Sunday, 9 June 2019

Diet GCSE English Language or GCSE English Language Zero

The problem we have with GCSE, which I think Ofsted has cottoned on to, is that it is all too easy to tippex out the acronym GCSE on the exam papers and serve it up to KS3 students. Look at us, we are challenging the students. The exam board did this and gave us ‘KS3 friendly’ exam papers, which were watered down GCSE papers. As a result of this, some students are going to be beaten over head with the structure question for six whole years. How is the text structured to interest the reader? More like, how is the curriculum structured to interest the teacher (I mean the student)?

Those evil little exam questions and texts worm their way through KS3 and taint everything. They are questions to test the learning at the end of the teaching. Not at the beginning and the middle. They are not the curriculum and all too often they are the curriculum planners. The GCSEs are the end point. The time when, in theory, the knowledge and skills come to fruition.      

The problem comes when shifting to GCSE work from KS3. The time when you pointedly say numerous times that you are doing GCSE work now. You probably go all out and write GCSE several times on a PowerPoint slide - just so they get the idea that this is really, really, really GCSE work. Oh, and you adopt a serious tone to your speech.

This year I tried something with Year 9s and I am finding it quite useful for teachers and the department. I wanted students to get used to the reading demands of the GCSE exam papers from an early start, but at the same time I wanted to see what the students needed to focus on for Year 10 and Year 11. So, I decided to use the GCSE exam extracts in a multiple choice format. Instead of just giving students the GCSE questions or being kind and just giving students two of the four reading questions, I gave students the texts and thirty or so questions to work with. I wanted to analyse and view the skills and understanding students had.

The writing element of the GCSE questions is problematic and it can discourage students. A student can have a good understanding of the text, but if their writing isn’t good enough, then we’ll not see that level of understanding in their answers. Using MCQ allows me to separate the writing and the reading elements, which can help to motivate students when they see that they have understood the text and they understand that their writing is just the thing holding them back.

The process was pretty simple. The students did the test. Then, they marked each other’s test. Using a grid, they could see the areas of weakness. The beauty of the grid was it contained answers so it avoided the teacher reading out the answers one question at a time. There was no marking for the teacher, but lots of information. Information on word knowledge, summary skills, analysis etc. We then provided students with a PLC and tips on how to improve those key areas. Included on the sheet was the average mark for each area for the year group. Students then could see how they did in relation to others in the year.

The great thing about this process is that as a ‘step up’ to GCSE this was relatively easy and useful. It has been so effective that I am using it with our current Year 10s before they do a mock on Paper 2. They are going to do the MCQ test and then they’ll work through the real questions with an understanding where they might fall down with the reading skills and good understanding of the texts.   

 I have included the test and the resources used. This is based on November 2017 English Language Paper 2. The test is not perfect, but it is a starting point for us. I am still in the early stages of MCQ usage and, like all things, in time I’ll get better at them.

Marking sheet for the test  

Thanks for reading,


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