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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.

lljkk Thu 06-Dec-12 18:14:05

You need something in writing about resists. One written statement per subject, if necessary.
My guess is that resits will be possible but you will have to pay a fee.
I don't see how he can be forced to take any exam. But if he doesn't take it now, they may not have room in regular timetable for him to take it in future.

TheFallenMadonna Thu 06-Dec-12 18:19:17

He will be able to retake in June as long as he hasn't done one before. However, if he doesn't get the grades in the summer, he would have to take the whole qualification again in June 2014. I agree that January of year 9 is too early for a science GCSE exam.

Worley Thu 06-Dec-12 18:21:27

ds1 is yr 9. his school has started all yr 9's doing there GCSE's already. as he is in top set his class get an extra hour a week as they will finish in yr 10. they then expect them to do Btecs or something in their last year!
anyway.. we were told if they aren't up to it they won't get out in to it. and they can resit if needed.
have you spoke to head about your concerns? are they getting extra help If they're putting them in a year early too?

frankinsensible Thu 06-Dec-12 19:05:50

Thanks so much for your replies. He is getting an extra hour of revision per week after school for the science. The curriculum has been pared right down so he has 5 hours per week for the science, language and design subjects and 4 hours per week for english and maths Pretty much everything else has been put aside for this year apart from 1 hour of PE and one hour of sex/social ed. They describe it as 'short fat courses'.

I haven't had anything in writing about any of it - only discussed at parent evenings. I'm not sure about speaking to the head - he is the figurehead for this type of course and always going on about how highly ofsted thought of it so I doubt he'll be interested in my worries. Also of course all the subject teachers say they think ds will be 'fine'.

Worley Thu 06-Dec-12 21:37:41

a lot of the schools in our region have started doing the early start to gcse's. I don't know why... maybe it's helps the school or the children? ds1 has been bringing a lot if past exam papers home for his homework do they're focussing on getting them to exam type answers already at 13

lljkk Fri 07-Dec-12 07:38:43

It's funny how MNers almost universally hate early GCSEs (before yr11?).

Around here, doing GCSEs over 2-3 years seems to be universally popular among parents. I haven't heard a single parent say anything against it; well, one mum was a bit shock about GCSE options being chosen in Feb of yr8, but she's not moaned since.

This modern way of doing GCSEs over several years is close to my own education system, so seems right to me, too.

throckenholt Fri 07-Dec-12 08:13:51

what happens if he passes ? Does he then drop the subject ? I would much rather mine had the chance to study the subject (whatever it is) for the full school time than lose out on a year. Surely all subjects benefit from longer term familiarity.

I did maths and English Language in the 4th year (as it was then). I then did AO maths the next year. But I never did any more English Language (despite winning the school priize for that year) because I did science options later on. In hindsight I regret not having the chance to do more in my 5th year.

I think there is a danger with kids doing GCSE's early that they lack the wider understanding that enables them to do better. Probably the high fliers will still scrape the good grades, but the others probably not.

I think I would prefer now to ditch gcse's altogether in favour of exams at 17 and/or 18 but that is another arguement.

I would query it with the school and as some blunt questions.

Muminwestlondon Fri 07-Dec-12 09:18:54

My child is also doing 2 GCSEs in year 9, and will do 4 in year 10 and 5 or so in year 11. She has done some modules of her language and English already.

Having had another child who did them all in year 11, I think early entry is crazy. I think the exams are designed to be taken by 15/16 year olds, not 13 year olds. As there is now such pressure to get A* in everything, it is a lot easier at the end of 5 years in secondary school rather than 2 and a bit.

Yes it is stressful that they are spread over a few weeks in year 11 but that is nothing compared to the constant stress in year 9.

mumsneedwine Fri 07-Dec-12 10:06:13

Hate to add that some universities like to see the best 8 grades for GCSEs sat in the same year. So early entry actually penalises the students. It's ok if it's for one of two, and then further qualifications are taken in that subject, but to sit 4 a year is not a good idea at all.

