Monthly Archives: August 2013

Speaking and Listening marks being dropped from GCSEs

Ofqual has announced that Speaking and Listening ‘controlled assessments’ are to be removed from English GCSEs with immediate effect. Ofqual defends this by saying that these must be removed immediately to ‘protect standards’

But this reaction has sparked anger from Head Teachers, who are disappointed by the timing, condemning it as ‘flying in the face of reason’.

According to Ofqual, the present situation means there is “inconsistency” in how schools set and mark the controlled assessments – in effect coursework which is carried out in school, under supervision. In speaking and listening assessments, students might have to prepare a speech and deliver it to fellow pupils and answer questions from them, having studied famous speeches and various techniques used in public speaking. I remember doing a presentation about the history of the world’s largest McDonalds (don’t ask why) for mine.

Their “performance” is usually recorded and marked by their teachers, with exam boards checking the marks given.

Ofqual believes the setting and marking of the controlled assessments is not consistent between schools. It says the results of the work already under-taken will be recorded separately in results students receive next summer, alongside the GCSE grade, and that speaking and listening will remain on the curriculum.

Chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “We know that this will be unpopular with many teachers, and will affect students who have already completed their first year of studies, but we think it right to make these changes and to act as quickly as possible because the current arrangements result in unfairness. Exam boards cannot be sure that speaking and listening assessments are being carried out and marked consistently across all schools, and we have evidence that they are not. That creates unfairness, and that is unacceptable.”

Controlled assessments for speaking and listening had been due to count for 20% of the overall GCSE grade, but now will not count for any. It is part of a move by Ofqual to shift the balance of marks away from controlled assessment. Controlled assessments as a whole made up 60% of the marks, (20% speaking and listening and 40 % reading and writing). Formal written exams made up the remaining 40%.

As a results of the changes confirmed on Thursday, from next summer, formal written exams will count for 60% of the marks and the reading and writing controlled assessments will count for 40%. I find it rather interesting how we’re still moving away from controlled assessment whilst the Scottish education system (which is currently stronger than ours) is moving the other way.

I feel that this is a serious case of awful timing by Ofqual. I can understand and respect that their is a lack of consistency across all schools, but instead of dropping it, why not adjust it so the controlled assessments are not carried out by the teachers but by independent examiners? That way there is no bias or inflation of grades which should then eradicate the problem. Why do you need to scrap it entirely, and why change it now, when in a couple of years time GCSEs will be facing an overhaul as it is? Serious questions over their decision here, particularly by the frustrated teenagers who have just done these assessments thinking that it would contribute to their grades, which we now know it isn’t.

Practical science doing a disappearing act …

Practical science lessons are being squeezed out by exam pressures on schools, says a science advisory body.

The Council for Science and Technology is writing to the education secretary to warn about the loss of such laboratory experiments. The advisory body wants experiments to be protected in a shake-up of GCSEs and A-levels in England.It says that without practical lessons, science is “like studying literature without reading books”.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The Council for Science and Technology rightly notes that our reforms ‘will give teachers space and freedom’ to conduct more experiments and practicals.”

The council, which provides strategic advice to the prime minister, says that cramming for exams is restricting the opportunities for practical learning. This focus on grades is “pushing inspiring practical work into the margins as teachers concentrate on preparing for examinations”.

The council’s letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove says that rather than being an optional extra, such practical experiments are the “essence of science and should be at the heart of science learning”. The changes to GCSEs and A-levels, including removing the modular structure of exams, should be used as an opportunity for more practical experiments, says the council.

Rather than “repetitive preparation for tests”, the council says teachers should be able to “devise innovative and challenging practically based science curricula for their students, including more independent, project-based work”.

Accompanying the letter is a report which argues that there has been a “steady erosion” of laboratory skills in school science over the past 20 years.

