Tag Archives: exams

Morgan – More of the same

I’m sure every teacher, parent or educator was jumping up and down with joy at the departure of Michael Gove, I know I sure was. What I was also hoping for is this means that the new secretary Nicky Morgan would slow down a few of her predecessors changes which are deemed somewhat controversial.

Well sadly for all you optimists out there, Mrs Morgan’s first speech in the House of Commons didn’t bode well. Mrs Morgan pledged to carry on the work of Michael Gove by radically expanding free schools, supporting unqualified teachers and keeping changes to the exam system, despite the unpopularity of her predecessor with teachers. Morgan made clear she admired Gove’s legacy and would maintain “undimmed” enthusiasm for free schools – the programme of new state-funded schools built by third parties such as parent groups, education charities or religious groups.

She made the remarks after Richard Fuller, MP for Bedford, said Gove had not been radical on free schools and called for a rapid expansion of the programme across the country, to which Morgan replied: “Can I thank the honourable gentleman? It’s always very exciting to be tempted and asked to be more radical. Absolutely. I am undimmed in my commitment to free schools and look forward to working with him and members on all sides in getting more free schools up and running.”

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, called on Morgan to “make the break and put the interests of pupils and teachers above Tory party ideology” by ditching the party’s commitment to allowing unqualified teachers in free schools. He said Gove was “a man full of ideas – they just happened to be the wrong ones”. But Morgan responded by mocking his “theatricals typical of someone who took part in the Cambridge Footlights as he did”. She also accused the history lecturer, who has a doctorate from the University of Cambridge, of being an unqualified teacher himself. After ignoring the insult, Hunt asked Morgan whether she would slow down the government’s “rushed curriculum changes that risk undermining faith in the examination system, causing confusion for pupils and parents?”

“Already Ofqual has warned of greater than normal turbulence in examination results this summer. Is the secretary of state fully satisfied that her government’s changes will not compromise fairness and consistency as pupils receive their results in August?” he asked.

Gove argued his changes to the curriculum would make education more rigorous by placing more emphasis on “knowledge-based” exams and less on coursework. His critics accused him of trying to bring them in too quickly, returning to old-fashioned ideas and meddling too much in specifics of what should be taught, such as prioritising British history and authors.

Morgan, who described Gove as “one of the great reforming secretaries of state for education”, replied that she was confident in the exam results because a quarter of a million fewer pupils were now in underperforming schools and there were 800,000 more pupils at schools rated good and outstanding.

“That is the legacy left by my right hon friend the member for Surrey Heath, which I intend to be building on,” she said.

Morgan did not comment directly on last week’s report about extremism in Birmingham schools, which revealed evidence of “coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city”.

The conclusion emerged from a draft of a report leaked to the Guardian, which was commissioned by Gove and written by Peter Clarke, the former head of the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism command.

Morgan will make a statement in the Commons on the report at some point today and told Birmingham Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood: “There is absolutely no place for extremist views in our schools.” She declined an invitation from Liam Byrne, the Birmingham Hodge Hill MP, to apologise for failings by the government to keep schools in the city in check.

Teachers are banking on Morgan to build bridges with their profession after criticism that Gove dismissed much of the educational establishment as “the blob” and pushed through radical changes without listening to warnings about the possible consequences. The Observer reported on Sunday that Morgan rewrote a final ministerial statement from her predecessor to include a promise to listen to their views on schools reform.

The new education secretary has said she will be “nice to teachers”, but she made it clear in an interview with the Sunday Times that she would not be “soft-pedalling” in the job.

This is an interesting point for those who have followed my blog before and remember my post Prosecute the term time holiday parents! (Can be found here if you haven’t read it: https://markmelaney.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/prosecute-the-term-time-holiday-parents/ ). She also backed Gove’s changes that mean parents can be fined for taking their children out of school in term time. She said: “For every day or half-day that a child misses school, it does affect their education. From the prime minister downwards, we have made it clear that being in schools during term time is the best place for children to be. I’m really clear that will continue.”

