Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Janine Clatworthy

Experience Base

Examiner/Moderator

1987–1999:

Examiner and Senior Examiner for the Western Cape Joint Matriculation Board (English) (South Africa)—team leader and assisted with constructing exam questions etc. (A level equivalent)

1999–2004:

Sub Examiner for AQA (marked all three GCSE Lang and Lit papers  at different times)

2005—date:

Moderator for GCSE (AQA) English and English Language, Subject Advisor (English and Lit), Speaking and Listening Advisor . Consistently graded “A”

2011:

OFQUAL Subject Expert (English)

2011:

wrote and had published a series of textbooks (Improving Speaking and Listening: Aiming for Level 4, 5 and 6)

I am currently teaching English at an Academy (an OCR Centre); but was, until July, the Lead Subject Advisor (English) for Tower Hamlets and in that role supported teachers in evaluating and selecting, planning and delivering the new English GCSEs. My comparative grid of the new GCSEs for the four awarding bodies was identified as a model of good practice and is still available at several on-line education sites.

In 2011, I was the only secondary consultant to be accredited by the National strategies in School Improvement in the secondary team.

Prior to 2009, I was a Head of English for over 20 years, both in South African and in English schools. My experience has always been in “challenging” schools catering to the most disadvantaged children in the UK and in Africa.

Key Points:

Supporting the formation of a single Awarding Body/National Examinations body.

Restructuring of Exam Structure for English and Literature into a model that is simple and yet would offer texts/choices suitable for a wide range of interests and abilities in candidates.

Removal of current “cottage industry” approach.

Cost savings ideas.

Support for new structures for schools.

My Views

When is the borderline not a borderline?

As long as schools are measured against exam pass criteria, Heads will respond by pressurising middle leaders, who will in turn pressurise staff to ensure pupils achieve a C. This is not necessarily a bad thing and can drive up the expectations of teachers—especially in schools where socioeconomic factors tend to impact progress at secondary level - to a point.

In schools where the 5 A*–C are an over-riding concern, almost all the school’s energy will be focussed on the C/D border, with insufficient attention being given to those pupils who should be achieving B, A or A*: ironically, disadvantaging the most able and undermining their clear potential to become university undergraduates and—in the long term—raising their life expectations.  Yes, the old chestnuts of the level of family support, discipline and expectation in impoverished households does impact pupil progress, but focussing overwhelmingly on the C/D borderline—and “teaching to the test” has an equally limiting effect.

In consequence, and in the past, coursework was scaffolded so that “Ds could follow the teacher’s pattern, use the teacher’s ideas, as well as their selected and explained quotes to write an essay, which after significant input and redrafting would become a “C”.  The “increase” in “C”s initially may have been due to improved teaching and the longer term effect of the National Strategy, but in my experience schools were attempting to convert pupils with FFT (Fischer Family Trust) “D” targets into Cs and this is where the mechanistic over structured and over assisted coursework “interventions” would take place. Hence, my concern around any return to a coursework based assessment model.

Speaking and listening (20% of the entre GCSE) tends to be over-rewarded and hence will redress the “D” achieved in the exam to Exam boards have constantly “improving” results at GCSE S&L putting “pressure” on the exam components to achieve higher and higher marks to achieve a “C” as so many marks are already banked through the assessment in school of S&L.

In truth, collecting Speaking and Listening marks is onerous and entirely subjective. Yesterday, my top set presented a developed role play using Dulce et Decorum Est as a prompt—I listened to 32 pupils in 50 minutes (activities on different topics which needs to be done repeatedly in order to secure the three (optimal) distinct marks for speaking and listening), and simply “missed” some of what one pupil out of the last group said. She showed me her notes afterwards…. I am an experienced teacher and a speaking and listening advisor for an Awarding Body so if I find assessment of the slippery entity which is speech, a challenge at times, how are less experienced teachers faring? If we believe that speech should be taught and assessed, as if English was a foreign language then the GCSE course should be structured as MFL courses are with schools having to individually interview pupils for “orals”. Mass assessment is not effective.

