakespeare. We did 9 O'levels so slightly less, but it doesn't sound that different.

SnuggyBuggy Mon 11-Jun-18 09:57:33

I don't see how memorizing literary texts is a useful life skill to be honest.

Trishtrash Mon 11-Jun-18 10:00:51

The same applied to my 'O'-Levels (as it was back then!) We weren't allowed to take in any texts and I remember memorising lots of quotations and there was no course-work. Is it the number of papers they take for each subject that's been ramped up? I did 10 subjects (although English counted as two because you did English Lit and English Lan) but to be honest I can't remember how many papers we did. Am I right in thinking they were 2-3 hour papers?

Reading between the lines, it seems as if there is just greater pressure. The one difference I can see is that I remember just being chuffed to pass my O-Levels. There was never the pressure in my school to attain grade As (they were just pleased if you didn't get pregnant and turned out the odd wannabe-priest!) and it would appear that the grade you get in your GCSEs now affects whether you can even study a subject to A-Level. I guess it's also that many more students go onto Uni these days so the standards for the top Unis have been driven up to cream off the best students.

DingDongDenny Mon 11-Jun-18 10:01:31

Surely they don't memorise the whole text, just relevant sections to quote and illustrate their point.

These are important skilla - analysis, summarising, identifying key points, providing evidence. I use all of these in my job

Judashascomeintosomemoney Mon 11-Jun-18 10:02:26

You’re comparing apples and oranges. GCSEs (as Gin states sometimes involving up to 30 separate papers) are not equivalent to A Levels in three or four subjects. And when I sat my English literature O Level (the last year group to do so) I most certainly did not require intimate knowledge of 28 poems. The vast majority of current teaching staff will only have been familiar with teaching the course work based exam curriculums up until now and the new GCSEs have been phased in over the last two summers with the 2019 cohort being the first to sit all subjects as the new style exam. It is a completely different type of learning, retaining information and revising ( and I imagine, teaching) to anything done in the last thirty years, so no, IMO there has not been enough time to prepare. Many schools have been caught on the hop and are running out of time to teach eg the history syllabus in years 10/11 in time for the exam. They might not have time to cover revision lessons without adding new lunchtime and after school classes. My DDs school feel they are better prepared for 2019/2020 GCSEs only because they took the decision to have those cohorts start the GCSE courses and in year 9.

Hillarious Mon 11-Jun-18 10:03:38

Why the need to take 11-12 subjects? At GCSE in a lot of subjects it's more about learning things off by heart, rather than having any real understanding of the subject.

At O level, we had a standard 8 subjects, or 9 if you did Additional Maths. We didn't have A*s and anything lower than an A wasn't classed as failure. The fact that it is possible to get 100/100 by learning things off by heart puts too much pressure on the students, and doesn't really prepare them for A levels, or what's to come at university.

FellOutOfBed2wice Mon 11-Jun-18 10:04:49

I’m an English teacher in a secondary school with over a decades experience. I’ve got an MA and BA in the subject, a PGCE, an A Level in Literature at grade A and two A*s at GCSE. I am REALLY GOOD at English and always have been but I’m not convinced that I could have aced the exams that the kids now have to do at 16 (not sure I could now!!)

As PP said kids sitting these exams are in the midst of 30+ exams over 10+ subject and we are making them memorise Charge of the Light Brigade which demonstrates exactly zero critical thinking about anything.

Thanks Gove, you bellend.

WhatATimeToBeAlive Mon 11-Jun-18 10:06:54

YANBU, you are right, it was the same for O Levels. We studied Henry IV Part 1 or 2 (can't remember!) as part of the syllabus - difficult to study and difficult to remember, and no books in the exams.

Judashascomeintosomemoney Mon 11-Jun-18 10:08:04

Surely they don't memorise the whole text, just relevant sections to quote and illustrate their point
Well until they know what the questions are they’re going to have to know the text we’ll. Not all 18 poems (eg) word for word, but definitely well enough to answer whatever selection of questions has been given and to be able to include quotes.

MoonriseKingdom Mon 11-Jun-18 10:09:52

Pre GCSE not everyone did O-Levels. Many did CSE. I think the problem with the new tests is the whole ability spectrum are being asked to sit the same questions with no texts. For some at the lower ability end this will be an impossible feat. How disheartening for them.

I’m late 30s and we did have books and anthologies in the exam for GCSE English.

Trishtrash Mon 11-Jun-18 10:10:48

Memorising quotes in English was absolutely key. It wasn't a case of regurgitating them willy nilly, you had to quote them when appropriate and really understand what they meant. My capacity to memorise so many quotations astounds me now. I can barely remember my telephone number! I liken it to being able to memorise song lyrics which children today still seem able to do!

