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Why Aren’t We More Angry?

Is teaching getting harder? Carol has taught for a number of years but has a big problem with the new GCSE format. She thinks students are almost set up to fail.

I have been saying to anyone that will listen that Gove’s GCSE reforms have created GCSEs which are not fit for purpose. Everyone I have said it to agrees, except of course the Conservative Government. 

At the time of the changeover, I was working as a peripatetic Maths GCSE Retake Tutor for a training provider, five different places, five different classes of about 15-ish students or less. This was in stark contrast to my more previous experience of GCSEs working in a secondary school, as a 1 to 1 maths teacher then a full time maths class teacher and then ending up as a full time science teacher, running their first ever STEM club, because that’s where they were short staffed! 

I love teaching, always have, and towards the end of my career relished the prospect of a gentler pace, but still making a difference…..and then we get the new fat Maths GCSE….the revision guide was a third fatter….three times as much stuff to get through? More chances of getting a topic that you were not comfortable with? Had I got more time to cover the extra stuff properly? Joke, obviously…

My students had already failed at school, there was no way that I wanted them to feel that sense of failure all over again and now this! Under the old system my kids did quite well, it reflected their ability well. I cannot say the same of the cohorts who took the new GCSE. It was a lottery, would the topics they knew well come up?  I listened with amazement as the guy from Pearson explain when being interviewed that “We have not quite got the transition questions right.” Have not got the transition questions right? I nearly choked on my coffee! How much are they being paid again to get it right? How many years of experience have they had creating exam questions? Why have they struggled to get it even close to being right? And why did they suddenly change from a an exam where the questions go easy to hard, to randomising the questions without telling everyone… because some of my students were seriously thrown!  Unfair! I wanted to shout… but no one seemed to be listening… “Actually it suits some kids because they get a breather after tackling a hard question.” Yes it does, but it does not suit all kids… One of my students had been a selective mute. As she gained confidence, beginning to ask if she did not understand anything, she started to get fives in her mocks, even got a five on the online predicted paper, (though I don’t always agree with their prediction it was a great confidence booster). She did not pass, her confidence lost. Was it the random assortment of questions?

What we need is an exam system that will suit the majority, order the kids from best to worst, based in a curriculum that promotes thinking skills, setting our kids up for life AND exams beyond GCSE. It is not hard to do!  We can do anything! We do not need a curriculum that is so full that it is harder to have learning adventures. One that causes teachers and learners stress, one that has successfully gambled on teachers doing what they always do… make the most of a bad job, protecting their students, sharing their love of their subject in new innovate ways to try to cover the most amount of content in the least amount of time.  (Don’t even get me started about Flipped Learning… ‘Not enough Flippin time’ I call it.) And of course moving the pass mark down if the exam paper is too difficult, glossing over narrow grade boundaries and the fact that every one really cares for the children and so will do their best to muddle through…

But muddling through is not good enough… My youngest of five has done well in these new GCSEs, by any measure, the school has got their best results ever…but it does not mean that the GCSEs are OK, because this has occurred DESPITE the new GCSEs and NOT BECAUSE of them…Because of the brilliant hard work of teachers day in day out doing the best they can…and they deserve better…our students deserve better…

Personally, I am finding out exactly what our political parties thoughts are on the GCSEs. I am urging them to speak to teacher(s) plural, and not an advisor because we are the professionals, the experts in education…and I know we all have different ideas and experiences to contribute. I hope that as teachers we are continuing to have discussions about the GCSEs and how they can be improved. As a write this I am not part of a Maths Department. I would welcome the thoughts of those who are still at the chalk face, especially now I have the time to campaign!

Have I become one of those old teachers grumbling in the corner saying that it was better in the olden days? No! Because it wasn’t always…there is so much brilliant stuff now, sharing of superb resources and greater understanding of how students learn, so how best to teach…

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The author

Carol’s degree was Zoology Biochemistry Jt. Hons. She came into teaching saying ‘we need to teach our children thinking skills, to concentrate more, to improve their memory’. The only thing she could find was a Man Power Services book about study skills with Kim’s Game in it! She has watched the development and discovery of how students learn and remembers with relish and uses that knowledge often. As a Mum of five, former Infant school parent governor and helper, Secondary school parent governor, FE Visiting lecturer (Carol has taught numeracy, literacy, creative writing, help your child with Maths/English, family learning, employability, SEND learners, been paid to produce resources, HAZ family learning project developer and deliverer, Access tutor, Lectured University students against plagiarism, and taught them to budget on a student loan. Taught in schools 1 to 1 Maths, GCSE English/Maths and Sciences and lastly a training provider, GCSE Maths and English retakes, and functional English and private tutor. She is also the wife of a Secondary Headteacher, who having retired, got fed up of being at home and is now a Junior School TA. Her perspective is quite broad and deep!

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