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English GCSE frustration

(29 Posts)
Stickerrocks Thu 14-Apr-16 22:20:01

We've just had year 9 parent's evening. There are issues with the English teacher not taking in homework, not marking work and taking 2 months to mark assessments. She seemed obsessed with saying how difficult to new GCSE curriculum will be, as the 19th century set texts are quite inaccessible and hard for teenagers to understand and there will be no coursework. This level of negativity in front of my child doesn't inspire me with confidence.

We were also told that key texts will include Macbeth and An Inspector Calls. Both of these have recently been performed locally with great reviews. She said we hadn't missed much, when I said I wish we had known as we would have gone to see them!

Is it worth raising our concerns with the year head or head of English? DD is a high flyer, so she is likely to get a good grade, but I'm worried that she is losing enthusiasm because of her teacher.

eyebrowse Thu 14-Apr-16 23:18:04

My main problem with 19th Century texts is the sexism and sexist world that they portray and perpetuate.

Is there a chance she will have a different teacher next year?

titchy Fri 15-Apr-16 08:03:07

Sexism? They're books typical of their era, they're not encouraging sexism ffs. Do you object to studying the holocaust because of the anti-semitism?

titchy Fri 15-Apr-16 08:04:50

OP yes a word to the head of English might be in order.

Muskey Fri 15-Apr-16 08:13:56

I don't think an inspector calls (which was on television recently and I am sure you can download it) or Macbeth is inaccessible to teenagers.

An inspector calls is very easy in that it's about consequences of people's actions. Macbeth while a bit wordy and the language a bit cumbersome to modern ears has been written about for as long as the play has been written. There are so many accessible notes on this and productions it should be a no brainier.

I am not sure why the teacher is being so negative but if it bothers you speak to the head of department but I really wouldn't pay much heed to your dd teacher

howabout Fri 15-Apr-16 08:18:38

Macbeth the movie got great reviews although I think the Dame Judi Dench version is unbeatable. An Inspector Calls was on the telly very recently and was very good. (I am the sort of Mum who makes their DC watch Hamlet under the pretence it is a Dr Who episode).

We have the opposite problem with the English teacher. DD1 sounds similar aptitude to yours but because English is open ended and the teacher has limitless enthusiasm to challenge her she is put off because he is the only teacher who makes her think.

I think it is difficult for teachers to cope with the various aptitudes and personalities within a class and while discussing the challenges may help some I can see it might be off putting for others. Assuming class teachers change from year to year I think the personalities and teaching styles probably balance out and especially given my DD is never going to struggle I see it as my job to help her adjust to the different approaches of different teachers.

ABetaDad1 Fri 15-Apr-16 08:18:41

This sounds like an English teacher who frankly doesn't like her job or her subject very much. Indeed, it sounds like she doesn't much like reading these texts herself.

If she was doing a school report I am sure she would put herself under the category 'Lacks enthusiasm for the subject'.

That is a real killer for an able child who does love the subject. The main job of a teacher is to instill enthusiasm in the most able and bring understanding to those that struggle.

catslife Fri 15-Apr-16 08:43:51

My dd is in Y11 now and has studied both Macbeth and An Inspector Calls without any problems as part of her English Lit.
The main problem for English teachers (which will be different from other subjects) is that they teach 2 GCSE subjects English Language and English Literature. The former subject changed to the new syllabus from September 2015 and the second will be changing from September 2016. There are also changes for English A levels as well, so perhaps it isn't completely surprising that some teachers are somewhat overwhelmed by all the changes. I am not sure if this teacher has shared this information in a particularly helpful way - my understanding is that the pupils who will be most affected (i.e. those will find the new content the hardest) are those of middle or low ability rather than the high achievers. However at the moment no-one really knows for sure what standard is needed to achieve the highest GCSE grade (9) as this is for a higher level of achievement than the current A*, so perhaps she is trying to manage parental expectation that pupils in the top sets will mostly obtain this grade.

tiggytape Fri 15-Apr-16 09:09:18

My DC is in Year 10 so is in the first year to take the new GCSEs in English (both Lit and Lang are new for the current Year 10's and below) and also the new GCSE in maths.

I do agree with you that problems about lack of marking and homework issues need to be addressed but in fairness to the teacher's views about the new exams, the emphasis everywhere has been on the increased difficulty and the increased content of these new exams. They are very different to old GCSEs in the sense that there is no coursework, there is more content, the content is more challenging and marks will be determined only by exam performance at the end of two years.

I suppose different things motivate different children but I know teachers have been trying to reassure pupils but also manage expectations.
Whilst it is true that the harder exams may present problems for borderline children who perhaps will not now get a pass, the high achievers are also affected. Children in my DC's class once on target for a A or A* are now predicted grade 7's at most. Nobody actually knows how it will all pan out until the first few years are out of the way - perhaps faced with potentially low pass rates, the grades will be revised upwards again and more than expected will be able to get the top grades - but teachers are worried about it I think (as are many parents).

Stickerrocks Fri 15-Apr-16 09:24:34

Thanks everyone. My main objections were that she repeatedly said that the C19 texts were difficult and most people don't enjoy them and the English dept missed a great opportunity to make them "more accessible" by not telling us which texts they were planning to study promptly after the decision had been made. It's unhelpful building up the expectation that the books are going to be dull before they've even turned the first page. I looked that the examining body book lists last night and they were all standard classics. If they were moving to Chaucer, I would have been worried! The ones on the list included my old O' level texts, with the addition of Meera Syal, so nothing really seems to have changed

We appreciate that the grading system will be returning to a style with far fewer top grades, without the coursework element as well. We have already been to meetings about the new structure, where the younger parents who had taken GCSEs looked scared at the thought of more exams and no course work and the grey haired lot shrugged!