Prof Jim Iley, executive director of education and science at the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “We cannot stress strongly enough the importance of developing practical skills in the lab.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “By scrapping modules and January assessments, our reforms will end the constant treadmill of exams and leave more time for experiments and practicals in science. We have also prioritised experiments in our new curriculum. Pupils will focus on practical work in primary school so they are ready to move on to more advanced laboratory work in secondary school.”

Doesn’t this all seem like the government are trying to cover up for themselves? We’ve all noticed a decline in the amount of practical work going on in schools now as it is, I even blogged about that not so long back, when i mentioned that some schools’ budgets per pupil for science were as low as 75p! It is quite clear to me that with the advanced content that is being brought in, these new shakeups are not necessarily going to allow more practical time when you consider that the children will be expected to remember 2 years worth of work for exams at the end of the course! With all the details that will need to be crammed in, practical work will most likely fall by the wayside even further than it already has. These are worrying times for those who want to become science teachers.

Sleep deprivation rife among teenagers

More than half of all teenagers may be sleep deprived, according to experts.

A combination of natural hormone changes and greater use of screen-based technology means many are not getting enough sleep. Research has suggested teenagers need nine hours’ sleep to function properly.

“Sleep is fundamentally important but despite this it’s been largely ignored as part of our biology,” said Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University. “Within the context of teenagers, here we have a classic example where sleep could enhance enormously the quality of life and, indeed, the educational performance of our young people. Yet they’re given no instruction about the importance of sleep and sleep is a victim to the many other demands that are being made of them.”

At One Level Up, an internet cafe and gaming centre in Glasgow, I found a group of young people who are used to very late nights.

“There’s things called ‘grinds’ which we have on Saturdays which are an all-nighter until 10 in the morning,” said 17-year-old Jack Barclay. “We go home, sleep till 8pm at night and then do the exact same thing again. I like staying up.”

Fourteen-year-old Rachel admitted occasionally falling asleep in class because she stayed up late at night playing computer games. “If it’s a game that will save easily I’ll go to bed when my mum says, ‘OK you should probably get some rest’, but if it’s a game where you have to go to a certain point to save I’ll be like, ‘five more minutes!’ and then an hour later ‘five more minutes!’, and it does mess up your sleeping pattern. For me it takes me about an hour to get to sleep and I’m lying there staring into nothing thinking ‘I’m going to play THAT part of the game tomorrow and I’m going to play THAT part of the game the next day.”

So that pesky industry known as video games rears it’s ugly head again. The size of the industry is so huge now that it is almost like an addiction where children and even adults are hooked to the point where they don’t want to turn off their consoles.

There has been research that suggests that this ‘night-owl’ behaviour may be occurring because of hormonal changes that occur during puberty, but Prof Foster believes that electronic equipment and consoles accentuates these behaviours. He explained: “The data that’s emerging suggests that these computer screens and gaming devices may well have a big effect in increasing levels of alertness. That will make it harder to get to sleep after you’ve stopped playing. The great problem with teenagers is that you’re not only biologically programmed to go to bed late and get up late, but there’s also many attractions like gaming and Facebook and texting and many teenagers are doing this into the early hours of the morning and delaying sleep even further.”

All of this can be pointed to one particular question: should our children be allowed all this technology in their own bedrooms? It’s almost become a culture now where most children have access to their own mobile phone, particularly in the teenage years. Also increasing numbers of teenagers and young people have access to a television and video game consoles in their own rooms. All this means that parents are not able to control whether their children are getting enough sleep, as Rachel eluded to above.

I think in order to really tackle this issue, we need to start taking away the culture. Children don’t need a TV in their own room. They don’t really need a mobile phone until they’re out in the big wide world, which their not really at school. I’m not saying these children shouldn’t be exposed to these technologies, but the reality is parents do not have control, and evidence suggests that teenagers may not be as responsible over their time playing video games or texting people, meaning that teachers need to play a role in educating these youngsters in monitoring their time spent playing video games and plan routines to help tackle sleep deprivation.

GCSE success for Anti-NEET scheme

A pilot payment-by-results scheme to prevent young people from slipping out of education and into unemployment is claiming success in GCSE results.