So all in all, what to make of Mrs Morgan so far? Well being brutally honest there were little glimpses there, particular regarding to term time holiday debacle and the rewriting of a final ministerial statement to give the educational establishment a bit of input which didn’t happen under Gove. But the reality is, it’s all more of the same. More and more unqualified teachers are set to enter our schools, despite the fact that it completely undermines the profession to the point where can we really call teaching a profession anymore? With all these free schools appearing is there a need for universities to offer teacher training programmes at all when even with a degree your job can be secured by someone who has no degree whatsoever. That is of course a whole different debate.

I don’t believe in free schools, I never have done, although most of what I know about them comes from looking from the outside at media and polls etc. The fact that unqualified teachers could be teaching the next generation of kids worries me too much to want to be in a free school (that’s not to say I wouldn’t teach in one if the job came round). If there is any policy stopped this is one I would definitely like to see grounded to a halt.

Exams have always been a tricky one throughout my years of existence and beyond that. I’m not old enough to remember O-levels or such like, but the change from O-levels to SATs, GCSEs and A levels has been all over the shot. The debate between exams and coursework will go on forever and a day but I do feel that you can look back on a lot more with coursework than you can with exams because exams is basically how much can you remember in the allotted time frame. Time is an unnecessary pressure for me when it comes to exams. What I find interesting is that Scotland’s new system is actually heading the other direction towards a more coursework based exam structure, so in the next couple of years we’ll get a pretty good picture as to what the differences are in performance.

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How to prepare for exams properly

Exams are often a taboo word for many who have to take them, mostly due to the obvious pressure that they involve and the fact that it requires revising often a year’s worth of work (two years when these new GCSEs come in) to regurgitate in the exam room.

Revision is often varied in it’s approach too. There are some who are methodical in their revision, planning breaks during time and making concept maps. Others decide to revise everything the night before, which in the profession we give the term ‘cramming’. I’m sure we all know people who have done both of these.

Well research published from Sheffield University provides bad news for those who choose the latter approach. It showed leaving a day between practice sessions was a much better way of gaining skills than continuous play. Researcher Tom Stafford says this reflects how memories are stored.

Prof Stafford, a psychologist from the University of Sheffield, was able to analyse how people around the world improved when playing the Axon computer game. He found a clear pattern showing that people were more successful when gaps were left between sessions of playing.

Leaving a day between sessions did not weaken performance, but strengthened it, says Prof Stafford. This is because it makes better use of how the brain stores information, he says.

Cramming for long intense stretches ahead of a test might feel like more is being learned, says Prof Stafford, but this is illusory. A better way of revising or learning is to plan over a much longer period, with substantial breaks between study sessions. For instance, practising a skill for two hours and then taking a day-long break before practising for another two hours was more effective than practising continuously for four hours.

Prof Stafford, who analysed the data with Michael Dewar from The New York Times Research and Development Lab, says this study of such a big sample of online game players provides a useful template for understanding other types of learning. It suggests that the volume of learning is less important than how that time is structured.

“The study suggests that learning can be improved. You can learn more efficiently or use the same practice time to learn to a higher level,” says Prof Stafford.

One might also choose to apply this to our school day. Does this research mean that being in school from 9am till 3pm every weekday with possibly up to an hour and a half break mixed in there is not conducive to effective learning for our children? I would imagine those who homeschool their children might look at this and feel a sense of support for their decision. I guess the long break in terms of school timetables could be the weekend. Either way it’s an interesting dilemma.

100th post :) and Scotland’s Results Day

Today is a bit of a double good day. Today marks my 100th post on this blog. In this time I’ve gained about 40 followers from all sorts of different careers, including healthy eating campaigners, teachers, parents, as well as some other regular readers such as my mentee from Plymstock, some of my colleagues at uni, even one or two of my University Lecturers. I want to say a huge big thank you to everyone who over the past 3 months has taken the time and interest to read my blog, and hope you all continue to find it interesting. I certainly enjoy doing this and will keep doing so, so more will be on the way 🙂

Ok enough about me, now for the news 🙂

Today is the day when 151000 Scottish candidates all get their results of a hard labour of around 720000 exams. It was announced that all of the major qualifications have hit a higher pass rate, although some more significant than others.

Those who took the Access 2 exams and the Scottish Baccalaureate saw the highest increases of 8.5% and 6.7% respectively, whilst the least significant increases came in the Higher, Access 3 and Standard tiers which showed gains by 0.5%, 0.4% and 0.1% respectively.

