Tag Archives: english

Controlled assessments – the confusion

How much assistance do you give your pupils with their controlled assessments?

If you read the various teacher forums you will see that there is quite a discrepancy between schools. Some schools seem to just treat the CAs  virtually as exams with the minimum of preparation. Pupils are only allowed to take in a few notes. Other schools seem to prepare draft versions with huge teacher input and then allow pupils to take a virtual draft copy into the assessment. And, of course, there are all the variations in between these two extremes.

Now, I’m not saying that one is right and one is wrong, but what does seem wrong to me is that pupils aren’t competing on a level playing field. The marks gained in these CAs form a sizeable part of the final grade and it seems unfair if pupils are sitting them under vastly different conditions. The idea was that CAs would remove exactly that inequality that many teachers felt existed with coursework where many pupils were able to call on a lot of external help – parents or tutors. It doesn’t seem to have worked does it?

Are 100% exams with no coursework/CAs the fairest way forward? What do you think?


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Many students embark on A level English without being aware of how different the possible courses really are.  You can study for an A level in either English Language or English Literature or even a mixed course of English Language and Literature. This year I have one student doing straight English Literature and another doing the mixed course. Fortunately for me there has been a slight overlap in the content: both students have had to produce some creative writing in the form of an opening to a dystopian novel. They then have to write a commentary on their own creative writing. One student looked at Brave New World as their stimulus and the other The Handmaid’s Tale. 

Writing a commentary on your own creative writing is quite a challenge. The trick, I think, is to be very aware while you are writing the original piece, of the stylistic devices you are using. In other words, loading your work with interesting metaphors, alliteration, power of three etc will provide you with good material to comment on in the companion piece. Students seem to find this coursework a very enjoyable part of the course.

I have to admit to favouring the pure Literature course and this year I have been lucky with a great selection of texts: some old favourites like Hamlet, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Frankenstein and First World War poetry, and some texts that have been new for me to teach like Dannie Abse poems and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. 

A level English is always hard work to tutor with heaps of reading and preparation but it is very rewarding too! There’s nothing quite like helping a student discover the delights of one of your own favourite texts.

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GCSE English Language 2

A cautionary tale to follow up  my previous post on the importance of English grades.

I recently heard about a graduate who applied  for a job in one of the major accountancy firms –  a job that you’d imagine would place most emphasis on numeracy. His degree was in medical sciences but for various reasons he had decided he didn’t want to pursue a career in medicine. They turned him down and the reason given to him was that he only had a ‘C’ in English Language GCSE and they required a ‘B’. He offered to retake it but they were adamant that the first attempt grade was the one they took into consideration.

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GCSE English Language 1

A  ‘C’ grade is the minimum requirement for university entrance and for entry to many careers, but it appears that your grade in this exam may reveal even more about your chances later in life and seriously influence them.

A parent told me this week that apparently research has shown that grades at English Language GCSE are indicative of later success in many other subject areas. Teachers often use those grades to help predict AS and A2 grades in other subjects. Those predicted grades in turn influence how well you do  when applying for university.  The grades are considered a reliable pointer towards success in acquiring good communication skills – something that is vital in numerous disciplines.

All the more reason to give this subject maximum effort now, so the lack of a good grade doesn’t hold you back later on.

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Online assistance

My pupils are so savvy about all things technical (many’s the time one of them has helped me out with some computer glitch) that I’m often surprised how little they make use of all the help that is available online. There are several excellent revision sites around that are geared up for the needs of GCSE. English as a subject is particularly well served (I’ll deal with French and Latin in another post).

BBC Bitesize is a good solid site for English revision – particularly for those doing AQA exams. Unfortunately last time I visited it hadn’t updated to the new anthology Moon on the Tides nor to the format of the new syllabus. It does still feature good, straightforward analysis of some of the literature texts such as Inspector Calls and To kill a Mocking Bird. My main criticism would be that at times it is slightly simplistic – aimed at a B/C grade rather than an A*.

Another site that I have found useful over the years is Andrew Moore’s which goes into more detail than Bitesize and covers a wide variety of texts. It was excellent on the old AQA anthology (especially the poetry) but hasn’t been updated. The site is also excellent for A level English Language with a lengthy section covering this.

A site I have just discovered is www.helpmewithenglish.co.uk which does feature the new AQA anthology – although this section is still under construction and not all poems are yet covered. Mr W, the site author,  gives some very good advice on improving your writing skills and improving your grade. His section on the importance of drafting and editing is first-rate.

Several sites offer critical analysis of texts – Sparks Notes is one that is often useful.

BUT and it is an important but – all these sites are aids to be used wisely and sparingly – cut and paste amounts to plagiarism or cheating as we used to call it!

There is no substitute for a personal response in your own words.

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The most important subject?

Most students (and their parents) understand that passing GCSE English is absolutely vital for most further education and many careers. Indeed proficient reading and writing skills are important not only for English Language and English Literature but also for other subjects such as History, Geography to name just two.

However those A level students following more science based courses may be surprised to discover that literacy skills are vital for them too. I often get mature students who having completed a science based degree are faced with having to produce a piece of written work as part of a professional qualification. A good example would be a Civil Engineer who came to me needing help with essay writing skills. He needed to produce essays as part of the process of joining the Institute representing his profession. He knew how to design and build a motorway but explaining the process in a structured essay he found virtually impossible at first.  Even careers that may seem very ‘hands-on’ such as nursing and counselling still require a large element of written work as part of qualification.

Communication skills whether oral or written are essential in the modern world. Whether you’re writing just a short text or memo or producing a lengthy proposal or presentation the ability to successfully transmit information to your chosen audience is crucial.

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