In my opinion, speaking and listening, discussion, speeches would all continue in English even if the assessment of this area were to be removed. Outside of London, some authorities have only a handful of EAL pupils whereas within London, as in the Borough I worked in, an entire school may speak English and one other specific language. In which case, what are our goals? To prepare pupils to speak English formally? To prepare students for the world of work? To have fun using our language? To support EAL? Surely, the “fun” and enjoyment could be put back into the classroom by removing the need to assess S&L. Why not separate speaking and listening and have it as an “optional” course or unit taught by drama specialists within the school? Remove it from English GCSE so that its assessment does not overly impact the statistical C (5 A*-C incl E&M) and mask progress in reading and writing. What is the purpose of assessing role plays in English? Discussion? Individual speeches? The GCSE English/English Literature and English Language course has too many components and yet although English teachers teach and assess the drama technique of role play, we duplicate the study of drama texts with drama teachers teaching drama texts as well as performance at GCSE: a wasteful overlap.

The New Specification

The new specification with its constant assessment is completely damaging to the education of the current GCSE students. The problem with allowing agencies such as QCDA to “design” GCSEs is that none of the staff in that organisation had to deliver the programme and experience the constant assessment their model produced. I know as I supported its implementation as a Borough consultant, and only when faced with four weeks of teaching and then a two hour or four hour week of assessment—for the next two years—did I fully realise what this looked like for teachers, and for students—who with modular maths and science—are constantly in “test mode”. Knowledge is fragmented, links not made, development of ideas, skills, not always successful because of the “bitty” nature of the course. English isn’t “content”, “facts” it is the development of the ability to read, analyse and interpret text—literary or non-literary; to explore how writer’s write and develop their own skills as authors, poets, polemicists or politicians!

All for One or One for All?

When there are four awarding bodies, it is inevitable that inconsistency of approach will occur as each AB interprets the curriculum: for example, the OCR GCSE English specification allows pupils to take their plans for controlled assessment home which would allow help from family/friends. This is forbidden by the other three Awarding Bodies. This is just one tiny anomaly in a system fraught with “options” for alternative ways of doing things, producing an unfair system.

The level of support and access to resources is controlled by which AB has the greatest market share: AQA and Edexcel dominate the English GCSE market and so offer the “most” in subject advice and support. This is still quite limited with courses usually to be paid for by schools. These courses’ are often designed by people at the Awarding bodies who have been teachers in the past and are delivered by people who have been out of the classroom for 10 years or more, limiting their understanding of the complexities of delivering the spec. Training GCSE teachers needs higher quality input and consistent input to ensure that British children are successful and can compete on the world’s stage.

My view is that:

1. England should have a single National examination body: one set of examinations for all, with no arguments about whose question/text/prep/ admin/assessment practice is easier or not. Schools do not have to spend hours deciding between the labyrinthine complexities of the Boards. This Awarding Body should:

(a)Be government/civil service not private—the idea of competition to drive up standards fails when independent “companies” or charities are in competition for their “share” of the market (read £££!). They will “change” what they offer in order to secure or increase teacher support.

(b)Be part of the government task force or agency that sets up the curriculum—separating how we assess from what we assess and vice versa is bad practice in schools so must be bad practice nationally! This course must connect/progress from Year one–Year 13….no mandarins promoting only KS3 or KS2…the goal is competence at national assessment points: 11, 16 and 18.

(c)Should offer commonality and choice.

Make an English for All course that can reflect the needs of job finding pupils and employers and life…but which can be used for the 5A*-C criteria (I still support this…but would like it to be six  (all taken but one can be D)) so that we are offering the grounding that children all around the world receive on:

“where we and others live”,

“how we and others lived and what we have done before”,

“our language, culture and literature”,

the “language, culture and literature of others”,

“how our world works” and

“how we calculate the life, the world and everything!”)

GCSEs in English could look like this:

1.GCSE English for All—a core course that all English children must pass. This should cover all of the reading and writing skills that are essential for life in the modern world (writing to inform, describe, explain, advise, persuade, argue; reading for information—summarising, identifying purpose and audience, fact vs opinion etc…including the teaching of spelling, paragraphs, connectives/conjunctions and structure.