Social investors are funding charities to work with young people at high risk of becoming NEET – not in employment, education and training.

If they achieve targets, including GCSE results, investors will be repaid by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Among over 300 teenagers in a pilot scheme, 55% achieved five A*-C GCSEs, meaning that this project in east and north London achieved above the target of 30% of the at-risk young people reaching this benchmark.

The project is aiming to prevent 8 out of 10 vulnerable youngsters in the UK, of which around 9% of children are classified as NEET, from becoming NEET.

This experimental scheme is based on the amount of taxpayers’ money that can be saved if young people can be steered away from becoming Neets. But instead of the government funding the scheme directly, social investors provide the initial capital. In the London project, investors Big Society Capital and Impetus-PEF provided £900,000 for work carried out by a charity, Tomorrow’s People.

The project, unlike the effects of the Olympics, has not just been successful in London. Another scheme in Merseyside, with funding from the Triodos ethical investment bank, is also reporting GCSE results above the target. This charity worked with teenagers identified as being potential Neets, with the aim of supporting them in school, with their success measured in terms of exam results, behaviour and attendance.

The funding cycle will mean that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will pay back the social investors, plus a small extra payment. The amount paid by the DWP will be no more than £8,200 over five years, compared with an estimated £97,000 cost to the taxpayer for each additional youngster who becomes Neet. This model is designed to support such charity projects while minimising financial risk to the taxpayer.

Big Society Capital, a social investment bank, was set up last year, with assets including £400m from dormant accounts abandoned in banks for more than 15 years. It aims to put finance in reach of social sector projects.

Chief executive Nick O’Donohoe said: “This year’s GCSE results are an encouraging indicator of how effective this programme is at supporting some of our most vulnerable young people into education and training. The model allows charities to deliver innovative preventative programmes that can deliver significant social benefits and cost savings, with social investors such as us taking the financial risk and government only paying if it works.”

Well all this looks encouraging for the London and Merseyside pilot schemes, but these are two highly populated areas in the UK where local schools are a plenty, but no pilot scheme of this nature has been reported in areas that are less affluent and smaller populated. It would still be a risk to roll this program out nationally until the odds stack up. While the money side may stack up (savings of almost £90k), it may not actually work in all areas, which could mean that other schemes or methods may need to be looked at and piloted to find other ways of saving.

Teenage dropout rate dipped a little bit

There has been a slight dip in the proportion of teenagers not in education, employment or training (Neet) in England.

Statistics for the second quarter of this year, April to June, show the proportion of 16- to 18-year-olds who were Neet was 9.1% – 168,000 in total. This is a drop of 1.4 percentage points – 28,000 – on the same period in 2012.

The government hailed the rate for the second quarter of the year as the lowest for more than 10 years. The Department for Education stressed there had been five consecutive quarters where the 16-24 age group rate was lower than it had been the year before.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “With GCSE results out, I am heartened to see the fall in the number of young people not in work, training or education. We are heading in the right direction, but one young person out of work, education or training, is one too many. That is why we are continuing to work hard to give young people the skills, confidence and experience demanded by employers and universities. Only then can we say we have done everything we can to ensure young people reach their potential and help us compete in the global race.”

This decrease, according to analysis has been driven by two factors:

1) an increase in those in education and training – up to 83% from 80.9% year on year
2) an increase of 1.4 percentage points in the proportion of those who were not in education or training finding jobs.

Those receiving their results this year will be the first year to be required to stay in education until they are 17 under new rules by the government, which probably explains the increase of those in education or training. This will however rise to 18 in the summer of 2015, meaning that all children will end up on A levels or some sort of vocational course.

More exercise needed!

Half of all UK seven-year-olds do not do enough exercise, with girls far less active than boys, a study suggests.

University College London researchers found just 51% of the 6,500 children they monitored achieved the recommended hour of physical activity each day. For girls, the figure was just 38%, compared with 63% for boys.

