By now, I think everyone in and out of the education world has started to get to grips with the changes to GCSEs. Certainly, as an English teacher I have been grappling with them since the summer of 2015. I’ve been working hard, almost as hard as my poor Y10 students, at understanding the new tasks, AOs, sections of the exams and everything else that goes along with it.
In essence, the bottom line is this: the new GCSEs (particularly English) are hard. REALLY hard. They require skills and contents they must be pre-taught from Y7. I am now teaching my Y7 students basic skills they will come to rely on in Y10 and 11. My Y10s don’t have that luxury, they were trained for a different, easier exam.
Another niggle with the new line up is the sheer level of content. 2 novels need to be studied and essentially rote-learned a modern, and 19th C. Tricky for most us, even harder when you also need to know a Shakespeare play backwards and the ins and outs of 15 anthology poems from 1789 to present day. This is, of course, along side the skills that are required for analysing unseen texts and poems, and creating Non fictions texts of their own plus comparing and contrasting non fiction texts from the 19th and 21st centuries. Phew.
But no sweat, we have two years. The nail in the educational coffin, so to speak, for me, is the very foundation of this new GCSE format. As a leader of a course described it to me, (a course entitled Outstanding Results in English GCSE) “these GCSEs are simply not designed for everyone to pass.” Hmmm…
So not only is the new 9-1 grading system a real headache to get your head round, and the new “pass grade” (used to be a C) is now much closer to a B but this has an impact that society is possibly not ready for. Students are going to fail, what’s more, teachers will know this, from when students start studying the GCSE. And if they don’t get their 5 9-5 grade GCSEs they will probably not be able to attend their choice of college and study A-Levels, ergo University.
This isn’t necessarily an issue in itself, it is good that we have a variety of people who do a variety of jobs, we can’t all be pop stars and DJs. BUT these students need to go somewhere… I imagine it will be vocational options which can be extremely useful for both job and life skills. However I can’t help but wonder, those students who we know, deep down, haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell, would be better off doing another qualification. Something like a functional skills unit, purely based on the key literacy skills needed to get a job and earn. SURELY this would be more beneficial to lower ability students than battling with learning Shakespearean insults or the conspiracy of silence within the plot of The Woman in Black. But no, it doesn’t hit any of the Progress 8 buckets… therefore we a limited as teachers in what we can really do for students. This is a very really wall stopping us doing what is best for the students we have. Is this right? Is this fair? All student have a right to education, we accept this as a basic human right. But shouldn’t this be an education that benefits them? Not frustrates and limits their potential? Or one that teaches skills that will not be useful?
Reading for pleasure is all good and well, but there’s not much point teaching that to students when they may end up working 3 jobs and spare time is a distant memory to them. As teachers we OWE these students better, the DESERVE better. I strive to be better and model this for my students. I go above and quite frankly way beyond my colleagues at times. But I do know at the end of the day, school year and Results Day there will be students left behind asking this question: “What about me?” As of yet, I have no answer I can provide.