With so many reforms and changes to education in recent months it’s no wonder that heads are spinning and tough decisions are having to be made all across the country in the field of education. At least here at Teesside High we are not slaves to the national education reforms and have the flexibility to look at what is being suggested, enforced and having the luxury to say ‘no, thank you’ should we want to.
But why should we? And how do we decide what is, and isn’t, a good idea in the vast plethora of new changes and implementations that are coming our way. We have been notified of these changes well in advance but changes to these deadlines are plentiful and notification by media, in the many leaks that have occurred, also mean that it it’s difficult to find the real information between the media sound bites and hysteria. How can we, as educators, move forward to implement our decisions when the government departments driving the reforms can’t even agree on when these reforms should begin.
Thankfully, here at Teesside we have but one question that we must keep at the forefront of our minds. What is best for the children?
We are not a slave to performance tables and we can take that brave decision to step away from them, if it is in our pupils interests.
The new GCSE’s come in next year and as a school we have to consider planning the new curriculum, changes to content and staffing consequences. The new changes will mean different grading and more content. There is also a recognised increase and emphasis on learning facts. I understand, to many, that this will be a welcome increase in rigour within our examination structure and at its simplest form I would agree. However, at the recent ASCL conference Sue Kirkham, the curriculum specialist gave me food for thought… The current generation have grown up in an internet age, where anything they need to know is at the click of a button. Google will tell you just about everything you need to know. Is memorising key facts such an important skill or is applying those facts more essential? How much time is spent in your job recalling facts or do you apply your knowledge?
Our children are the ultimate multitaskers, they surf the net, revise to music, using websites and facebooking or snap chatting at the same time, and whilst we may not be able to function in such a stimulating environment this is how they work. All of their lives they have been trained to search for information, apply it to situation, use word packages that check for grammar, spelling and punctuation. They rarely write a letter, preferring to email or word process longer pieces of work. When was the last time you sent/received a hand written letter?
The next generation of pupils will be expected to sit for hours, up to three per exam,
which will test all knowledge in one session at the end of two years. It is a one shot chance.
Thinking about our children starting secondary education and their ease with technology, how many would be capable of sitting for three hours to hand write a history essay! Are these truly the skills that
employers are looking for in a modern world? How much time is spent handwriting notes, memo and policies? Don’t we all use spell check?
Even our mobile phones use predictive text in order to make lives easier.
Clearly teachers now not only have to teach the curriculum content but we also need to train our young people to sit for hours at a time and be able to do large amounts of handwriting and also to cope with the additional stress that this is a one-time chance to do well, as resits are being discouraged. Now this is fine for the younger children in Y7 and below. There is time for them to adjust and adapt, but what about the pupils sitting next year? The year after? Where is their time?
I have been in the fortunate position of being involved with these changes from very early on and the curriculum leaders have been keeping a watchful eye on all these changes and reforms; constantly asking what is best for our pupils. Do we follow the politicians plans for change or do we branch out, say no to all this uncertainty, and carve our own path which will benefit our pupils most. The ethos of our school is that all pupils achieve; that all pupils strive to be the best that they can. We want to help secure the journey to the next level or stage in education and that goal does not depend on performance tables or the current politicians headline grabbing reforms.
Thankfully the iGCSE has escaped the current government tinkering and is a viable choice as it has proved its longevity and it has been recognised by Universities’ and employers for the last 15 years. There are plenty of resources, past papers, support and training provided for teachers. We have to be brave enough to accept that this is the best alternative, for the good of our pupils.
This is not a decision we have taken lightly. We have looked at the new proposals, investigated the alternatives and discussed with higher education establishments their selection criteria. There is too much doubt and hearsay surrounding the new proposals; we can’t even get a commitment as to where the current grade C will lie on the new 9-1 scale. What is classed as a pass? What is a Grade A?
If there is no guidance for these boundaries how do you select successful medicine/engineering/ veterinary candidates? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to change to a qualification that has been around for the past 10 years, is exempt form government tinkering, and is widely recognised by employers and universities? The iGCSE is the way forward.
In September we are planning to begin the iGCSE courses in Mathematics and English Language and Literature with other subjects following in due course. Yes, they are more challenging, but the new GCSEs will be too. Yes, there is more mathematics content, so we are starting teaching in year 9. Our less able pupils will also receive additional time to ensure that they have had the best preparation we can provide.
We fully expect to roll out the other courses in line with the new reforms but we will continue, as always, to do this after careful consideration of the benefits for our pupils rather than the need to conform to the latest political initiatives, performance tables or media grabbing headlines.
The education of our children is too important to play politics with. We must provide them with a set of skills and qualifications that will stand the test of time and serve them well.