Half of the group also spent more than six hours being sedentary each day, although some of this would be spent in class, the researchers acknowledged.

The study, published in the online journal BMJ Open, found levels of activity varied among groups. For example, children of Indian origin and those living in Northern Ireland were among the least physically active with 43% achieving the recommended levels, compared to 53% in Scotland. I find the statistics for Scotland and Northern Ireland quite interesting, because they many not be physically active, but they seem to produce very strong sets of grades come exam season …

The most worrying statistic is the 38% of girls achieving the recommended hour of physical activity each day. Why such a huge gap between the genders?

Well the first, and perhaps most common place to point the finger is the school playground, where most physical activity during the day takes place. From my experience of playgrounds, most of what I see are boys playing football or other ball games, whilst girls tend to bunch up in small groups playing cooperative, less physical games. This has been true most of the time, but that is not to say girls don’t play football at all. I’ve taught some girls who happened to play with the boys and, in some cases, play better too! It is argued that something can and needs to be done here. This should probably include avoiding keeping kids inside when it’s raining outside. Those of the older generations may remember that never happening when they were at school, so why does it have to happen now?

The other place to point the finger here has to be in the teaching of PE, or should I say the lack of it. This is nothing new. It’s been an age old problem for years, what with all these new subjects trying to be crammed into the curriculum to ‘improve standards’. This means that poor old PE seems to be becoming what I would call a ‘forgotten subject’, where it gets done if there is no gust of wind blowing or rain present. We need to change the mentalities of teachers and children to make sure that PE is done every week, not just a Sports Day at the end of the year which is actually not a ‘day’ but a couple of hours.

Top GCSE grades fall for the second year in a row :(

Today is the highly anticipated (and perhaps nervous) day of reckoning for England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s 16 year olds, as GCSE results are published today. If you are one of those and reading this blog, I hope that you got what you hoped for or better 🙂

Statistics show this year that there has been a drop in the proportion of GCSE exam entries awarded top grades, for the second year in a row. Here’s a brief summary of the facts and figures (I love statistics as you may have guessed by now :P)

The proportion of exam entries graded between an A* and a C was 68.1%, down from 69.4% last year.

The proportion getting an A* or an A fell from 22.4% to 21.3%.

In English, the proportion of entries awarded A*s to Cs fell by 0.5 percentage points, to 63.6%. In maths, the fall was of 0.8 percentage points.

There was a big fall in pupils getting top grades in the sciences, following the introduction of new syllabuses and exams. This year 53.1% of science entries were awarded between an A* and a C, down from 60.7% last year. That was the biggest fall in top results across all the subjects.

The results also show an increase in those taking foreign languages and humanities at GCSE level. This may have been due to the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, which now rates schools on how many pupils get GCSEs in these subjects as well as the core subjects.

Entries for geography jumped by 19.2% this year, while those for history rose 16.7%.

Entries for traditional modern foreign languages – French, German and Spanish – are up by 16.9% compared with last year, reversing a long-term downward trend. This seems a little surprising to me because the trend of taking these subjects to A level is still falling as we discovered last week. Although I’m not sure whether this is true for all schools, but it was certainly compulsory in my old grammar school that we had to do at least one MFL subject to GCSE level.

Those of you who read my post yesterday about Ofqual’s predictions and warnings will probably be saying that they were right. It’s certainly true that the core subjects have faced an absolute pounding in terms of pass rates and grades, science in particular. This does look worrying to me …

The overall pass rate falling for the first time in 25 years! That is a grave concern for me, and I’m not the only one. Mary Bousted, head of teachers’ union ATL, is also worried. She says, “If pupils and schools are working harder and harder to achieve grades A* to C they cannot be penalised for doing so by having fixed pass rates. This puts schools in the invidious position of never being able to achieve what is demanded of them.”

Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons education committee Graham Stuart, said: “All this work goes into gaining these qualifications. If those qualifications lose currency, if there’s a form of inflation going on then that undermines all the hard work of school…”

Shadow Education Secretary points to concerns about children taking multiple exams in the same subject with different exam boards. He states, “There has been a big increase in the number of young people taking two or more exams in the same subject. This is bad for standards, school budgets and learning. Michael Gove needs to get a grip on the multiple entry exam practice that is distorting standards. We need an exam system that maintains standards year on year, accurately reflects pupil performance and that employers, universities, parents and young people have confidence in.”

These our worrying times for our education system. It does show that Michael Gove and the DfE are not on the right track at this moment in time. Since these reforms have been going on all over the place, results have been falling. It’s certainly not looking good. I’m hopeful that things pick up but with these altogether new GCSEs due to come in in 2015 I really doubt it’s going to happen anytime soon. Here’s hoping I’m being too pessimistic …

Grade Turbulence could affect flight of child’s potential

Head teachers say thousands of pupils could miss out on expected GCSE grades because of “significant turbulence” in this year’s results.

As changes to make core GCSE subjects harder begin to bite, heads warn grades are becoming unreliable and incomparable year on year. So much so that many pupils predicted to get grade C in core subjects may not now achieve it, they say.

Exams regulator Ofqual says “standards will be maintained” despite changes.

Pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be receiving their GCSE results tomorrow, of which one of those is my mentee from Plymstock. If you’re one of those pupils, best of luck and don’t be too scared (even if reading today’s post may scare you a little bit)!

It has already been predicted that English, Maths and Science may face a drop in Grades this year because of the exam changes and changes in patterns of entry. These changes, according to ATL’s Vice President Ian Bauckham, have produced a significant level of anxiety. “It is likely that some pupils whose teacher thought they were on track to get a grade C in these core subjects may well find they have fallen below the new boundary where grade boundaries have been changed,” he states.

These are what Ofqual are warning about and the possibilities that may occur;

1) New GCSEs in Science are deliberately harder, which means that it is harder to hit top grades, so a potential drop in grades is likely

2) Marking of English has been tightened, which again can lead to a possible drop in grades

3) Marking of Maths has been toughened, yet again, another drop in grades

4) More candidates entering for exams early, causing a potential drop on a national scale in grades

5) More children taking the iGCSE, which it has been claimed is easier than an English GCSE. Of course this means that less people are taking on the English GCSE, which can easily cause a drop in grades should those who do take it not perform as predicted.

All of this could well happen in a time when the government is trying to claim that it is improving standards. It’s plain to see that even Ofqual believe that we will not face an increase in grades, but a drop in grades this time round, which is a worrying time for those who are taking their exams this year, but also next year as the pressure is on them to push the grades back up.

We then also need to look at the problem of what this possible drop can lead to. If children do not achieve the required C grade in the core subjects, there is the expectation that they will not progress onto A level or any other vocational course. If less people are getting onto A level, then Universities will have less applicants, potentially causing a shortage of graduates looking for professional jobs, which of course then impacts the economy and can potentially mean more people end up on the welfare system, which the government is trying to cut. Pretty vicious circle if you ask me …

Childhood bullying affects your adult life, says study

Bullying in childhood “throws a long shadow” into victims’ adult lives, suggests research indicating long-term negative consequences for health, job prospects and relationships.

The study, from Warwick University in the UK and Duke University in the US, tracked more than 1400 people from aged 9 to 26, and concluded bullying should not be seen as “a harmless rite of passage”.

The long-term impact of bullying in childhood was examined through the experiences of three different groups – those who had been bullied, those who had carried out the bullying and those who had been both victims of bullying and had also carried out bullying themselves.

The research, published in Psychological Science, suggests the most negative outcomes were for those who had been both victims and perpetrators of bullying, described in the study as “bully-victims”. Described as “easily provoked, low in self-esteem, poor at understanding social cues, and unpopular with peers”, these children grew into adults six times more likely to have a “serious illness, smoke regularly or develop a psychiatric disorder”.

