Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Shootout: GCSE History vs GCSE RS

For those who don't know, I love Westerns. I really don't know why anyone makes any other kind of film to be honest. As my Twitter bio states, if I wasn't a teacher, I'd be a cowboy. However, I am pretty rubbish at horse riding and have fallen off a few times, so I don't think I am really all that cut out for it... 

I decided that actually, instead of just watching Westerns, that I should actually try to learn something about the period so I understood the context of the films a little better... as well as working out fact from fiction. I put out a tweet:

There were a few responses, but I learnt that Alex Ford had written a GCSE textbook for the OCR specification. I thought this was an ideal place to start - surely if a 16 year old can master this content, I could!?

I was going to skip all the blurb at the start as I felt I didn't really need any of the exam info stuff. However something caught my eye, this book represented 20% of the GCSE course. Now, it is worth noting that the book is 108 pages long, of this, page 8 to 95 are filled with content. There are some pictures and images, but there is a lot of text - I would estimate at least 800 words per double page spread. To cut a long story short, there is a lot to learn here for just 20% of your grade. 

It got me thinking about some of the criticism made about the new GCSE in Religious Studies:
  • "There is too much content." - History seems to have as much, if not more.
  • "It is not relevant enough." - This is relevant to me, as a Western lover, but this unit only takes the student as far as 1900 - not far enough to fully embrace modern American culture. A 6th former the other day asked me, "Did cowboys even actually exist?" 
  • "The interesting bits are no longer there [abortion/euthanasia]" - This is certainly not all gunfights and shootouts! 
I know the aim of OFQUAL was to try and make GCSEs, as close as possible, comparatively hard. RS GCSE has had a steep, step up. I believe History has got harder, and to ensure RS matched up, it has perhaps had to get much harder. There is much more content. there are far more tougher theological concepts, there are Sources of Wisdom and Authority (SoWA) to learn. We can certainly not teach it in an hour a week any more.

I guess we need to think smart, preempt difficulties and take action with the new spec (like Blondie). Otherwise we will be left running around after a lost cause (like Tuco) or completely out of the [GCSE] equation (like Angel Eyes). No-one wants to lose the shootout...

X Years of Expertise - GCSE and A-Level RS Working Parties

The new GCSE and A-Levels have caused great anxiety to many staff. The climate has changed since the last changes (2009 and 2008 respectively) whereby there is greater accountability, greater focus on exams (and technique), greater use of data, the introduction of performance related pay, more in depth exam analysis, ALPS, RAISE... all of these things necessitate changes to the class room teachers approach to Key Stage 4 and 5 teaching. Teachers are demanding more SAMs - but so are the students! A few comments / emails that I've had from my own students, with no prompting I hasten to add:
  • "Sir, how can there only be one SAMs? We need a bank of possible questions to practice." [GCSE Student]
  • "Will there be an examiner reports produced for us on the SAMs to read before the final exams?" [A Level]

Exam boards have been under pressure given the speed of exam reforms, but there are few and far opportunities for teachers to get together and use their collective expertise. So I thought I would organise some, thankfully backed by my school who lead a Teaching Alliance.

The affirmation I needed, was sending a colleague on a course for A-Level preparation (not exam board, and not the best), where one of the key recommendations was joining the respective Facebook groups, the A-Level one I admin myself! [GCSE Edexcel and A-Level Edexcel].

My rationale was this:
  1. Most examiners are experienced classroom teachers.
  2. All examiners are human beings, who need to interpret a mark scheme.
  3. Teachers can do the same - in fact they do exactly this on a regular basis!

I did some Maths.... If I could get 10 teachers in the room (sums done using GCSE figures)
  • 10 teachers X average 5 years teaching = 50 years total
  • 4 unit tests + 1 mock marked per student per year = 8 exam questions marked per student per year (the reality may well be far higher!)
  • 40 students taught on average per year (some schools only having an option group, some schools teachers having 2 classes in full cohort entry)

50 x 8 x 40 - Approx 16,000 GCSE questions marked by those in the room

That has  to count for something. Those teachers have sat with an exam board mark scheme, interpreting student answers time and time again. I'd also recon they have done that with a reasonable degree of accuracy - how often do you get your students grades to within one?

We know, from the desperate adverts, that some of our students' marking will be done by NQTs in the real thing. We know the exam boards will put in place fail-safes with their marking teams to ensure marking is as accurate as possible. We know some students will need to challenge their result and to have their marking checked. We know we will be pleasantly surprised with some students, and bitterly disappointed with others. We have to keep faith that the system works, reasonably well. 

However, I thought it was important to create an opportunity to sit around the table and discuss with other experienced colleagues. Therefore:
The Agnus Dei Teaching School Alliance are hosting two events where teachers of the new Edexcel A-Level and GCSE qualifications in Religious Studies can meet to work collaboratively, discuss current issues and support one another. The sessions will include:
  • “What we know” - exam board published resources, including updates
  • Discussion of mark schemes / assessment objectives
  • Discussion of current marking - teachers to bring samples of work / marking
  • Sharing our resources
  • Writing our own exam questions
  • Final conclusions - including compiling a list of questions for the chief examiner
The A-Level event would cover all study options
The GCSE event would primarily be for schools studying Spec A: Catholic Christianity
The sessions will be run at St Bonaventure's School in Forest Gate, East London (E7 9QD) at a cost of just £10 to cover refreshments.

HOWEVER a number of colleagues from around the country have said they can't come due to distance. Why not arrange your own? There are companies charged hundreds of pounds to provide what is freely available from exam board websites. Is it possible to have enough confidence in our own professionalism? Yes there are things that will need clarification, but talking it through with other experienced colleagues will hopefully help regain some of our confidence. We are able to deliver these new specs, and we are currently doing a bloody good job given the circumstances!

Edexcel are now offering some online and face-to-face training for next academic year. These are £240 (or £118.80 online). The fact you pay to enter students for the exam is not enough to expect free training to mark! Book via <here>