The hidden cost of exams part 1 - lost teacher time
The frenzy of the exam results is over. Now that the dust has settled, what have we learnt?
We learnt that the whole process was stressful for everyone.
I was still teaching when the new specifications were coming out. However, like most schools in the UK, we had actually started our GCSE course in year 9. Which means that I had to teach for a year without a specification.
So there was the stress of not quite knowing what you were doing.
This is not as hard as it sounds in science, as you know that certain topics are essential to learning. However, I delved deeply in some topics, not expecting a colossal rise in subject content. I left that year, but that meant that, like most schools, we had to race our students through the content. It was very naive of me to assume that we would be teaching depth rather than breadth.
Of course, when the specifications did come out, teachers had very little time to plan for them. Due to delays and rewrites, the specifications did not come out until May of 2016. In preparation for teaching in September of 2016. This left about four working weeks to write schemes of work for it.
Whilst poring through the specification, I realised a downside to knowing that most of your subject is in every specification - it was much harder to spot any changes. If 95% of what you need to teach is the same as last time, then in a way, that is harder than making a complete change. If you have to change everything, you can start from scratch and adapt your resources and plans to match the specification exactly. However, if only a small part has changed, then you need to pay more attention if anything to make sure that you are not teaching something familar in an incorrect manner. Maybe keywords are no longer being used, or maybe the students have to learn about different examples, or maybe there is an extra calculation. This can lead to some nasty surprises if you have been trained so long in a particular specification that you have blind spots to any changes.
Finally, there is the stress of not knowing. For a while, no one was sure how the numbered grades compared to the lettered ones. For an even longer time, no one knew which grade was supposed to be the minimum to get into further courses. A 4 was the equivalent of a low C, but at first, a 5 (a high C) was supposed to be the pass grade to indicate the raising of standards. The trouble is, that further education places need students and no one really knew what any of these numbers meant. And it was impossible to know exactly until the first cohort had gone through. Colleges and universities started saying that they would accept people with 4s and, eventually, the dfe lowered it.
All this added up to a lot of time on effort. And that was just from me. I can't begin to imagine what a department head or a senior manager at a school must have been going through to make sure that their students were going to get the best results.
Oh yes, i haven't even mentioned the students yet. This series of articles is to be continued...