This isn’t the most interesting part for me though. While this is all very positive and shows a good performance all round in Scotland, for many this is all a bit of an illusion. Why? Well most of these exams, including the Standard tier are being scrapped, and replaced with new qualifications in a new curriculum. These new ones are not going the same direction as England however. Instead of going for 1 long exam after 2 years worth of work which England is doing, Scotland are moving in totally the opposite direction of moving more towards coursework and classwork. To me this casts doubt on whether either country really knows how to get the best of our education system. This clear cut divide of exams vs coursework is now even larger. I guess the next few years will tell when the results come in so we can make a more direct comparison. As ever when those statistics are released, they will be blogged here 🙂

Exam board seminars were gonna be banned, not now …

England’s exams regulator has rowed back from a decision to ban exam board seminars for teachers because of the pace of change in the exams system.

Ofqual had planned an outright ban on seminars on specific qualifications after a report claimed teachers were unfairly given details of future exams.

It now says seminars can still play a role in supporting teachers prepare students for new exams. But rules governing these face-to-face events will be tightened. Ofqual says no one who has had access to confidential assessment materials can be present at such events.

The seminars themselves should be closely monitored by the exam boards, it says, adding that they could be recorded.

It also says any events should be reasonably available to all teachers and that all training materials used should be published in ways that teachers can access.

Ofqual’s chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “We had previously decided to stop events taking place for specific qualifications after they start being taught in schools. Since our original decision, the full scale and pace of the programme to reform GCSEs and A-levels has become clear. And exam boards have put in place new approaches for managing confidentiality at these events. After looking at this evidence and listening to the feedback from our recent consultation, we have decided that appropriately run seminars can still play a key role in supporting teachers to prepare their students for the new qualifications.”

She added: “Teachers should be given enough information about new qualifications to be able to plan their teaching and to teach students well, but they should not be given confidential information about future exams. We are making sure that teachers can get the right information about qualifications, and that what happens in seminars is all above board.”

The initial Ofqual inquiry followed reports in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. It found there were problems with some seminars, but these related to limited specific incidents and were not systemic.

An examiner from one of the biggest exam boards, Edexcel, was suspended as a result of the allegations as were two examiners from the smaller Welsh board WJEC, which also had to rewrite and delay one of its exams.

WJEC said in a statement: “As an awarding body, we believe we are in the best position to provide teachers with clear guidance and support as they prepare to introduce new qualifications in the classroom. Today’s confirmation about the scope of what we are able to do will help us prepare for our exciting programme of CPD events in the autumn, including our innovative new online examination review provision.”

There were no complaints against the other major exam boards, OCR and AQA. However, AQA’s chief executive Andrew Hall said:

“We were really concerned when we thought there might be a total ban, as there hadn’t been any problems with our seminars and it looked like Ofqual was going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This would have been very serious at a time when new GCSEs and A-levels are being introduced. So, I am pleased that Ofqual has listened to these concerns and now decided that with the right controls in place across the sector, these events will be able to continue.”

When exams go wrong

Ok so in the news today, a school in Newmarket has been teaching one book for their A level English exam, which turns out not to be the correct book at all. This means that two weeks before they were due to sit their exam, the teacher dropped the bombshell. This horrified pupils and meant that they had to learn an entire new book in a couple of weeks.

Unsurprisingly this school was deemed ‘inadequate’ and ‘a school that requires special measures’ earlier this year by Ofsted, but this begs the question: ‘What on earth is that school, in particular the teacher doing?’

This isn’t the first blunder of this kind, it happened a few years ago as well. It was also portrayed on Waterloo Road a couple of years ago too.

I reminisce back to my GCSE days for a blunder of a different nature, this time it was a fault of the exam board. In my Music exam, we were asked to name a possible composer for pieces of music. The reality is these questions were easy as all you had to do was look at the copyright lists that the exam board had conveniently put on the back of the paper, which listed the composer, the name of the song and the year it was written.

This should not be happening at any level in any way, so as a teaching unit, we should be lobbying the government for an improved system, ie having 1 official exam board, not having several competing against each other, which allows for the exams to be made ‘easier’ so they will be more likely to be used.

What should we do in your opinion? Comment your thoughts 🙂