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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.

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 21:52:24

The were graded 'Good' overall webwiz - they said they school needed to accelerate improvement in mathematics and english and 'challenge' the more able students. The curriculum was rated 'outstanding'.

Interestingly part of the reason for the 'outstanding' rating was their observation that students had a lot of access to performing arts and that they had time one afternoon per week to pursue their particular areas of interest. In fact ds now does no performing arts - no drama, no music no dance and no Art, because everything has been pushed out to concentrate on the Option and Core subjects, and the Wednesday thing has been abandoned. According to Ofsted the feedback from parents was overwhelmingly positive.

webwiz Fri 07-Dec-12 22:00:29

Bit of spin going on there then frankinsensible - I think if your DS is generally happy with school then you just need to keep yourself well informed about what he's doing and when so you can support him (which I'm sure you are doing anyway). He doesn't know any other way of taking exams so he'll just go with the flow even if its done differently in other schools.

frankinsensible Fri 07-Dec-12 22:32:50

Yes he is happy there webwiz - I know it would be damaging to move him so there's not a lot I can do but I will make an appointment to talk someone at the school about it and at least see exactly what will happen if it all goes wrong with the science and english. Really appreciate your advice and that of everyone else who has taken the trouble to answer. smile

Astelia Sat 08-Dec-12 14:01:26

My DDs' doesn't enter anyone early for GCSEs except if someone is fluent in a language then they can sit that and get it out of the way.

Some uni courses and some companies offering scholarships through uni will expect lots of A* at GCSE, as well as As at AS. I do wonder if some schools are aware of this when they let students sit early and get low grades.

Do the independents let students sit early and get low grades? no. So why is it good enough for other students?

OP I would be camping on the HT's front step to get my DC entered in Y11 for exams. I would offer to pay and enter them as a private candidate if the school won't agree.

frankinsensible Sat 08-Dec-12 20:45:40

I've sent an email to the English teacher to ask for a meeting about it. I have decided that of the two non-option GCSE subjects it is English that is likely to have the worst outcome and is of least benefit for him to take early. At least with the science, if he scrapes a C he can then go on to study the sciences separately so should get more depth in them and possibly get three good GCSE's. With the English all he can do is retake so it is really pointless.

I need to bear in mind that ds has very good relationships with his teachers, he likes and respects them which is obviously not something I want to damage. If I start with the subject teacher and then work my way up to more senior level it won't look as though I'm barging in over their heads.

BooksandaCuppa Sat 08-Dec-12 21:08:23

Agree with others, almost no independents or grammars do early GCSEs (except things like native languages or music for high fliers) and certainly not unless an A* is predicted. I think that says a lot about whether it's a good idea.

The other thing to bear in mind is the jump to A Level. One of the local 'weak' comps does Eng Lit at end of yr10 and is happy for their best students to only attain a grade B. These students are then going onto stronger schools for sixth form and sitting in A Level Eng Lit classes with other students who've achieved an A* that summer, compared to their own B a whole year and a bit ago. You can guess who finds the already big jump to A Level the easiest...

frankinsensible Sat 08-Dec-12 21:26:36

That's a very good point Books - hadn't even thought that far. The strongest schools in our area don't take exams early either and I think that is the crux of the thing actually. DS' school is in a difficult area and they have been highly praised for helping to raise the aspirations of kids (and their families) who have often had a pretty awful start in life, coming from backgrounds where getting an education is still seen as a mug's game.

I think a lot of the reasoning behind the early exam thing is to focus attention on the importance of getting qualifications before they get to an age where they just start to drift away.

ashley69ly Sun 09-Dec-12 09:08:40

At my DDS' school they start their GCSE's in Y9 but don't complete any until the end of Y11. My DD sat some modular exams starting in Dec of Y10 but still had modules to sit at the end of Y11 so she studied all her subjects for the whole 3 years. Because they had the extra time it meant that DD could continue with more subjects. DD is very academic and under the old system would have been restricted to fewer, more academic subjects. Under this system she could continue with some other subjects that she really enjoyed. She ended up with 12 GCSE's at great grades and was able to have a good balance of subjects rather than having to narrow her focus down at the start of Y10.

prettydaisies Sun 09-Dec-12 12:09:07

My DD did all her exams at the end of Yr 11. One thing that I noticed compared to her friends at other schools was the amount of teaching she got. Because she didn't do modules at any other time, she was taught for all of Y10 and most of Y11. The other thing that worries me about early entry is if you want to do the subject for A level. You may well have a year 'off' of that subject. A levels are hard enough without you having forgotten some of the subject.

freerangeeggs Sun 09-Dec-12 17:48:55

Tell them to get stuffed, he's not ready and he's not doing it.