Muminwestlondon Fri 07-Dec-12 10:09:29

Some kids in DD's school have made it to Oxbridge (including medicine), Russell Group etc, despite the early entries. I think the Universities are aware that some schools have that policy and don't penalise the kids for it, as they have no choice!

lljkk Fri 07-Dec-12 11:12:10

How many spaces are there on relevant courses at those fussy Unis? Not many I'll wager (meaning it's not a consideration for most).

Local choice is that the pupils take 2 options in each of yrs9-10-11 (or 3 options in each of yrs10-11) and yes they drop them afterwards (obviously could pursue on own otherwise). The options are things like MFL, geography, RE. You have to HE or go private if you want to stack all your exams & results to end of yr11 performance.

Sciences & maths & English are continuous all the way to end of yr11 & final marks in those subjects awarded end of yr11.

I like it because it's similar to how I did my secondary education. It makes sense to me.

I don't accept that it leads to poor long term results in the subjects taken early. In high school, I never studied geography at all as a subject on its own, and still managed to get a first degree in it, top marks, too. I nearly did history as degree subject instead, and I dropped that, too, in high school after yr10.

chloe74 Fri 07-Dec-12 11:16:24

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.

Muminwestlondon Fri 07-Dec-12 11:22:49

One of the major drawbacks in our case, is that only English, maths and science are studied continuously through year 9 to year 11. All other subjects are effectively dropped at the end of year 8 and taken as one year GCSE courses. If DD was to do Spanish at A' level she would not have studied it at school for two years. The subjects DD enjoys most - art and music - she can only do as one year GCSE courses.

Maths IGCSE is taken in January of year 10 which seems a bit early in DD's case and she would I think benefit from taking it at the end of year 11 which is not an option. She has no interest in AS maths or statistics GCSE which would be taken after maths GCSE.

mumsneedwine Fri 07-Dec-12 12:56:52

The fussy universities are Oxbridge and Russell Group. All insist on 6 at one sitting and some 8. It is not fair on the kids, and exceptions are made for spectacular candidates, but it is the norm to ask for one sitting. If you want more proof google 'Russell Universities Informed Choices" - document written by the Unis to advise students.

Muminwestlondon Fri 07-Dec-12 13:22:44

I am certain that Oxbridge and Russell Group do not penalise candidates who have no choice at their school. A number of candidates from DD's school have gone to Russell Group uni's recently; a candidate also got into medicine at Cambridge (and took one of his 4 A levels in the January) and a couple of others to Oxford.

lljkk Fri 07-Dec-12 13:30:14

What I described, btw, E+M+science+2/3 options means 6-8 completed at same time, anyway. Just that there's another 3-4 GCSEs done in earlier years, too.

I'm pretty sure that Norfolk state school pupils have no choice. So either all Norfolk school leavers from state system are banned from all RG/Oxbridge, or there is some flexibility after all.

mumsneedwine Fri 07-Dec-12 13:30:42

He did 4 A levels so did the other 3 at one sitting (the usual A Level requirement) ! Most schools, even if they sit some early, will still do 6 in one year, so doing some early is not bad in itself. What is not helpful is if they do 4 in year 9, 4 in year 10 & 4 in year 11, which one poor kid I help had done. He had all A* but found it hard to find a course to take him. The Unis say they need proof that students can cope with the rigour of the course and of taking many exams at the same time. It is still possible (above named lad is now at Imperial), but it took hours of persuasion to get them to accept him. It is not impossible, but requires more of a fight..

twoterrors Fri 07-Dec-12 15:54:21

See this

It took about 30 secs to find. Schools absolutely know about this. They are gaming the league tables, and it is not in the children's interests (in general - of course there are always exceptions). Ofsted has also criticised this practice. I would present the school with this and other evidence, and ask how entering children so early is in their interests when the evidence is that even with resits they will get worse grades? That's without even considering the extra stress and anxiety.

