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Genuinely worried about Y7 DS and Gove's new 'O' levels...

(81 Posts)
Erebus Tue 11-Jun-13 09:04:26


DS stands a good chance of getting the golden 5 GCSEs inc Eng and Maths, providing I apply constant, low-grade pressure to him, as will his school, to help him achieve this. He always puts in top effort but simply isn't particularly academically gifted.

I can confidently say he will fail 'tougher exams'. He will be unable to access a 6th form (given that they aren't just about A levels alone, any more), or an apprenticeship.

Unfortunately, having dodged the bullet of Gove's 'new style' GCSEs as proposed a few months ago with his year as the guinea pigs, here we go again. If this gets toppled, Gove has, on his 'new education overhaul plan, issued every 6 months' average, 4 more chances to fuck up my child's educational future.

As DS will be in this guinea pig year, and we can be absolutely sure Gove will insist that the results demonstrate 'new rigour' i.e. fewer passes, there are unlikely to be any 'alternatives' in place to help DS and similar DC on their way- I mean, like the current slow but steady growth of higher level apprenticeships and so forth springing up to accept the DC who can no longer take the risk of the debts of a university degree without guaranteed, reasonably well paid at the end. One Day One of our DCs' emerging, blinking, from this brave new tough-GCSE world, where they, as a result of their 'fails', cannot access 6th form or apprenticeships (as these colleges will be a good year or so, minimum, behind performing the entrance requirement 'regrade' they'll have to do to get kids through their gates)- what will become of them? No amount of media hand-wringing or cold, sober analysis of the first year of results will compensate our DCs for the educational dead end they may find themselves at, all as a result of a trumped up, egotistical, arrogant, self-aggrandising Minister who rides roughshod over decades of hard-won, evidence-based 'good practice' to force a nation's state-educated children emulate what he sees as being his own, unsurpassable 'education'.

Copthallresident Tue 11-Jun-13 17:50:05

Nor was I constantly mis corrected by an annoying ipad!!

prh47bridge Tue 11-Jun-13 17:57:50

Erebus - I agree it will take a year or two for providers of 16+ education to figure out how they are affected. However, I doubt it will lead to a massive increase in conditional offers. I would expect them to start with offers as if nothing has changed (e.g. 8 is the same as A*, 7 is the same as A and so on) then figure out how many places they have left over to offer to others.

The "equivalence" the Government is against is the long list of qualifications that are supposedly equivalent to a GCSE, so, for example, a level 2 certificate in "nail technology services" is no longer equivalent to two GCSEs. That has nothing to do with how the grades in the new exam relate to existing GCSE grades. As there are the same number of grades for the new exam an obvious starting point for those looking at these grades is to assume direct equivalence then, with experience, figure out how much tougher the new exams are. It is, of course, possible that the exam boards will help by estimating what proportion of pupils will get each grade. We already know what proportion get each GCSE grade so that would allow those interested to work out a rough equivalence.

tiredaftertwo Tue 11-Jun-13 18:18:25

Modules being sat early is already over, coursework has mostly gone, and some CAs are staying as I understand it (in sciences?). A large component has always been old style exams at the end of the course, so it is just shifting the balance further - your year 7 will have been taught to do these under the current system.

Really it is not that big a change in terms of format. I hope though they take the chance to cut down on the number of papers given they are all terminal - the current year 9s who are caught in the middle will have to sit the old number of papers, but all at once.

I think Gove had to do something, because he made some important format and timing changes without changing the name of the exam or the content, so now has to overcompensate by shouting about those.

It seems a very tight timetable to me, and I can't write what I think of him on a public forum, and this government generally seems peculiarly incompetent. But I wouldn't worry that children will not know how to deal with exams, they have been doing them in the meantime, and their teachers have been preparing them smile.

Suzieismyname Tue 11-Jun-13 18:32:04

tiggy I've read somewhere that they want 8 to be the best grade so there is room to add another grade later if necessary.

I agree with slug about girls/boys. This is purely anecdotal but I was a girl who performed extremely well in linear exams and was extremely lucky that the worst period of my life happened a week after my exams!

EvilTwins Tue 11-Jun-13 18:53:00

What's irritated me most about today is smug Liz Truss on BBC breakfast this morning saying, in her silly sing-song voice "we all know that the reason exam results have gone up is that we have been pretending that children have got better, but actually the exams have just got easier" and then going on to say that the new exams will be much more rigorous, unlike the current exams, which are a piece of piss (paraphrasing there) Then I got to school and felt immediately gutted for our poor Yr 11s who were sitting GCSE maths this morning. Hope none of them tuned in to Ms Truss pointing out that their results, no matter how good, won't be worth the paper they're written on. Brilliant timing for announcing that current GCSEs are unworthy.

