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How do these new GCSE exams stack up?

How do these new GCSE exams stack up?

As my youngest daughter Stella hunkers down again for last minute exam preparation, on top of the hours of homework she has been completing every night, I send a little prayer into the ether that her hard work will be rewarded and recognized. Every year I am struck by the enormous job we expect of our young people, teachers and schools in the months running up to and during the exam season.

As a seasoned deputy and headteacher, I know the inner workings of that machine intimately, the cogs seamlessly fitting together to cajole, encourage and congratulate at each tiny step. For the first time in decades, in the summer of 2018, we will witness the first cohort of Year 11s complete a clutch of GCSE qualifications which require a whole new set of skills. As well as different skills, there is a new golden standard for the very top performers in all subjects and now it’s there we cannot pretend it’s not. Intended to stretch the very highest performers, this blog considers what the 8/9 entails for students of GCSE English Language and Literature.

The A** or 9 is an extraordinary goal for any 15 or 16 year old. At this level we are stretching not just the capacity of the question but also the exam paper as a whole. As an English examiner, I know the feeling you get when you are in the presence of an A** or Grade 9 response. The first sentence captures you but you are wary; they could have memorized a series of opening sentences. The essay moves on past the numerous ‘points’ you have been identifying and annotating for hours. You begin to feel comfortable, enjoying the writing, the experience this young person has cultured through their mastery of words. About three quarters of the way through the response you have to remind yourself that this is not the work of a professional writer but instead is the product of a hormonal adolescent, a world renowned qualification system and the skills of teachers along with the networks that support them. This exquisite combination produces not just the basic skills of writing but the potential to cast spells on the reader. This is the foundation of every earth defying novel, advertising jingle and loving funeral eulogy. This summer when we read articles about education going to the dogs, when the middle aged journalists desperate to write thousands of words intended to shock and create a Twitter storm, just remember the thousands and thousands of English teachers. Those teachers are standing on the shoulders of giants developing skills in young people who will go on to carry our culture, develop our potential and protect us in our old age. So while we look to the past as familiar ground, we need to remind ourselves that just because we have been in an aircraft does not automatically mean we understand how it flies.

This summer there will be another round of journalists writing about how difficult exams were in their day and how easy exams are now. We will also be hearing from businesses reminding us that the skills needed are not being taught. Let’s pause and consider how lucky those writers were to benefit from years and years of thinking and the crafting of learning experiences which led to their life’s work.

Teachers are nothing less than miracle workers. Language has the power to move us. Language has the power to make us see tired and old things anew. Language has the power to create hope.

Edusites Edusites is very proud that two thirds of the Top 100 schools in England are Eduscribers. Two Edusites English writers were part of the advisory panels for the new GCSE 9-1 and two more professional and student focused experts you could not hope to meet. GCSE results are the bedrock of any CV or application form. So for the writers of the Ofqual expectations it is an extraordinary responsibility to decide what skills this generation of young people would need to learn, develop and exhibit to show their current and future capacities. Edusites works behind the scenes developing teachers’ skills to not only teach to the text but also teach beyond it, grappling with the skills needed to hit that hallowed 8 and 9.

Having spent more than twenty years leading school improvement. Emily is now the Co-Director of Edusites, an international provider of outstanding support for subjects within schools. Emily Gent was educated at Northampton High School and The University of Oxford.

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