This isn't for your son's benefit, as you know. It's so that the school can bank as many Cs as possible to buoy up their position in the league tables.

freerangeeggs Sun 09-Dec-12 17:54:21

I'm a teacher and this has just made me really angry, which is why I'm posting again. If it was my son I'd be laying down the law about this. He's got a condition that's aggravated by stress and they're stressing him out with unnecessary exams that he's not ready to sit?? If I was his class teacher I'd be making a stand about this too, it's not acceptable at all.

So much for individualised learning.

GRRRR I need to get out of this frigging country!!

Dromedary Sun 09-Dec-12 18:22:20

It sounds insane to me - so he'll probably end up with 1) worse grades (and universities now definitely look at gcse grades when making offers), 2) the best universities will disregard the gcses that he took early, so he won't get in to them; 3) he could have a 2 year gap between a gcse and starting an A'level course in the same subject, 4) he's likely to have the joy of doing badly in some gcses and having to re-take, 5) years of worrying about exams and missing out on the time off work subjects.
I would think that your best hope as an individual is to see your GP and get evidence that this will be to his disadvantage because of his disability.
For those who want to try to improve the system for everyone, I would set up a meeting for the parents of all the children affected by this, having circulated ahead of the meeting all the evidence on the harm that this system does. If the school faces a revolt from dozens of parents, it's just possible it might consider changing the system, though presumably not from one day to the next. You could also go to the local paper, etc.

frankinsensible Sun 09-Dec-12 18:40:08

Good advice re the GP, I will keep that in reserve if I need it.

freerange - you are a teacher so hopefully you can tell me - what rights do I have to refuse to allow them to put him in early?

As I posted previously, I'm in a tricky position. If ds was unhappy there I wouldn't hesitate to move him but actually he really likes the school, the teachers and doesn't have a problem with being put in for the exams as he has been sold the line by the teachers that this is something for the 'top' set and therefore a bit of an ego boost. He's only 13 so has no real understanding of the possible consequences.

I have not encountered any real opposition to this system from other parents - a little bit of grumbling about pressure but otherwise they all seem to accept it as the norm.

twoterrors Sun 09-Dec-12 21:47:02

This is how schools do it - they flatter children and parents. Bright children do not need a string of Cs and Ofsted has said it will be critical if early entry means they are not getting As and A*s.

Honestly, make a fuss. Ask the school why they are ignoring the evidence and ignoring what the DfE and Ofsted say. And make sure other parents know the consequences, as set out by Dromedary.

freerangeeggs Sun 09-Dec-12 23:09:28

Frankinsensible, as far as I'm aware you have every right. He's your child.

EllenJaneisstillnotmyname Sun 09-Dec-12 23:52:57

Frankin, I'd agree that early Eng Lit seems completely counter intuitive.

With the sciences, I think it's a bit different. My DS is in Y10 and is doing triple science as far as I understand, single combined science, one GCSE worth, is P1 (Physics), C1 (Chem) and B1 (Bio). Your grade would be eg, A* or B etc. Double science, which is combined plus additional usually, two GCSEs worth, is P1, P2, C1, C2, B1 and B2. Grades are A/A or A*/A etc. Triple science is P1, P2, P3, C1, C2, C3, B1, B2 and B3. Counts as 3 GCSEs, one each in Physics, maybe grade A, Chemistry, maybe grade B and Biology, maybe A*. So doing the single science this year is just doing the 1st modules in each science. By the end of Y11 he'll have taken all the modules and will have 3 individual GCSEs.

But, at some point soon, taking these GCSE exams separately over a few years will not be allowed and all the exams, all 9 modules in triple science, will have to be taken at one time, not allowing you to bank the previous results to be added together. I would find out whether this single combined science GCSE will count towards his triple science GCSEs or whether he'll have to take those modules again. Which would be a waste of time...

frankinsensible Mon 10-Dec-12 00:10:51

If they change the rules on taking the exams separately wouldn't they have to allow those already started on the process to complete it Ellen?

frankinsensible Mon 10-Dec-12 00:11:38

Thanks for that very detailed response btw - I had to read it a few times but it's helped to get it clearer in my head!

lljkk Mon 10-Dec-12 07:52:03

Thanks for the detailed explanation, EllenJane. That is pretty much how I thought it all worked.

I think the new all final exams at the end system isn't due to come in until at earliers for Sept. 2013 starters, if it comes in at all. And I hate it. If I could find activist parents I'd be camping somewhere to protest against the change to the system most of you prefer.

Something I like about the focus on getting GCSE options out of the way early is that it means immersed teaching instead of a scattergun approach. So they get a proper strong foundation, intense focus, rather than dribs and drabs of teaching over several years. Which is poorly retained & never makes any of it seem important. Until the end (maybe).

