So the cat is out the bag. Old school terminal exams are here to stay. There is an end to coursework and its bastard love child – controlled assessments. Speaking & listening has officially become a third rate skill deemed fit only for a token mention in the exam qualification credits. No alarms and no surprises. I’m sure I read all of that in the Telegraph over a year ago!
Still, I am left lingering over some questions about our brave new, and determinedly linear, world. I am left with questions about GCSE English and English Language (unfortunately the nuances of the newly minted Maths GCSE are beyond my knowledge). So here goes:
– Will the removal of extended writing, beyond a time-constrained terminal exam, prepare students adequately for A levels and university study?
– Will the reduced importance of speaking and listening have a knock on effect in the classroom with regards to teaching those crucial skills? If we value those skills for our students, could we not have endeavoured to look at successful models of S&L assessment, like the International Baccalaureate Diploma (regardless of cost to exam boards)?
– Should qualifications like the English iGCSE, which includes coursework and S&L assessments, be allowed to coexist with a new English GCSE and therefore be judged comparatively? Is this fair?
– Why are we bothering with a token gesture inclusion of S&L on the exam certificate? Is that inclusion an implicit recognition that if you don’t formally assess skills then they don’t get taught adequately?
– Will the English Language exam produce any better reading material than the lobotomised fare we have had to suffer?
– What talented examiner is going to be able to write exams in English that every student in England can access? Can we meet this person and ask them lots of questions about effective differentiation?
– Why do we bother with a nationally prescribed canon of authors? The ‘de facto canon’ will emerge anyway – why not entrust schools with that particular ‘freedom’ to choose?
– Whilst we are on the canon – why do people get annoyed by the inclusion of Romantic poetry (yes, I am aware this contradicts my previous question) and Victorian novels? Think Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge, Shelley, Dickens, Hardy, Bronte (the lot of ’em), Conrad and Eliot. Why would we not choose many of these if we had the freedom to do so?
– Given we are moving to an ‘all eggs in one basket’ terminal exam, what guarantees are in place for an improved standard of exam marking?
– Will the new league table measures lessen the incredible pressures on English teachers to teach students the ‘shape of the spoon’? Do the DfE recognise that it has been the punitive accountability measures which have distorted the teaching of English over these last few years and it has driven many brilliant English teachers to breaking point?
– What will be the implications for school entry policy in response to double counting English Language in league tables only with the inclusion of English Literature? (Thanks to David Birch for the reminder)
– Will we be given time – regardless of what new government or coalition emerges from the next election – to train, implement and teach these new GCSEs? In fact, can we move these curriculum changes outside of the electoral cycle altogether?
I have many more questions. In the last couple of years English teachers have been used to having many more questions than answers. The uncertainty and inability to plan with any trust in what we are planning has been dispiriting to say the least. I am not against many aspects of the curriculum changes at GCSE, quite the contrary, but I am sceptical about their implementation.
If this is to be a real and enduring shift in the quality and standard of the GCSE qualifications then the changes need to involve the very English teachers who will ultimately determine the success of such qualifications. Any new qualification will also need a sustained period of time to fully develop and flourish. I am even willing to be tentatively optimistic about these proposed changes, but many questions still need answering.