Friday, 15 January 2016

How Do You Pick An Exam Spec?

"I just want a change so I am moving from Edexcel to AQA."
"WJEC is just easier. I'm changing to that."
"I like the look of OCR."
"It just won't suit my students."
"I'm just staying with Edexcel."
"AQA have always been good to my students."

Like may subjects, the RE world is busy discussing the soon to be approved GCSE Religious Studies options. Since I have been writing a textbook for Edexcel, it would seem foolish to teach anything else; even if it is not perfect, at least I know it very well. However, having looked at the specs from the earliest stages, I think I would struggle to pick which exam board for students to study. I just don't know what my criteria would be.

I've never been a Head of Department. In my first job, we did AQA and my current school we do Edexcel; in both cases, I just got on with it. Both had their advantages, but equally their weaknesses. Is there a 'perfect' exam and spec? I doubt it.
Some things that I think are true:
  • All exams will now cover the same content (as set out in DfE documentation)
  • All exams will be equally hard (as ensured by OFQUAL)
  • All exams will have an equal amount of content (as ensured by OFQUAL)
  • All exams will include extended writing
So what things do teachers consider when making a decision:
  • Resourcing - Who is writing textbooks? Who is producing online resources? What will they cost?
  • Popularity - Linked to the above, the more people teaching it, the more resources will be shared on TES, UKEdChat etc.
  • 'Approach' - How have the spec writers organised the material? Is it like the DfE Annexe or has it been rearranged thematically, perhaps around the popular philosophy and ethics themes?
  • Assessment - Some teachers prefer a predictable exam structure, some have already show preference for certain types of questions in the published SAMs.
  • Marking - How accurate has marking been? Have their been multiple 'marking scandals
  • History - I've always done it...
After asking on the Facebook groups Save RE and The RE Teacher's Forum, a few responses got me thinking. Many cited assessment... but then said they simply wanted to be confident in how their students would be assessed. At this stage, when specs and SAMs are not confirmed, how can this be a deciding factor? It can't, yet some people have already made their decision based upon this. I do think assessment is vital, but in certainly feels like a bit of a stab in the dark at the moment. Some have said they like particular mark allocations though, and this is to be confirmed whether they will change or not.

Many of the exam boards seem to be taking a more formulaic approach, which is better for less able students as they can be thoroughly prepared for types of questions. I think in some respects teachers would love an unpredictable paper to really test their students out, but in reality, when we all need to be conscious of grades, we must ensure students do as well as possible.

Content does vary slightly, in so far as some boards are only doing some of the ethics and philosophy themes. This may influence some teachers as they perceive certain topics to be more or less appealing. The popular GCSE themes of euthanasia and abortion now only feature as a small part, which many are disappointed about (I'm not too disappointed, but that's another blog...).

Some are still citing perceived easiness of one board over another, but given the time OFQUAL have spent and the large consultation, it would be disappointing if there was the case. RE teachers have been kept waiting as OFQUAL want to get it right. I really hope they have. I do think it was one of Gove's great ideas that never came to fruition... one exam board for each subject.

Exam boards have been working hard to get the attention, and business, of teachers. Perhaps it will be the boards that offer the most support: schemes of work, free resources, free INSET? Will it be a rush at the start, or will there be imbedded, long term support to help teachers? Sadly only time will tell.

Others have genuinely cited "gut instinct", others 'teachability' or suitability. Others have said they are with an exam board for another subject, and want to stay the same. Some have said they want the fewer changes the better. A few have claimed that they are looking for what is most relevant and engaging... I think this is perhaps the teachers responsibility?

I've picked my GCSE course, but still not sure on A-Level yet... For both A-Level and GCSE, I know I will planning and preparing as I go. I'm not going to get too stressed right now.

Image courtesy of Formico

Thursday, 14 January 2016

#UKEdChat - The 3 Rs: Recruitment, Retention and Retirement

Image courtesy of UKEdChat

It's been over 18 months since I last hosted #UKEdChat (see <here>). Tonight, I step in to host and look at the topical issues of teacher recruitment, retention and retirement. We begin at 8pm with these questions:


Q1 - What unusual strategies does your school use to recruit new teachers?
Q2 - How can teachers make the profession more appealing to the ‘outside world’ and improve recruitment?
Q3 - With teacher-demand high, it is an employee’s market, what will this mean for schools?

Q4 - What cost-effective benefits can schools offer to retain staff?
Q5 - Aside from money, what single factor would keep you at a particular school?
Q6 - Can UK teachers be unified to solve problems of retention from within, and if so how?
Q7 - What strategies and opportunities can senior leaders use to motivate their staff, ultimately ensuring they stay?

Q8 - When experienced teachers are costly, how can schools balance both the books and their staffing?
Q9 - What would you say to a member of staff indicating they are leaving the profession?

Read Storify and more <here> on UKEdChat

Monday, 4 January 2016

#Nurture1516 - A Professional 6 & 6

My personal life has been dominated by the arrival of my first child, Tommy. He arrived in October, but we had spent from mid-January knowing he was on his way... this explains why I was not last man standing (with Stephen Lockyer) at the pub after #TMBett15. 'Life changing' seems totally inadequate, and is so often the case, there are others who can better explain fatherhood, it's joys and it's fears; check out: <this> [FB link] and <this>.

Already it's changed my outlook to work. I can't do as many TeachMeets, nor writing commitments for example (unless they pay - that's different, as babies are not cheap!). I also need to shift my working day... sometimes I can get in early and get some tasks completed, on other days Tommy is already up and so I go in later. I try to leave by 4pm at the latest (we thankfully live 5 minutes drive from school), or I get very little time with Tommy. This sometimes means getting everything sorted and sitting down at 9/10pm to start work. Family time is really, really important and compromises must be made, and stuck to, to balance work.