If my teens are like I was (& my peers) they will have up and down times. Unpredictably. They might be more focused & diligent at 13-14 than at 15-16 (or any other age). So get a better result if completing the GCSE at 13-14. By spreading exams out the risk of that is somewhat reduced, it's not like they HAVE to be on the ball at age 15-16, and particularly focused in April-June of year 11. If they have a crisis in personal life at that point, at least they could have some GCSEs in the bank from earlier years.

DS hates languages. He should be good at them (DS excels at English & DH & I are reasonably proficient at languages). But the scattergun approach (4 lessons in French & 2 in German every fortnight) confuses him. Near daily lessons would make him focus & actually get the hang of one of the languages. He'd have a definite target to work towards and focus on, grit his teeth about learning for just one year, it even if he didn't enjoy.

Could say the same for DS attitude towards several other core subjects.

If the exam only mattered at end of y11 he'd doss about & not give a toss until last minute (after all, homework is meaningless). So he'd end up getting a worse result.

People on MN are so bloody obsessed about their DC getting results that "top universities" want. Like any other path in life is written off. And then admin officers for those "top unis" come on to explain the considerations they make are actually quite nuanced, after all. Plus the plethora of MNers who find their kids aren't getting those top results after all, even in the all-end-exam system.

Muminwestlondon Mon 10-Dec-12 08:13:40

At the moment my 13 year old daughter has one and a quarter hours of Spanish, 4 times a week and one and a quarter hours of RE 4 times a week because she HAS to do GCSEs in both this year - year 9.

She has no interest in RE but the GCSE is compulsory in her school in year 9 - it is not a religious school. She does the core subjects of English, Maths and Science.

She does no music, DT art, drama, history or Geography because those options are not open to her in year 9. If she wants to do them she will do them as one year courses similar to the RE and Spanish she is doing now.

I do not consider this a rounded education, it seems to reduce most subjects to doing a short course which is completely taught to the exam. Of course secondary education is about passing exams (and by the way my elder DD did all her exams in year 11 and got all A* and A), but surely it is about balance on the way, not just tick boxes.

webfizzystuff Mon 10-Dec-12 08:14:39

Actually lljkk the changes apply to the current year 10s so exams taken after 2013.

I think your posts illustrates absolutely everything that is wrong with so much focus on exams - kids have completely lost the point that you just sometimes "learn" things at school and you shouldn't have to have the push of an exam to make you focus.

My DCs experience is similar to mine (apart from the relentless intrusion of controlled assessments) which is a gradual building of skills over 5 years, you do your homework, you do class tests and then at the end when you are old enough to get that the exams are important you revise and prepare for them. Then if you want to take a subject to A level you have a solid foundation of knowledge to build on.

HSMM Mon 10-Dec-12 08:36:45

DD is in yr 9 and the school have made it clear that she will not be entered early for her GCSEs unless (1) She is ready and wants to (2) We want her to and (3) The school think she is going to get the best result she would be able to get. She has started ICT, Maths, English and Science.

throckenholt Mon 10-Dec-12 08:49:59

>kids have completely lost the point that you just sometimes "learn" things at school and you shouldn't have to have the push of an exam to make you focus.

that is the fundamental point. I am sure when I was at school (grammar school in the early 80s) we didn't think about O level exams until maybe the 5th year. For the first 3 years we did the subjects we all did. Year 4 we got to choose the ones we liked (or were best at) for O level (or drop the ones we hated). I don't remember exams being that big an issue. We did have end of year exams every year which tested what we had learnt that year. The emphasis was on learning - not on the final exam at the end.

If schools are now so focussed on the final exam haul for each child, and the actual value of learning is lost along the way then we have a very bad system.

School as I remember it was a mix of putting up with those subjects you didn't enjoy and looking forward to those you did enjoy - all in the same week. If I had been forced to have 5 hours of RE a week, and only be allowed to study a language for a year (albeit intensively) I would have hated it. I don't see that that system would be right for more than a very small minority.

Whatever happend to the aspiration of a "rounded education". You don't need to have exams to prove it if you produced people who patently have a rounded education.

lljkk Mon 10-Dec-12 09:25:21

That's interesting what Webfizz said: because I specifically asked when touring secondaries for DD 2 months ago about how do they schedule GCSEs. Nobody said the schedule would be changing for her year group, but maybe the plans weren't confirmed, then.

I'm glad you guys have so much positive to say about what I consider a loony system. Since it seems like we won't have any choice about it. At least before there was an element of choice.

I think most people, and certainly modern teens, are more motivated by extrinsic rewards than learning for the sake of learning.

I have no doubt that DSs will have a poorer learning experience & poorer results under the (now confirmed and definite??) changes. DD was always going to learn for learning's sake, anyway.

mercibucket Mon 10-Dec-12 09:49:52

In general, girls do better under a system of continuous assessment and boys do better under an 'all or nothing' final exam system, so I'd worry more about your dd than your ds under the new system, lljkk

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