or…What’s assessment for anyway?
When I took my GCSEs in English and English Literature (in 1991) they were 100% coursework. I wasn’t alone; according to the 2006 Review of GCSE Coursework from QCA (found here) about two-thirds of 16 year olds in the early 1990s were taking GCSE English through syllabuses that had no examinations. Much has changed since then, and all 16 year olds who take GCSE English in summer 2017 will do so following syllabuses with 100% terminal examinations (as announced by Ofqual).
A mindset change
Coursework has been part of my Key Stage 4 experience as a student, trainee, teacher, Head of Department and Senior Leader. Its removal requires a complete shift of mindset. Curriculum design, long and medium term planning in English has always been about fitting the coursework (or latterly controlled assessment tasks) into the two years to form a coherent programme of study around the assessment tasks. No longer. At this point in time, this feels like a blessed relief from the millstone of controlled assessments, and an opportunity to open up curriculum time to learning, but it will feel very different.
A change of gear is needed
It will also require a mindset change for students. I have felt uncomfortable for some time about the prevalent attitude of “will it count towards my GCSE?” amongst students I teach. The unfortunate truth at the moment is that if it does, most will really try and put in every effort. If it’s “just practice” or, heaven forbid, an assignment merely to develop or secure understanding, it doesn’t get the full focus of a “proper assessment”. I will be glad to see the back of this distinction as it will allow and require a full focus on the process of learning in every piece of work throughout the course.
Teacher assessment is best
I genuinely believe that teachers are best placed to make accurate and complete assessments of their students’ abilities. It seems almost ridiculous that I have to state that at all. Teachers spend every lesson with their students and know better than anyone the full range of their achievements within the subject, in much more detail than any examination can hope to discover, no matter how long or rigorous. This will be lost in the terminal exam system. Teacher assessment (in English especially) has snapped under the weight of the accountability framework’s focus upon it. This was recognised in the QCA GCSE_coursework report:
5.44: The environment for GCSE and A levels has changed. Twenty years ago there were no achievement and attainment tables (formerly performance tables), no national or local targets related to examination grades and no link between teachers’ pay and students’ results. The environment now is far more pressured and in these circumstances, it is likely that internal assessment of GCSE and A levels as presently practised has become a less valid form of assessment.
Teacher assessment + high stakes accountability = a powder keg
This is undoubtedly the case. Teacher assessment is still the best way of assessing student progress and learning (although, as David Didau asserts, measuring learning is a horrifically complex business). It should still be the basis of teaching and learning in the classroom but only if the sole purpose of that teacher assessment is to measure the child’s progress and identify next steps in learning. If the teacher assessment is also serving the purpose of proving progress to senior leaders and external inspectors in order to maintain the school’s standing in performance tables and the teacher’s own salary, then of course there are vested interests at play which will encourage even the most professional professional to err on the side of generosity. And this is how we’ve arrived at our current situation. The accountability and pay systems have rendered the most accurate and helpful form of assessment unreliable and corrupt. Excellent work, policy makers.
I have several tasks as a school leader now to make the most of this new assessment framework.
Jumping through hoops – a necessary evil?
- To help subject teams re-think curriculum design away from the coursework/controlled assessment structures that have been in place for so long. We will have a lot to learn from Maths and other 100% examined subjects here; we will need to make the most of the time freed up from controlled assessments to teach curriculum content (which is a combination of knowledge and skills, of course).
- To decouple teacher assessment from external accountability and pay progression as far as possible, to allow it to be carried out accurately for the benefit of the student’s learning, parents, and teachers themselves to inform planning.
- To work with all teachers and students to jump the hoops of the new terminal exams. I hate this part of the job, but recognise that teaching exam technique is vital to success in exams. I will also make every effort to keep this in proportion to the real business of teaching the actual subjects.
- To continue to do my best to construct a Key Stage 4 curriculum in the best interests of the learners at my school.
I’ll let you know how I get on.
Curriculum, Leadership, Policy
assessment, coursework, curriculum, DfE, education, english, examinations, GCSE, ks4, leadership, learning, planning
All other GCSE coursework would have to be supervised, Mr Johnson told the Labour party conference on Wednesday. Wales is to follow the same course.
Mr Johnson said qualifications could not be undermined by a few cheats who took their work from the internet.
Parents needed to be reassured that coursework assessed pupils' work in a "fair and robust way".
Coursework - or work done outside normal classroom conditions - was introduced when GCSEs replaced O-levels almost 20 years ago.
I hope that coursework is retained for subjects such as the arts, geography and history
But there has long been a problem over its use, with concerns about whether work done outside school is always entirely the student's own efforts.
And the growth of model answers on the internet has increased concerns.
In many subjects, coursework is typically worth between 25% and 40% of marks.
Coursework is generally popular with teachers, who argue it allows pupils to show a wider range of skills and knowledge than traditional, timed exams.
'Robust and reliable'
In his speech to the Labour Party conference, Mr Johnson said: "Last year, we asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to look at making GCSE coursework more robust and reliable.
"As a result of the QCA's report, we will be removing all GCSE coursework from maths and stipulating that in other subjects, coursework must be supervised in classroom style conditions.
Coursework is typically worth between 25% and 40% of marks
"Coursework can be very beneficial and I am determined that the hard work of the vast majority of students should not be undermined by questions of validity.
"We will work closely with teachers to develop even more effective and reliable coursework assessments."
In Wales, Education Minister Jane Davidson said she shared his concern.
"I shall ask my officials to work closely with teachers in Wales to ensure that these developments are taken forward in ways that are manageable for teachers and their pupils."
Shadow education secretary David Willetts said Mr Johnson needed to go further in cracking down on the use of coursework in other subjects where it was open to abuse.
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, Sarah Teather, said: "We have to be careful not to disadvantage those students who don't perform well in the exam hall environment.
"We mustn't simply have a knee-jerk reaction against coursework."
National Union of Teachers general secretary Steve Sinnott said: "We welcome the removal of unnecessary coursework.
"There are some subjects for which it is totally inappropriate. I hope however that coursework is retained for subjects such as the arts, geography and history."
The NASUWT teachers' union said it would examine the proposals very carefully but was sure supervised coursework would address problems of plagiarism.
The Association of School and College Leaders praised the announcement.
"In the age of the internet, plagiarism represents a real problem and it is right that the regulations on carrying out coursework recognise this," said general secretary Dr John Dunford.
Last week, it was announced that the coursework component in geography A-level would be scrapped, although in English it could be a greater amount than now, and it has been made compulsory for the first time in history.
Mr Johnson also outlined new measures to improve support for children in care and their education.
He said an extra £100 a year would be put into their Child Trust Fund accounts for every full year they spent in care.
And a £2,000 bursary would help children in care go to university.