I'm probably going to take her to the NT cinema screenings of some of the other Shakepeare cropping up over the next few months to get a feel for the language and style.

tiggytape Fri 15-Apr-16 09:52:21

Stickerrocks - I agree with you that there's no need to dismiss any texts as boring but perhaps by "less accessible" she just meant hard (compared to GCSEs of the recent past).

If you are comparing the new GCSE to the old O'Levels then it would be easy to think that not much has changed but children haven't been taught in that manner for a few decades years now. They have all attended school where the culmination of their work in English is an assessment based on coursework, controlled assessments and a variety of texts to suit all abilities.

In addition, they are used to being set work that is suited to their ability. The new GCSE has no tiered papers. So whereas, once upon a time a lower ability student could take the foundation paper at GCSE (or a CSE instead of an O'Level), all students now have to take the same paper and attempt the harder ("less accessible") work.

ABetaDad1 Fri 15-Apr-16 10:24:19

Problem is that most of the teachers themselves didn't take the old style O level exams so for them it seems a horrendous change but the grey haired among us just shrug because we all did it the old way.

Stickerrocks Fri 15-Apr-16 11:55:03

Now you're both making me feel very old, but I suppose the good old days were 30 years ago now!

tiggytwig Fri 15-Apr-16 13:37:37

Very strange opinion from the teacher in that teenagers find it hard to understand the 19th centuary text. I remember doing both this books when I did GCSE and that was over 25 years ago.

Also my DS who is in YR6 primary school is reading Romeo and Juliet so it can't be that difficult (or can it).

ShanghaiDiva Fri 15-Apr-16 13:37:41

It is frustrating that the teacher is already suggesting that the 19th century texts are dull sad
My son it taking iGCSE literature and the class really enjoyed Jekyll and Hyde. His school did not take the coursework option and everything seems to be working out well.
I am one of the grey haired shruggers.

howabout Fri 15-Apr-16 15:01:12

Tiggy mine did Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and the Tempest as musicals at primary school. (DD1 says they are BBC resources and great fun). Despite what you hear about Scottish education on MN, for better or worse, our lot never abandoned the classic texts in the first place.

I am clearly very bored of playing Shopkins with DD3 because I just had to google to reassure myself I am right in thinking Shakespeare is in fact 17th century and An Inspector Calls is 20th century. Perhaps there is an issue with the teacher after all.

tiggytwig Fri 15-Apr-16 15:14:22

howabout you are correct on both cases on the books. smile

tiggytape Fri 15-Apr-16 16:25:10

The teacher wasn't referring to Shakespeare or An Inspector Calls as being 19th century or less accessible. The 19th century novels students might study include: Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens: Great Expectations, Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre, Mary Shelley: Frankenstein, Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four (for the AQA board).

I also don't necessarily think she was saying they were dull - just hard for some students. She is probably correct in thinking that many lower ability students are going to find these new texts and the new style of exam far less accessible than a paper more tailored to their needs.
The 19th century novel question for example will be the same for top set students as those in lower sets. It will present students with an extract from the text and ask them to answer a specific question at length relating to that extract and then relating it to the novel as a whole.

That part of the exam will take about an hour so a lengthy written response is expected. This is totally accessible to some students but there is no alternative for those who are not at that level - there's no foundation paper, no alternative texts, no CSE option and of course, anyone who doesn't pass must retake it.

CalebHadToSplit Fri 15-Apr-16 18:54:20

As an English HoD, I had a panic then and had to rush to reassure myself about exam years. Both the new English Language AND the new English Literature qualifications are first teaching 2015 and first examinations 2017.

OP, I would send a message to the HoD just to make them aware of the negativity. We've got our Y9s studying two of the C19 novels this year to get them familiar with that style of writing and some are branching out to read more on their own. It's my favourite time period for literature and while some students find them tricky at first, they can get there in the end.

Stickerrocks Fri 15-Apr-16 22:35:36

Thanks for all the advice. I've dropped them an email. They're spreading their GCSE courses over 3 years & have started introducing the texts, as you have Caleb. I understand what you're saying Tiggy, but the class concerned are the top set. I'd be concerned if their teacher thought they would struggle with any of the books on the list, as there would be little hope for the 10 sets below them! That was why the negativity was so frustrating.

ABetaDad1 Sat 16-Apr-16 08:08:25

The bottom line here is the ne A levels will be harder and some pupils will not be able to make the grade and should not be doing them.

I am 52 and did the old A levels which were hard. Far fewer people did them. We need to get away from the all will win prizes and 50% will go to university mentality.

Stickerrocks Sat 16-Apr-16 08:13:01


enchantedfairytale Sat 16-Apr-16 08:15:56

This is definitely an issue. I think there's been a lot of hysteria about the 'new style' examinations, and some of its rubbed off from the teachers to the students. Hope it gets sorted OP smile

ShanghaiDiva Sat 16-Apr-16 08:18:32

Agree with ABetaDad1.

allegretto Sat 16-Apr-16 08:26:32

Surely it is up to her to make sure they ARE accessible and the children don't find them dull?! Sounds like she doesn't really like teaching literature.

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