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

No comments:

Post a Comment