Benefits of Swearing

For students who feel they might be short a few marks on English GCSE exams, they can always add a few obscenties. In fact, the only thing a student needs to do is write some obscenties.

The largest exam board, AQA, gives marks for f**k off, as according to the chief examiner, Peter Buckroyd, “It would be wicked to give it zero, because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for – like conveying some meaning and some spelling. It’s better than someone that doesn’t write anything at all. It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank.”

An AQA spokesperson tried to distance the board from the chief examiner’s remarks. The only thing is that it is the chief examiner who writes the exam and trains the other exam markers. So the AQA office can meaninglessly distance itself all it wants.

The Government has a regulatory body responsible for all the exam qualification, Ofqual. They don’t want to get involved. Their spokesperson said, “We think it’s important that candidates are able to use appropriate language in a variety of situations but it’s for awarding bodies to develop their mark scheme and for their markers to award marks in line with that scheme.” Who creates the mark scheme? The chief examiner, of course.

The student who wrote the exam answer used by Mr Buckroyd to train markers did not get full credit for “f**k off” because he did not include punctuation. “If it had had an exclamation mark it would have got a little bit more because it would have been showing a little bit of skill. We are trying to give higher marks to the students who show more skills.” According to The Times, with an exclamation mark it would be worth 11% of the marks on the GCSE paper.

Done

As they left the exam, most of the Year 11s seemed fairly positive. Looking at the exam, I really can’t complain about the questions. Sometimes you look at a GCSE exam and try to figure out which is the planetary residence of the chief examiner.

Since they had no solid preparation for the exam before this year, and many of them didn’t take lessons particularly seriously this year, I am still concerned about the quality of the results in August. Most of them said my revision pack made a big difference in their preparation, so that is a positive.

So the exam is in the bag and now it is just a matter of waiting.

Crunch Time

I haven’t been blogging much in the last few days.

It’s getting down to crunch time with the Year 11s. They will be leaving in less than a month and their exam in my subject is the first day of their study leave.

I’m still trying to put finishing touches to the revision pack. I looked at the commercially available resources for my syllabus and they are useless. The official publisher has an A5-size book for £5.95 out of which they could have possibly used about 10 pages. I’m giving them about 40 pages of A4 for £1. I’m much better value for money. (Don’t worry – I’m not pocketing the cash. It’s going back into my budget to offset the photocopying costs.)

The pack is by no means entirely my work – in fact, it’s not even mostly my work. I have a very generous former head of department. I have adapted the pack I used in my last post with a different syllabus. I have changed the emphasis and imformation on a few sheets. I have added sheets for topics that weren’t covered in the other syllabus.

I have one more to finish tonight before getting the whole pack copied in the morning.

The Qualifications Racket

One of the first vocabulary words I had to learn when I moved to this county was “qualifications”. They are a British obsession. If you were going for a job in the States and someone asked you about your qualifications, you would describe your work history

This is a country obsessed with qualifications. They are little pieces of paper that say you have completed some sort of course. Some of the most important qualifications are General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSEs).

In the UK there is no such thing as a high school diploma. Instead, you receive a certificate for each subject you take. You don’t have a Grade Point Average. You get a string of grades, e.g., 5 A*’s (called “A stars”), 2 A’s, a B and a C, (if you are brainy), or a D, three E’s, two F’s, and a G (if you’re not or can’t be bothered). A*-C grades are considered good GCSEs. D-G grade aren’t. To actually fail, you have to get a “U”. In my subject, that would mean getting below 14%. In some subjects 16% will get you a C.

All of the exams are administered by national exam boards that have contracts with the Government. After all, schools can’t be trusted with so great a responsibility as examining their own students. Government always knows best.

Each department in each school chooses which exam board it will use and which syllabus within the options offered by the board. The thing about externally administered and marked exams is that they cost money. They cost so much money that more is being spent on exam fees than on textbooks and resources.

Let me put this in real terms. I misquoted a syllabus code to the exams officers at my school and she sent in the wrong number. Until she convinced them that it was because neither I or the school had ever done that exam before, so therefore they should waive the fee for the wrong entries, it was going to cost the equivalent of two years of my entire departmental budget.