Ruffello Tue 11-Jun-13 18:53:10

Copthall - I doubt I was unique in developing a love of literature from reading my GCSE set books in their entirety and certainly didn't mean to imply 'illusions of superiority' - all I was suggesting is that reading and analysing chunks of text is not the same as reading a whole work. There is clearly merit in analysis, but I'm not sure the example you give would have made me want to read all of Hardy's work in the way that reading Far From The Madding Crowd for GCSE did.

mumsneedwine Tue 11-Jun-13 19:00:33

I had a laugh when he said that the details would be finalised 'soon'. We are already preparing Year 7 for their future exams, and base their learning in KS3 to endure they have covered everything needed for success in KS4. Now if we don't know what they are exactly going to be examined on at 16 how are we supposed to ensure there are no gaps ? Oh and we already teach the things he mentioned today so bit of a loss to understand what he is planning. There are already linear exams with no course work - they are called GCSEs. And this year only 0.3% of students got an A* in biology so they have already been made more rigorous.
Poor kids today going into their maths exam said they didn't see the point as everyone thinks their exams are worthless. Having seen the trig question on the paper I would totally disagree !!

Ladymuck Tue 11-Jun-13 19:10:55

Well there are a number of schools already teaching the GCSE syllabus over 3 years not 2, so I do hope that the details get thrashed out soon, as teaching needs to start in just over a year from now.

To be honest i don't think that 16+ educators are going to be totally baffled as they seem to have managed to juggle a bizarre number of "GCSE-equivalent" qualifications for some years. DS1's school already do iGCSE in a majority of subjects, so I guess may continue with that until the new system is fully in and bedded down. I do think that there is a risk for the first year sitting in that there is no precedent for that format of exam plus change in content, and it will be interesting to see how the process is managed, especially as we will have a change of Government by then.

ReallyTired Tue 11-Jun-13 19:17:22

My son is in year 6 and he was the grammar test guinea pig and its seems harsh that he might end up being the GCSE replacement guinea pig.

Personally I feel that GCSEs and A-levels are pass their sale by date and not fit for purpose. Our children will all be staying on at school until 18 and is there really any need for an exam at 16?

However any reform needs to be well thought out. Prehaps the recommendations of the Tomlinson enquiry could be implemented.

Copthallresident Tue 11-Jun-13 21:22:48

Ruffello Well I am pleased to hear that you developed a love of Hardy, are you sure it wasn't helped by Julie Christie and Terence Stamp wink but for me O level was more inoculation than inspiration.

I was actually referring to my DD aged 17 and doing AS being already equipped with not just the love but also the skills and awareness to appreciate all the layers of meaning in Hardy 's novels, perhaps you should do the Oxford continuing Education course on Hardy, you might discover how those skills do enrich your enjoyment. He was grappling with issues that arose out of an acceptance of nature as a scientific entity rather than the manifestation of a greater benevolent power and the natural primitive values of societies rooted in the land versus those of industrialised "civilisation". You are missing so much if you don't understand what fundamentally drove his plots eg the fates of Troy, Bathsheba and Oak, and especially his language. Something we never had chance to appreciate while regurgitating large chunks of text to highlight the more facile and obvious themes.

In fact neither DD studied any of their texts partially, An Inspector Calls, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Romeo and Juliet, Enduring Love, a book of nineteenth century short stories by female authors...

I have spent my life loving History and Literature and Drama and I'm now involved in postgrad cross disciplinary study, but all in spite of O levels. GCSE equipped my daughters far better both with the love and skills to study both.

But then the love I like to think came from all the reading to them, the discussing of books and plays together, their study of literature in school from year s 1 to 9, the teachers who inspired them, that thing known as education, not he narrow preparation for GCSE and certainly not the preparation that will be required by the increased emphasis on regurgitating huge amounts of factual information Gove is so keen on.

Gove has shafted my DDs GCSE cohort but I am just grateful she will be well clear and her education in the hands of university academics not politicians by the time these proposals play out.

savoirfaire Tue 11-Jun-13 22:47:13

I am a bit confused by the removal of coursework. I understand the need for end of course exams, however I have always understood coursework to be a very valuable part of learning, being quite akin to many of the types of skills needed in a professional context. I never have to 'cram for an exam' in my professional world. However, I regularly have to research, analyse and then write up in long form. Where will students get those skills now?

muminlondon Tue 11-Jun-13 23:16:15

Just trying to find out more about the gender issue - by the 1980s girls did slightly better than boys in terms of passing 5 O-Levels (according the chart on p.22) and did particularly well at English. But only 30% of all pupils were passing 5 GCSEs by 1988.

