Is English GCSE easy? Should it be graded more rigorously?

Many of my readers are students.  Many of those are about to embark on the summer of joy that is exam-time.  I wonder how they feel after being told that English is a “lenient” subject.

Sorry, just because one speaks the language in which one is examined, that does not make it “lenient” (whatever that means.).  Come off it.  There is plenty that is wrong with the current examination system, but simply penalising the poor student (most of whom have no choice about studying at GCSE level) because of a fatuous appearance of simplicity is just not on.  Many feel that the syllabus is dull, granted, and that there is much too much focus too early on analysis at the expense of writing and reading, but that a subject which has at its heart the study and understanding of the written and spoken word is regarded as simplistic is simply ridiculous.

Whilst students need to respond intelligently to unseen texts and to engage with sensible analysis, the idea of this being a simple examination is a non starter.  Quite apart from anything else, language has such nuance and students need to find this in their own responses as well as in the writing they are studying.  There is no useful formula to solve a poem which can simply be applied and regurgitated each time one sits the paper.  I don’t mean to belittle Maths or science by that comment, but there is a clear correlation between the time taken to mark the writing of a good GSE student in English  – weighing each phrase and following their independent line of thought and the straightforward right or wrong of other subjects.  God knows, this does not make them “easy”, far from it, but apparently they are significantly harder than English, if we believe Ofqual as quoted below.  Why?

I note there is no comment here about IGCSE – usually removed from the broad brush of Government dictat.  I can only imagine the carnage of a dual system where one type of exam might be perceived as much more lenient…

I would welcome a single exam board with a clear assessment policy, somewhat akin to the IBDP which manages to apply the same mark scheme every year with notable success.  Until this utopia is reached:

Leave it alone – it is not broken, but soon will be if the endless tinkering never stops.  Anyone who remembers #GCSEFiasco of 2012 will recognise that Ofqual have a record of destroying some of the weakest but most hardworking students in the country.  It should not happen again.

The article from the Telegraph is printed below.

From   Daily Telegraph

” English GCSEs could be made harder to ensure fewer students get top marks under proposals by the exams regulator, Ofqual.

“Students have always had to work hard for good grades in English; and with the introduction of the new GCSEs this year, they will have to work harder still.”
Paul Clayton, the director of the National Association for the Teaching of English

This would mean around a quarter of pupils taking these exams could fail to get the crucial “pass” grade as the shakeup would make grades more comparable across subjects.

However, the plans have been met with resistance from teachers who argue this change would be “unfair” on pupils and would have “devastating” consequences, according to a report in the Times Educational Supplement (TES).

Under the current plans, those taking subjects seen as easier, like arts and English, would find it more difficult to get high marks. This would make comparisons across subjects, say between art and physics, much easier.

The proposal is one of a number of options being analysed for GCSE and A-levels. Another option includes making it easier for harder subjects to receive As and A*s. There is also the possibility to make no changes to the current system.

An analysis conducted for Ofqual, based on 2013 results, shows that under this new model, GCSE English – a “lenient” subject – would see results fall from 64 per cent of pupils gaining a C or above to 46 per cent – a drop of 28 per cent.

At A-level, English, seen as a “lenient” subject, would see results fall from 78 per cent to 65 per cent, while among “severe” subjects, physics would see results rise from 74 per cent to 88 per cent.

The shakeup would be designed to make grades more comparable across subjects  

Paul Clayton, the director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, told TES: “Students have always had to work hard for good grades in English; and with the introduction of the new GCSEs this year, they will have to work harder still.

“We do think that there’s a reasonable expectation that you should get similar grades across similar subjects without significant variation, but it is the grading that needs to be tackled.”
Suzanne O’Farrell at the Association of School and College Leaders

“To move the goalposts yet again, in order to achieve some spurious sense of parity with other subjects, may well have catastrophic effects on student motivation.”

Jenny Stevens, a former head of English told an Ofqual conference last week that the reform “would have a devastating effect”.

Suzanne O’Farrell, curriculum and assessment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “I think that we want a system that is fair to pupils, teachers and parents and we don’t feel that all subjects fit into one statistical analysis. It is also misleading to talk about easy and hard subjects.

“We do think that there’s a reasonable expectation that you should get similar grades across similar subjects without significant variation, but it is the grading that needs to be tackled.”

Ofqual is expected to examine the options and decide what option it favours by September.

Any change would be brought in after the move to scrap current A*-G grades and replace it with a 9-1 grading system, with 5 being considered a good “pass”.

An Ofqual spokesman said: “We are continuing with our programme of work into inter-subject comparability which we launched in December 2015.

“The aim of the programme is to stimulate debate and talk openly about this complex issue.

“There are no policy announcements at this point and all of the research reports are included in the programme as topics for debate.””

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