I get what people are saying about the expectations placed on GCSE students and how they are expecting more of students who may not have a natural interest or talent in certain subjects. Perhaps it IS because passing is not good enough any more? I understand that many students would be gutted and feel utter failures if they don't achieve a 9 in these type of exams. That's awful.

LARLARLAND Mon 11-Jun-18 10:10:58

My DS is only sitting 9 GCSEs because that’s all he needs and it reflects the additional volume of work that is required in many of the subjects. If children are sitting 30 plus exams that is because they are taking too many GCSEs, which is the fault of their teachers.

time4chocolate Mon 11-Jun-18 10:11:33

It’s a bloomin disaster for my year 10 DD who has auditory processing disorder and poor short term memory. She is finding the whole thing massively stressful.

Another thank you from me to Gove, you complete arse 😡

Judashascomeintosomemoney Mon 11-Jun-18 10:13:34

I have two teenagers currently studying for GCSEs in years 9 and 10. I can tell you they are nothing like O’Levels or else I would not have got 8 of them in 1987. I also wouldn’t have been able to sit and pass my maths O’Level a year early in 1986 unless I’d been some kind of maths genius ( I can assure you I’m not).

LARLARLAND Mon 11-Jun-18 10:13:43

FWIW my DS has a specific learning difficulty which affects his working memory. Subjects like maths and chemistry are awful for him. He has been incredible though in his approach to his GCSEs. He could easily have given up on some subjects but his response has been to work twice as hard. I am incredibly proud of him.

Childrenofthesun Mon 11-Jun-18 10:16:33

It is testing memory rather than the ability to answer a question thoughtfully and analytically. I can't see how having to learn sections off by heart is a more useful test of analysing and responding to a text than having the text in front of you, knowing more or less the relevant parts but being able to flip through to find the exact words, and perhaps at the same time noticing something else in the text that may back up your answer.

Learning swathes by heart is an anachronism in today's world when you can find any quotation you like just by googling. You still need to know of the quotation in the first place and know why you want to use it.

I am a primary school teacher and feel the same about the banishment of calculators from the maths curriculum. What is the point when today's young people are likely to have a calculator to hand on their phones at all times? Far more point actually teaching them when and how to use it effectively.

However, the raison d'etre of Gove's curriculum was to take us back to the 50s. Am hoping things will have changed by the time my DC reach exam age.

CuriousaboutSamphire Mon 11-Jun-18 10:16:35

Thanks Gove, you bellend. Yup!

I taught A levels and often despaired at the lack of independent and critical thinking students with great GCSEs came to us with. When The Goviot started messing around with GCSEs I had a squillisecond's hope that the changes might be of benefit to all students.

Then I remembered where I was...!

The changes that were made were diametrically opposed to any that ANY teacher would have requested.

No, it isn't too onerous to have a good knowledge of a handful of texts; yes, if you have read and understood said texts you should be able to evaluate, compare and contrast. But memorising? Do they really have to do that?

And given what the teachers are allowed/expected to actually teach in the classroom, I doubt any of it will be a joy! Sad really, as I remember my pre-1998 English being good fun, demanding an in depth understanding but no memorising of Macbeth, Lear and a whole host of other texts.

pigmcpigface Mon 11-Jun-18 10:21:54

I teach undergraduates as a good RG uni.

I can promise you that the ability to memorise huge amount of text is not something we expect or particularly rate in students. The ability to think independently and critically, and to read carefully, are far more important and valuable. Most of us think these kinds of reforms are completely bonkers too.

The level of pressure is ridiculous. The worst thing about the kids we are being sent now is that they are actually terrified of thinking for themselves, or of taking any risks. Creativity and originality are pretty difficult to achieve without either of those things.

CuriousaboutSamphire Mon 11-Jun-18 10:23:37

which is the fault of their teachers. Or, more accurately, is the fault of the funding mechanism and Goviot induced expectations.

I can't remember how many times I had to bite my tongue when, at Open Days, we told expectant parents that we looked for 7 or 8 good GCSE results for 3 or 4 A levels. That the additional GCSEs were of no use for the A level pathway!

Schools don't necessarily know they are 'lying' as VI forms don't work the same way as FE colleges and teachers have little chance to know what the current requirements are as Careers has long gone!

Direct your ire at a succession of Ed Secs who also didn't understand the system and supposed Education Experts who re-wrote history to build a system that did NOT start at Primary and work up... but started at GCSE, mid way through secondary for at least one cohort!

Current students will still be getting a raw deal as teachers, who were often given just a week or so to assimilate the new spec when it first came in, are still finishing the last of the old spec and already dealing with revisions to the new! It isn't their fault, but they will be taking the blame!

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