I'm more bothered by this counter-intuitive grading system than the form of assessment (which is changing anyway). What will be the minimum grade for a pass? I am also worried the whole process will be rushed. And I don't remember 3-hour exams for O-levels - most were 2.5 hours.

prh47bridge Tue 11-Jun-13 23:40:35

Has he actually said 3 hours? Genuine question. I haven't seen that in the reports I've read but maybe I've read the wrong reports.

On the gender issue, I've seen a number of studies some of which think girls do better when there is a significant coursework element, others conclude that there is no gender effect. Make of that what you will.

savoir-faire - The perceived problem with coursework as part of GCSEs is that it is susceptible to cheating. I didn't have any coursework when I did my O-levels but I still practised the skills you talk about. How else would I have been prepared for the essays I was expected to produce during the exams?

needanewnickname Tue 11-Jun-13 23:44:43

Savoir, I think the difficulty with coursework counting towards the final exam grade is how you can possibly ensure that it is the pupil's own work. There's the issue of out and out cheating and also the issue of at what point the level of "help" provided by a parent or teacher means that the coursework produced does not really reflect the pupil's ability level at all. I appreciate that the exam system can be extremely harsh on pupils who happen to be ill on the day etc, but overall I think it's still a better measure of achievement than the current coursework system which seems far too open to manipulation.

creamteas Tue 11-Jun-13 23:50:55

But coursework has already gone, controlled assessment are done instead in exam conditions in school.

So unless your school/teacher is breaking the rules (and in which case they may well help pupils cheat in exams too) , there is no longer a chance for manipulation.

needanewnickname Wed 12-Jun-13 00:07:26

Re the question of whether controlled assessments can be manipulated, I was under the impression (though I am not a teacher myself so happy to be corrected if I am wrong) that in foreign languages teachers know (without cheating) the assessment topic in advance and that an unscrupulous teacher could give a child a passage to memorise and regurgitate in the controlled assessment, with the result that a child with a good ability to memorise but with no understanding of the language could get a high mark in the assessment. Is that not the case?

Copthallresident Wed 12-Jun-13 00:10:39

Prh47bridge did you really? I only remember at my highly academic direct grant grammar being constantly force fed information. You could walk past our History Teacher's classroom when teaching Lower and Upper Fifth in any year and see exactly the same words on the blackboard, which you wrote down and then regurgitated at the end of two years. it wasn't much different at A level. There was little to be gained from reading around the subject outside of the course text book. I remember how liberating it was at uni to finally have the run of the library and an open essay question that required you to develop and structure your own argument. My DDs have been doing that since year 8/9, and any work that diverged from their own style and thinking was challenged, and they were made to do it again themselves, shame that education has to be compromised for the sake of frustrating cheats and helicopter parents, don't you think?

scaevola Wed 12-Jun-13 06:52:09

I'm of the O level then A level generation. We were most definitely not force fed facts, and were positively encouraged to express ourselves through evidence-dense argumentation in essays. And we were also encouraged to read round the subjects and examine the layers. And taken to workshops at universities to expand our horizons yet further in terms of literary criticism.

So this type of curriculum and exam isn't inherently leading to dull regurgitation.

But boring teaching can however occur in any school at any time.

KingscoteStaff Wed 12-Jun-13 07:00:50

I did O levels at GDST school in '83, and had inspiring teaching on P&P, 12th Night and Seamus Heaney. A very wide ranging curriculum with lots of opportunity to discuss the texts in depth. I certainly remember learning pages of quotes by rote, but I had to do that for A level and English degree too.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 12-Jun-13 07:19:52

Maybe things were different in the 70s than the 80s. There was considerable benefit to be gained from reading round the subject when I took my O and A levels in 83 and 85. Reading round the subject is why I got a clean sweep of As at both stages.