No money had been spent by the exam board – no extra exam papers printed or anything. That was just the cost to go into the computer and change a 9 to a 0 in a course number for less than 100 exams.  Not that each entry would have to be changed manually – that could have taken as long as three minutes of a data processor’s time. It could have been done with a couple of key strokes.

This is because cost of the 100 exams is already the equivalent of two years of my departmental budget. In other words, we would have had to have paid double. No doubt some schools had to do just that. There’s no point in the exam board having the policy if they don’t plan on making some money from it.

As reported today in the Daily Telegraph, “One head teacher said that his exam costs had risen from £30,000 to £100,000 over five years for the same number of pupils.” So how much are these exam boards making each year? About £700 million in tax money. It’s a nice racket.

Learning History and Citizenship

I’ve previously discussed the bias in history textbooks in the UK. In his most recent blog entry, Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens looks at how the approach to British history seeks to undermine everything that is British.

At the same time that Britishness is being de-emphasised to the British, it is being heavily enforced with those who want to move here, or those, like me, who have been a long time but want to become citizens. New immigrants or those who want to upgrade their status have to take the Life in the UK test. It’s mostly aimed at limiting the number of dark-skinned people, but since the law has to be seen to be impartial, it takes in palefaces like me who are not from EU member states.

Since they keep increasing the fee, I can’t afford to apply for citizenship. Thus I haven’t bought the book I need for studying to take the test. The test costs £34 for each sitting. I have had a look at the website linked above, to see what sort of things I need to know.

You would think that someone who speaks English as a first language and is certified to teach Citizenship to GCSE level wouldn’t have any trouble with the test. Surely they wouldn’t expect new immigrants to know more than someone with a good GCSE grade. Oh yes, they do.

I was just looking at the most recent available past paper for the OCR’s Citizenship Short Course GCSE. The bits that aren’t multiple choice or short answer are based on provided sources. The examinee doesn’t have to know any citizenship – they just have to be able to read for comprehension.

Typical GCSE questions:

State one example of a global evironmental problem
Citizens of the UK have rights and responsibilities. State one employment right that citizens have.
State one legal responsibility parents in the United Kingdom have to their children aged under 16.
State one employment right that citizens have.

Included topics in Life in the UK test:

How is the process of buying a house different in Scotland?
What are the powers of the devolved administrations?
How is European law organised?
What are quangos and non-departmental public bodies?
How can people find a dentist? (Clearly a trick question)
Which groups of people receive free dental treatment? (See the previous question)
How is education different in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales?
Who can offer information on occupational or personal pensions?

Parents Night

Tonight was Year 11 parents night. That’s when parents come in, annual report in hand, to discuss their child’s progress in the run up to GCSE exams.

I had about eight appointments. The only thing is that I teach every pupil in the school, including every Year 11. Virtually all of them will be sitting a GCSE exam in my subject. It is required. So where were the other 90 or so parents?

Of course many of them didn’t show up at all. It is a very rural school so it isn’t easy for many of them to get in. However, it was the ones who turned up and didn’t to see me that disappointed me. Didn’t surprise me. Just disappointed me.

One of the parents who had a appointment didn’t take it seriously at all. “It only religion, after all. You only need it if you are going to be an RE teacher or something like that.” So I painstakingly explained that we taught a philosophy and ethics syllabus and that the ethics issues we dealt with we the big ones that people deal with either personally or as a member of society – that we are the only subject that teaches thinking skills for critically evaluting these things. I explained that no, it isn’t about opinion – that just having an opinion is worth one mark out of twenty on each of the four exam questions.

Most of the parents milled around waiting to speak to the important subjects. They were happy to spend their time doing nothing, rather than taking five minutes to discuss how their child was doing in this GCSE subject. The kids can’t be expected to take the subject seriously if the parents openly don’t.

I have to say that other than the one parent who openly challenged the value of my subject, all of the others to whom I spoke were very nice. Because of that, I enjoy parents night. It’s great to talk to parents who care about all aspects of their child’s education.