GCSE Talking English—two choices:

(a)an academic one that would feed into A level Language:

(i)the history of English

(ii) varieties of English

(b)An oral course (this could be subsumed into GCSE Drama—they could offer the current speaking and listening options much more effectively as English GCSE is already a “catch all” subject).

Assessment would be best with a simple exam structure: a compulsory part (set for all), options questions (questions must have parity of complexity and weight)

Teachers must know what the AOs are (AQA clear OCR awful) and which skills are being assessed (use of imagery/language etc; summary, extracting key points, identifying fact vs opinion; features of persuasive writing etc).

GCSE LiteratureEstablish a “Core Competencies” Unit which is mandatory and will assess the skills we see as essential to feed into A level or prepare students to be critical and enthusiastic readers in life. Then, let schools choose from a wider selection of modules, which must be “examined” in January and June (stop these overly frequent CAs…quality of teaching is disappearing).

The ordering of these units to be chosen at national level so that skills PROGRESS….not all schools get this right, which leads to pupils continuously sitting and resitting exams because of ineffective planning which leads to wasting valuable teaching time ….all very dull for pupils. So, why not offer schools choices?

A long time ago I was told that the best model is to “Keep it simple”….so:

One education department tasked with educating our children, young people and adults—we are not so very different!

One education Department who commission, run and support the assessment of the English Curriculum.

One curriculum from 5-18.

One plan for supporting the delivery of the new GCSEs—whether leading teachers or consultants but schools do need and will need support with managing GCSEs. At present some Awarding Bodies offer it, some offer very little…it is a “cottage industry” at present populated by a segment of the teaching population significantly skewed by age (over 60), gender (male) and distance form the teaching experience.

Advantages?

Gone would be the costs of paying vast amounts for exams.

Gone would be the costs of exams officers in schools (30-40K PA per officer, per school).

Gone would be the wasteful bulk production of syllabi, exam papers etc. One syllabus and one science exam…one English exam…Simples!

Marking of exams—why not have schools mark the exams (we mark everything else! And are employed by exam boards to mark the very exams that currently teachers cannot mark in schools.) BUT the DFE will need Moderators—to both visit schools during exams (are procedures being followed?) and to do as we do now—send for the top, bottom and a percentage of the rest to “remark” and check that grades have been awarded accurately. The people currently marking are teachers in the classrooms…so why not train everyone, support everyone, and moderate to ensure fairness?

Moderators could run the training in schools…or would that mean they were advisors or consultants…. I know schools need this as the 18 schools I advise p/t for AQA phone me ALL the time.

No CAs…too much time wasted assessing and not enough development/teaching time.

Support—AQA have really expanded the advisory role but the best advisors I have seen are actually old National Strategies advisors moonlighting p/t for the AB. Some of the others have been out of the classroom/out of full time work with education for too long. Careful scrutiny needed.

Resources

Publishers will be able to produce “collections” more cheaply as all schools will be choosing from the same units….this should increase competition and drive down prices

Internet sites like Teachit should have been a national resource (not “owned” by AQA) and could be free to all schools, as the dominance of the market share of resources like Teachit affects which AB schools select reinforcing specific Awarding Bodies power and profitability. Pupils’ access to GCSE English is being shaped not by National models but by the market share of an Awarding Body: a worrying scenario.

Reward exemplar resource producers (pay them) and put their resources onto a shared area (prestige for the schools)

Produce DVDs, schemes of work, resources, poetry packs, PPT interactive lessons etc etc  that can be downloaded by schools (no postage/materials costs—only development)—BUT avoid the National Strategy mistake—don’t ram them down teachers’ throats….let teachers choose whether they want to use them or create their own. Alternative SOW to be evaluated by your “consultants” and “accreditted” for use in schools.

…hmmm sounds like I’m writing my own job spec here! Having spent so much of my life teaching and assessing English and coaching English teachers, I feel absolutely passionate about changing the dull  and dysfunctional assessment system  we now have for GCSE - which in reality shapes the actual classroom curriculum of our children.

I am delighted that you are consulting teachers about “change”, and look forward to further opportunities to “have my say” or be involved in any way.

November 2011

Prepared 2nd July 2012