When it comes to GCSE exams I’m a dunce

WE had parents’ evening last week for our eldest, currently attending the most recently re-named, re-headed and re-uniformed state secondary school in Northampton.

I’m sure the teachers hate it, but I quite like the old-style, formal face-to-face with all his subject teachers. (Tough luck teachers, this is revenge for your massively-longer-than-us paid-holidays).

We did, however, find ourselves utterly baffled by various references to exams. You might imagine that exams are a long way off for our Year 8, 13-year-old son. After all, don’t GCSEs happen at 16, at the end of Year 11?

Aren’t trillions of kids sitting their GCSEs right at this moment, probably scared out of their wits by the exams they’ve been shepherded into for the last five years?

It appears not. We were baffled by references to half-credits, exams being taken at 14 and 15, short-courses, double-awards, assessment units, higher and foundation grades, weighting and frameworks. I went home and tried to look it all up to try to understand.

I’m still baffled.

The Government’s direct.gov website was no help. It read like spewed gobbledegook, and had links to the National Curriculum website, (www.more. gobbledygook.gov.uk).

I know I sound old, but what happened to doing all your exams at 16 in one hideously hot, stressful summer, in subjects that you chose at 14?

According to direct.gov, in one of its more lucid sections: “GCSEs are available in more than 40 academic and nine ‘applied’ subjects. The applied subjects are related to a broad area of work, such as engineering or tourism, and many are double the size of traditional GCSEs.

You can also take many GCSEs as short courses. These are equivalent to half a full GCSE, so can be taken in half the time. However, if you learn more slowly than others, you can spread a short course out over the same length as a traditional GCSE. Short courses also allow more able students to take extra subjects, like a second foreign language.”

OK. But what if your child’s school doesn’t offer the chance to take two languages, or if subjects clash? Or if they don’t offer an exam at all?

Then there’s what must be the thorny issue of whether the teacher will put you into an exam which will only allow a maximum of grade C, or allow you to sit a presumably harder one which means you can get an A*?

I know this isn’t new. (After all, I did O’Levels and CSEs, as a backup, and the latter saved me from being an utter failure in a few subjects).

Teachers, presumably with not inconsiderable pressure from league table-obsessed headteachers, have to choose whether to put little Johnny into an exam which on a good day might get him a B, and on a bad day, an E, or chose instead to push him into doing an exam which should see him get a C but not allow for anything better. I bet that causes a few Parent V Teacher confrontations. After all, league tables need Cs, but parents want As and Bs, even if little Johnny’s only real understanding of the alphabet is via the Y, X, A and B buttons on an xBox or Playstation controller.

At least we’ve got a little while before all this exam malarkey kicks in for real.

To those pupils and parents currently embarking on six-weeks of exam hell, I wish you the best of luck.

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