We are only 3 months in, and only time will tell how things pan out. I may not be blogging as much, tweeting as much, attending Carl's 'salons' or Andrew's curries... but I am still here! Priorities have just changed.

Professional Highlights of 2015 (in no particular order)
  • Head of Year - Surviving my first year as HoY 10 and already one term of HoY 11. It's been incredibly hard work, but a lot of fun. I think every member of senior management should have a shot at pastoral leadership to understand exactly what the job demands; it helps. Read more <here>.
  • Blogger Curries & Salons - Andrew and Carl have facilitated various socials around London. It's good to put faces to avatars and realise that the education world is a friendly and supportive one... looking outside your school, having your ideas challenged over a pint or popadom is always a pleasure. There are many in the edu-Twitter/Blogger world who I genuinely consider friends. Some sent cards and gifts when Tommy was born; that's not just someone you 'follow'. Oh and Leeds after #NRocks15... that was a lot of fun with the Staffrm gang!
  • The London RE Hub Conference 2015 - Somehow I organised (with the help of a truly amazing team), and seemingly pulled off, a pretty impressive conference in London for over 100 delegates. We did something that no-one else was doing, focusing on subject knowledge in RE and ensured a lasting legacy through the use of digital media. See what we did <here>
  • The RE Echo Chamber - After trying to get more RE teachers blogging rather than just arguing on Save RE, with the help of Andrew, this place was born. I try to organise monthly #BlogSyncRE topics (when time allows). It seems like a success so far; there has been some great writing and reflection about RE... and boy is it needed! See <here>
  • TM London 2015 - It was great to be part of the a team that put on possibly London's biggest (non-fringe) TeachMeet event. It was informative, fun and a great success. Read about it <here>. I've not been able to get any TM Havering events off the ground (looking for help if anyone is keen to take over?), so this was my curer.
  • "Catholic Stuff" - There is so much to mention here. Being asked to write a GCSE textbook, working with the CES, speaking at Porta Fidei (a national conference on Catholic education), looking at projects with St Mary's. It has been such a privilege and an honour.
Plus on top of this I got to speak at, and attend, various TeachMeets, conferences and events, write guest blogs plus upset the RE world on Twitter and Save RE, work nationally on the future of RE with Culham St Gabriel's plus much more (most of my presentations are <here>). Thank you to each and every person who gave me opportunities to become a better teacher. Thank you also to those who follow me on Twitter and read my blogs. It means a lot.

Looking Forward to 2016 (again, in no particular order)
  • Textbook Publication - Writing a textbook for OUP over the last 6 months+ has been hard work, yet brilliant. We've already had over 30 schools order our book. If you are considering studying Edexcel GCSE Catholic Christianity, please check it out <here>. The moment I hold this book, will be one of overwhelming joy, especially knowing the influence it will have on the classroom - where it matters most!
  • The Queen's Garden Party - I have been invited to attend one of the Queen's Summer Garden Parties by the DfE, via the CES, for my contributions to Catholic Education. I am genuinely amazed and overwhelmed by this. Being recognised in this way feels like one of the highest accolades possible... plus tea and cake are involved!
  • - Having now taught myself to build websites through WordPress, an all new, far more professional site is in the pipe line, hopefully with some HEI support. It's focus will be supporting teachers for the new GCSE and A-Level but there are some far grander plans for the future! Watch this space (and join the mailing list <here>).
  • The London RE Hub Conference 2016 - April will see the second major conference organised by this project, focusing on the needs of secondary teachers for the new GCSE. Having people repeatedly ask when it is happening and when can they buy tickets is quite amazing. Info will go up <here> as soon as it can be announced.
  • TM London 2016 - Few people could do "bigger and better" than last time. However, if anyone can, it's probably Ross. I'm not sure what my role will be, but free, teacher-lead CPD has given me so much, it is nice to give something back.
  • TeachFirst RE Conference, St Alban's #RE - Am I Bothered? Conference..? - Continuing to be asked to speak, lead and present at various teaching and RE events never gets tiresome. I am glad people think I have something worth sharing. Thank you again for continuing to ask me!
2016 is already shaping up to be an amazing year with babies on the way (not us just yet!), weddings, family holidays, Thank you to Emily for putting up with me and all my 'teacher stuff', and I am determined to be not only the best teacher I can be, but the best husband and dad to Tommy too.

Photos taken by:

Sunday, 3 January 2016

My Top 5 Posts of 2015

2015 was a full year of professional blogging for me. Some posts seem to get quite wide readership and were shared by some of the 'big names' in education. I try to not get too bogged down with stats... at the end of the day, I write for me. I don't deliberately write things to get views - even the stuff on BAD RE which always seems popular (but oddly didn't make the Top 5!). 

Anyway, these were the Top 5 for the year:

  1. Education Inspirations [November 2015] - A blog about who I read
  2. RE: Radicalism and Extremism [July 2015] - A blog about Prevent and RE
  3. Metacognition for KS4 & KS5 [January 2015] - A 'work in progress' of how I am building in some metacognition to my teaching
  4. Why can't we talk about intelligence and genetics? (#rED15) [September 2015] - My ResearchEd post on IQ
  5. BlogSyncRE Special: A New Settlement? A RC View [June 2015] - A blog about the future of RE in a RC context

My favourite posts? Maybe these...

Image courtesy of Free Stock Photos