Some quotes:
"The main argument against early entry is that statistically, early entry
candidates perform worse overall than those who do not enter early, even
when taking account of resits (see below for precise figures)."

"The statistical evidence so far indicates that for lower achieving pupils, there is
little discernable benefit in early entry other than increasing opportunities to retake before the end of KS4 which still does not improve the overall comparative
result. For pupils who achieve level 4 or above at KS2 (and would therefore be
expected to achieve grade A*-C at GCSE) the average final grade is lower for
early entrants. Higher attaining pupils are therefore being disadvantaged by
entering early and not achieving their full potential."

Very good luck

mercibucket Fri 07-Dec-12 15:59:49

As twoterrors says

Unless he's online for an a* statistically he will do worse if he does his exams a year early

This benefits the school not the pupil and is opposed by ofsted

mercibucket Fri 07-Dec-12 15:59:49

As twoterrors says

Unless he's online for an a* statistically he will do worse if he does his exams a year early

This benefits the school not the pupil and is opposed by ofsted

throckenholt Fri 07-Dec-12 17:01:05

The point should be that by studying a subject for up to 5 years (from the start of senior school) and then doing an exam in it is that you have had 5 years of accumulated understanding, plus the advantage of insight from other subjects that overlap. If you do the exams after only a year or so of study (particularly in a language) means to have very little time to assimilate it.

The current system really does force teaching to the test rather than the wider subject. We really need to get to the point where you study a subject widely, and the exams are sufficiently well designed to allow you to display your wide knowledge and understanding of the subject.

Also taking exams at an older stage means you have more maturity and more experience of life which should improve your performance in exams. If nothing else it also means you have had a couple more years writing in your own language and so hopefully will be able to put your thoughts down more coherently (which would have the added bonus of making the exams easier to mark).

The problem is that if you want to have a quick and cheap marking system then you have to lean towards multiple choice and restricted curricula (ie everyone answering the same set of questions). And you have to then have a set criteria of which knowledge you deem important enough to be included.

The whole system makes it very difficult to spend any time on something that is interesting even if it is a bit off on a tangent.

This discussion has strayed a lot from the original question. i hope you manage to come up with something you are both happy with.

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 17:01:12

twoterrors thanks so much for that link and I will read and digest but reading the first paragraph I see they define 'early' as 'end of year 10 or part-way through year 11'!

ds is certainly not an A* candidate - there's no suggestion that he is being put in early because he is unusually bright but just that they think he can get at least a C and then go on to do more advanced science GCSE. My argument is why get a C now (if he's lucky) when, with a couple more years of maturity he could very well get an A/A*. We have also been told by his consultant that he might well recover from his epilepsy once he passes through puberty which would also help.

If he passes the English Literature he will then continue only with English Language - so far they have 'done' some poetry and are in the process of wizzing over two shakespeare plays. In the new year they will go on to 'Of Mice and Men'. To me, rushing through Literature in this way makes a complete nonsense of the subject which is supposed to examine in depth and inculcate a love of reading, plays etc

I really don't know what approach to take tho' - this system is absolutely ingrained in the school and no-one on the staff I have spoken to so far will hear a word against it. Basically it's probably going to be a case of put up or change schools and I know ds would be completely against a move.

webwiz Fri 07-Dec-12 17:16:54

Its odd to take English Literature early frankinsensible as the analytical skills needed develop with maturity and as you say what is the point in rushing through it.

I'm not sure what the answer is though if the school are set on this way of teaching.

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 17:25:56

It's so worrying webwiz and also really tricky because if we go on about it too much in front of ds it is going to undermine his confidence in the school. I feel really stuck at the moment. I am not a timid person - I have raised problems on various things through his education but I feel this is too big for me to go against. Perhaps I should go to see the head or one of the deputies and at least have my say about it.

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