By their mid-20s, these former “bully-victims” were more likely to be obese, to have left school without qualifications, to have drifted through jobs and less likely to have friends.

All of those involved in bullying, as victims or aggressors, had outcomes that were generally worse than the average for those who had not been involved in bullying.

Those who had been victims of bullying, without becoming bullies themselves, were more likely to have mental health problems, more serious illnesses and had a greater likelihood of being in poverty. But compared with “bully-victims” they were more likely to have been successful in education and making friends.

There were also distinctive patterns for those who had been bullies, but who had not been bullied themselves.

These “pure bullies” were more likely to have been sacked from jobs, to be in a violent relationship and to be involved in risky or illegal behaviour, such as getting drunk, taking drugs, fighting, lying and having one-night stands with strangers. They were much more likely to have committed offences such as breaking into property. However in terms of health and wealth, bullies had more successful outcomes than either the victims of bullying or those who were both bullies and victims. Such “pure bullies” were identified as often being strong and healthy and socially capable – with their manipulative and aggressive behaviour being seen as “deviant” rather than reflecting that they were “emotionally troubled”.

I’ve been using the term bullying in it’s broad sense, but we are all aware that there are different types of bullying. The study has included verbal, physical and psychological bullying, with the comparisons between the groups being adjusted to take into account of social background factors such as family stability.

I’m really pleased to see a study like this come to light. As a victim of an awful lot of bullying in the early stages of my life, I know first hand how damaging it is come later life. It can become a case of who can you trust and where you can turn to, often feeling like there is no one. It then becomes difficult to interact with anyone, which doesn’t bode well when going to a job interview (if you even get that far in the application process in this day and age). It is thanks to studies like this one that this subject gets brought up, so for me schools need to be doing more to tackle this issue than simply reprimanding a bully with a detention. For me this includes working with health authorities (who themselves could do with some more tools) to identify, monitor and deal with the unwanted ill-effects of bullying. It is impossible to stamp out bullying completely, as it is an unfortunate part of life, but we can certainly reduce the amount of bullying and confront the ill-effects head on.

Families feeling the squeeze as child costs rise

Families are struggling as the cost of bringing up a child has risen to £148,000, according to research for the Child Poverty Action Group charity (CPAG). The report, co-funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity, says costs have risen by 4% over the last year. At the same time, it says the value of benefit payments fell in real terms.

The CPAG says parents face a “growing struggle” to provide a decent standard of living for their families. “This research paints a stark picture of families being squeezed by rising prices and stagnant wages, yet receiving ever-diminishing support from the government over the course of the last year,” said Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the CPAG. “The task of making ends meet for families with children has always been hard, but is getting harder,” adds Katie Schmuecker of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. “Balancing family budgets has become a perilous and delicate act for hard-pressed parents,” she said.

The government, however, claim that they are helping families by cutting income tax for 25 million people. They also repeatedly defend their welfare reforms by arguing that it needs to cut down on the bill to tax-payers. The government’s intention is to try and persuade more people to go out to work. What the clear incompetence of the government hasn’t spotted is that there isn’t the work out there, and even if there is work out there, not everyone will get it. Young people always seem to be at a disadvantage because these companies always want experience.

Let’s take a look at the statistics just to give everyone an idea of how successful the government have been. Benefit payments rose by 1% in April this year as a result of the welfare changes. The minimum wage rose by 1.8%, whilst average earnings rose by 1.5%, and child benefit was frozen. Well all this may be positive. However, on the other side of the coin, we have the cost of living rising by a much larger percentage, childcare costs rising by almost 6% over the past year, lower income families have seen cuts in housing support, and many non-working families have had to start paying council tax, as well as wages not on the rise.

All these statistics show that the government are not favouring the less well off, and just making life easier for the richer few percent of the country. I’m not saying that lower income backgrounds like my own should be exempt, but it’s a struggle to get by for those people as it is, so making it even harder for them is not going to help in any way. I’m disappointed to see just how little the government are doing, just to try and get people into work when work isn’t there.