Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog: A reaction to a reaction reacting to someone else’s reaction

I currently teach AQA GCSE English within FE, so this weekend’s bluster about the new spec has affected me. But not in the same way perhaps as teachers delivering English Lit. I’ve been delivering the GCSE English qual, not the GCSE English Language, or GCSE English Lit qual. Just English GCSE. I already knew a smattering of the changes afoot as I’d seen some spec updates and FAQs sent through by the AQA earlier this year. It affects me thus:

The English GCSE is being abolished totally after the next academic year. So FE learners, who are on more vocational courses, and who got a D at GCSE English while in school, will now have to squeeze GCSE English Language or GCSE English Lit into one academic year, instead of the English GCSE.

The new GCSE English Language or GCSE English Lit courses will then be assessed through linear examinations, with no controlled assessments at all. Controlled assessments are essays written in class time under exam conditions that students can prepare for and take in brief notes and use a clean copy of the text.

Until now the GCSE English has been assessed by 5 controlled assessments (2 x creative writing, 1 on a Shakespeare play, 1 on a poetry anthology, and 1 on prose) and a 2hr15minute exam in the summer on reading and writing. My 5 cohorts have their exam next Tuesday. They also have to do a speaking and listening assessment, which doesn’t affect their final grade, is purely a numerical endorsement on their certificate, but without which they can’t obtain their GCSE grade at all.

The poetry and the prose have to come either from the ELH (English Literary Heritage) list or fall under the ‘other culture’ category. This year I let students choose 3 poems from a 19 poem ELH anthology, so the prose text had to fall under the ‘other culture’ category. Guess what we did for the prose text? Yes, Of Mice & Men.

My rationale for this was that most of them had already done it at school, they were already struggling with SPaG and needed to cover something quickly.

I started delivering this course in December, and got all controlled assessments done and out of the way between the week just prior to the February half term until the end of the Easter term. No mean feat. My heart went out to them, but you know what, they pulled it out of the bag. Many started off getting 7 out of 15 (only just a C, if they were lucky) with the early controlled assessments, but then, by the time we got to Romeo & Juliet some were getting B’s and even A’s. The rapid teaching, feedback, assessment cycle did wonders.

But I wonder how they will cope with the changes proposed?

These students will have 3 hours maximum per week English GCSE. They will also have 3 hours Maths, and the rest of their week will be spent doing their Level 2 or 3 vocational courses and placements. I honestly have no idea how they will do when we have to make them conform to the new spec.

Only one or two did any personal reading of the actual texts outside class time. We didn’t do any in class – there wasn’t time. I just taught to the test for a few sessions and then did a final prep class the week before each controlled assessment on each text, so they could make good notes to take into the assessment with them.

But, all this notwithstanding, the sentiments of the blog I have re-blogged below hold true, too. The honest truth is, the students in my class could relate in many ways to Of Mice & Men. They found the gender, race and disability issues understandable. It tied in well with equality and diversity wider learning goals. Many of my students are on childcare or health and society courses. Of Mice & Men was THE choice for them.

I am sad I won’t be able to use it. Recommendations for something else please, anyone?

The Echo Chamber

Gosh, what a week it has been! There once used to be a time when an English teacher’s life was quite quiet, but now I am forever faced with bombshells of educational delight on a daily basis. The most dramatic things we used to get, in the past, was the changing of the Bic pen design. The furore that caused still gives me nightmares. There were teachers shouting. There were teachers campaigning. There were even some teachers writing nice little letters to the makers used the traditional style pen in the hope of changing the maker’s mind. Nowadays, it is change after change. It has got so bad, I dread the holidays or days when I am not teaching. Didn’t it used to be the other way round? Nowadays, all the big education news stories are timed for when I am supposed to be recharging my batteries or having some…

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