Pupils and teachers were disappointed with the GCSE English exams this year. English teacher Gayle Wood says that youngsters have been reduced to the status of pawns in a disastrous, political game. This is from the Guardian…
What do the English results for June 2011, January 2012 and June 2012 have in common? Not a lot it would seem. Indeed, some of the differences are so significant many believe they form the basis for a case against the exam regulator, Ofqual. Since the Welsh parliament ordered the Welsh exam board to regrade all English exams taken in Wales, it seemed inevitable that legal action would be started. And so it has: papers have now been served on Ofqual as well as AQA and Edexcel, two of the awarding bodies.
This crisis has been brewing for some time.
Confronted by the new improved GCSE exam, teachers wondered what was the best way to tackle the controlled assessment task on Macbeth. It asked students to explore the ways in which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were presented in a named scene and elsewhere in the play, and in at least one performed version.
Yet, I wondered how could a teacher manage to read the play, study the text and analyse performances in the very limited time available?
There is a growing sense, listening to those in the firing line, that the only possible solution is to cut corners: don’t watch more than one performed version of the play, in fact, don’t watch the whole play, don’t waste time looking at several scenes, just study the named scene. A final thought, to save time perhaps don’t tell them too much about the plot – it’s probably best not to. What is the point?
The Shakespeare question, like everything else, has become a reduction exercise. A vast amount of time is now put into managing an unmanageable curriculum that is neither appropriate nor challenging. Size matters: choice of text is often determined by length. Teachers often feel compelled to choose the shortest text. If we are all teaching George Orwell’s Animal Farm there’s some equality in that, I suppose. And so it goes on. It’s bite size to a bizarre extent with no time to think or explore, never mind stand and stare.
On top of all this, we’ve had the unedifying spectacle of the exam boards falling over themselves to appear ‘rigorous’. In the face of Michael Gove’s threat to introduce a single examining body, they were clearly fighting for their lives attempting to stand united lest divided they fell. They are now, however, in the unenviable position of being condemned, discredited and despised.
This debacle has affected every one of the hundreds of thousands of students who sat the ill-fated exam in June 2012. If they had taken the exam in either January 2012 or June 2011, their result would have been quite different: at least one grade if not two grades higher. There is definitely something nasty in the woodshed of results.
This half-baked system does no justice to today’s youngsters, the majority of whom are desperate to succeed and who thrive on learning. They deserve better. They need an education system that excites, challenges and equips them for their futures. But one that is fair…