In the same way as I challenge people saying that (at least for arts and humanities) GCSEs are easier than O levels (they aren't) I also challenge people spouting the same tired old story that o levels were all about rote learning. They weren't. They might have been for particular unfortunate individuals at bad schools. Or with bad attitudes but they weren't for everyone. I'm sure that there are still bad schools and bad attitudes today, and that some of the criticism being leveled at GCSEs as a whole properly belongs with those schools/people rather than the system - but if it's wrong to tar all GCSEs and everyone doing GCSEs with the same brush it's equally wrong to peddle inaccuracies about O levels.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 12-Jun-13 07:21:49

Kingscote - (who are you anyway - Crommie? Such a lovely funny woman) - yes. Exactly. The other thing about the quotes - I don't know about you, but we weren't given them. We had to find them for ourselves.

muminlondon Wed 12-Jun-13 08:41:43

They've been reporting the exam changes as three-hour exams since last September but there have been so many announcements it's hard to separate out the different proposals, e.g.

TBH I don't know much about the current GCSEs not having had a DC get to that stage. If they really don't study a whole novel or Shakespeare play and will reintroduce that I hope it will not mean the tedium of taking turns to read chapters in class, for weeks.

Copthallresident Wed 12-Jun-13 08:45:43

I took O level's in 1973 and that was exactly what they were like, totally about regurgitation and certainly in 75, A levels were more on a par with the level of analysis and argument you get in GCSE now, if that . The History teacher used to draw a wedge when she was teaching about the Reform Acts for O level and it was a running joke throughout the school that the wedge would be there on the blackboard when she was on that topic year in year out. I remember the wedge, but only when needing to understand the implications for the history of another culture did I discover the lively richness of parliamentary goings on under Palmerston and Disraeli that underlied the dry facts I was taught.

As to bad teaching? Well I think that sort of unimaginative teaching by rather desiccated blue stockings was quite common in girls' grammar Schools in the 70s, their ability to communicate their enthusiasm and deep knowledge of their subject worn down by dealing with girls and a teenage culture that, having forged out a ground-breaking path to Oxford through single-minded study, they couldn't comprehend, let alone engage with and inspire. Their only weapon against clever girls was withering sarcasm and bitterness. I know plenty of others who encountered the same across the country. They meant well though.

They only turned into human beings when they had a chance to teach to the rigour of the Oxbridge entrance exams in the seventh term. They were also worn down by the demands of an exam system which they felt lacked academic rigour, to the point that we did not even take the O level for those subjects we took at A level, moving straight to the A level syllabus in Upper Fifth.

Slipshodsibyl Wed 12-Jun-13 09:20:29

When I taught GCSE, I would do Shakespeare with low/ bottom sets, and then I would select scenes and do lots of storytelling/drama. I think bottom sets need experience of dominant high culture so that they can have access to it and it can belong to them.

I might do the same with other challenging texts. I would also choose an easily accessible text like 'Of Mice and Men' and then do it all. For higher sets I would do the whole text and so would all colleagues I know. (Maybe paraphrasing some short scenes for expediency).

It is, and has always been possible for students not to do work set and so not know the whole text properly but apart from kids who fly by the seat of their pants, I am not aware of largfef numbers of able sets studying only sections of all texts. It is possible they study only a section of one text for a question that is all about close analysis but other texts will have been studied in their entirety. I studied one Shakespeare play, one novel and poems by four 20th century poets for O Level. I did them thoroughly and loved the course. My children have had to study a greater number of texts and study them at differing levels of thoroughness (some thorough, some less so.)

Some years ago over lunch with a Cambridge Admissions Tutor who was, at the time, an A Level Chief Examiner, he told me he far preferred GCSE as, in general, students came to him having read a far wider number of books than they had in O Level days. They might not know all of them as well as we had in the old days, but he wanted wide ranging experience and felt that teaching extensive analysis and literary theory was his job.

My own children have done whole texts as I did at O Level and A Level. I think the old exams allowed more free ranging answers and could perhpas more obviously reward reading around as Russians has pointed out.

I think current exams (in English) are very challenging at A Level. A greater knowledge of literary theory is required (since this is a field constantly developing). I don't think you can leave much out. I find some GCSE syllabuses a bit boring but I am not sure they are easy.

Sorry for waffling, but as Shakespeare's Dogberry says : "comparisons are odorous'. Times and methods have changed. It isn't all bad.

wordfactory Wed 12-Jun-13 09:21:39

See, I went to a dreadful school in the 80s.

Dreadful in terms of how few DC succeeded in any exams at all. But part of that was that the teachers utterly refused to spoonfeed us. They would ask us to do x and y and if we didn't it was our funeral.

Today the school is gets a very large part of its cohort through the GCSEs by hook or by crook. The kids sit module after module (starting in year 8) and resit until they pass. It is the antithisis of a good education! And yet it does exactly what is asked of it!

The number of A*s achieved in woeful. I mean really really woeful!!!

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