Reimagining the Reimagining of GCSE

I find the following annoying as well as sad:

reimagine gcse

At these Covid times and the GCSE debacle of this year [both connected, but the latter’s nonsense caused by algorithmic software and political ineptitude] the last thing we need is a further dreadful encroachment into the year 9 English curriculum.

English teachers with any subject content sensibilities have been aware and critical of this increasing dismantling of, for example, giving time to creativity and exploration at Key Stage 3 [with the driven and obsessional GCSE demands], so touting new ways to further this deforestation is unhelpful and wrong.

And as for ‘knowledge-rich’ – well, that says it all: tapped into the new Hirschian dogma and this government’s [a la The Gibb] philistines’ adoration of it. We should be looking to radically change GCSEs, probably by finishing with them and looking at teacher-led assessment opportunities at age 18. There is plenty of historical insight into this, much surprisingly old as it was always rejected at the time, but still full of intelligent relevance.

Leaving Oakland (but not Jimi) Behind

jimi - Copy

On this day 50 years ago I was marooned in the small town of Oakland Iowa with which I had no connection whatsoever, in limbo and nearly in transit out of there back to England. It was also the day Jimi Hendrix died.

I remember the day well because when I heard the news I went down to my basement room and cried on the bed there. Being in this small town where I didn’t know anyone and obviously without the friends I’d recently left in England – those who shared my musical tastes which included a love of Hendrix – that extra layer of genuine sadness added to my deep sense of isolation and loneliness. I was 16 years old.

I can’t remember precisely, but I might have actually just returned to Oakland, having left to fly back to England, but when I had got to Omaha and the airport – the town where I had been born and just over 30 miles away, so a geographical ‘connection’ – I wasn’t allowed to catch the plane because my father had thought it was OK for me on my own to fly on a family passport, and it wasn’t. My aunt, who lived in Omaha had come out to drive me to the airport, then had to return me back to that temporary but now extended-stay home. We weren’t pleased. I can’t remember how long it took to get my individual passport, but I do think I was there waiting for it when Jimi died.

I didn’t have any of my Hendrix albums with me and can’t recall the radio playing his songs. Being desperate and self-absorbed about wanting to flee, I wasn’t very involved with the family so I’m not sure I would have watched any TV.

There is more to this ‘story’ – why I’d been in England, why I’d returned to the States, and why I was anxious to return to the UK – but it is the memory of Hendrix’s passing that reminded me today of that miserable time.

‘If 6 Was 9’ Set for GCSE English Literature 2021

Sorting out the UK exam board offerings for GCSE English Literature 2021 is a bit like working out the variables and logic of covid restrictions across the UK, for example in England you can have just 6 people in a garden but you can have 6 people in a pub x another 6 people x another 6 people x another 6 people to as many 6 people units can be fitted in to be ‘covid secure’. In Wales you can have 30 people in a garden. I think.

And I can’t actually find all of the UK exam board offerings based on the Ofqual decision to reduce the number of optional elements required for study and response at GCSE English Literature in 2021. But here are two of them [in addition to AQA posted earlier],


OCR 2021

This one is simple. Unadventurous and in the Cuprinol Mode of Delivery: this is what was said / this is what it is.

Pearson Edexcel

edexcel 2021

I hadn’t realised, then I found out, then I forgot, so my apologies, that they too had gone down the maverick route, though this less maverick than the not-quite maverick route of AQA, but I guess it’s AQA I need to apologise to/for as they aren’t alone in being whatever they are. I don’t know why Edexcel has gone for making post-1914 Literature another compulsory element. Unlike Poetry, there wasn’t a post-1914 writers of literature outcry for this to be retained as compulsory, though the insider dealing must be that as this is predominantly An Inspector Calls it was in many ways a no-brainer. But by adding a compulsory element, Edexcel are also reducing the options available to teachers. And if a school has already taught the 19th century Novel and Poetry, this compulsion is a disadvantage.

Anyway, back to the Covid no. 6 analogy, I do wonder if Jimi Hendrix’s If 6 Was 9 will be making a comeback to top the charts [if there is A Charts these days]? You’d think it would be a shoehorn in. Perhaps the song’s lyrics could be set as AQA’s unseen poetry element with a question about how the apparent indifference stated in the lyrics links to the uncertainties we face today…

Now if 6 turned out to be 9,
I don’t mind, I don’t mind

GCSE English Literature – Examining for 2021: Encore x 4

This is the latest latest, and it revolves around AQA. This is now an illustrative explanation of what they are offering, as I wrote about last night,

aqa 2021 latest latest

It puts AQA out there as the maverick, though I’m not convinced this is attractively so. I still have to research – if bothered – but I think they are the only English exam board making an extra compulsory element [in addition to Shakespeare].

As I have written previously, in other times, Poetry should be a core and students by and large engage and respond extremely well, and in the most pertinent case to this thread, they do well in the unseen element of Poetry study and response. However, as AQA’s initial ‘maverick’ response was to make the Poetry Anthology study compulsory – this to answer the challenge made by a number at the time to Ofqual’s ‘options’ decision which would have allowed the dropping of Poetry – I don’t see how the unseen poetry substitute for this addresses/answers that challenge.

Interestingly, early critics of AQA’s first change [now changed] referred to those mounting the challenge I have mentioned as ‘celebrity poets’! I had my reservations about the bandwagon of this, but the poets who mostly articulated that challenge do not deserve that denigration. Mostly. And that’s another argument/opinion.

Anyway, teaching and preparing for AQA’s ‘extra’ compulsory element does in the first instance break the whole pragmatic premise of Ofqual’s initial decision. Teaching to this will require a focus quite different to reading and exploring poetry in the Anthology. And surely, it will be ‘teaching to this’ precisely because it increases the amount that has to be taught in reduced time which was the whole point of the pragmatic decision from Ofqual [I genuinely find it uncomfortable to seem to support them, so I’m not, just acknowledging].

Unseen poems have often been very good and engaging and eliciting fine responses. But precisely because they are unseen they are selected for this: the timing and so on. Without explaining this further, I hardly see this satisfying/accommodating the arguments that had been made about keeping Poetry Anthology study compulsory.

So it would seem to be a decision made to accommodate what AQA explained [and I referenced in my previous about this] which is the allocation of marks. All I wonder is how if other exam boards are able to work across three elements [including Shakespeare as compulsory] I don’t understand why AQA can’t do some mathematical jiggery-pokery to achieve the same. Unless they want to be ‘different’.

Finally, as AQA are the largest exam board for this subject, will AQA schools who dislike this version be able to change their exam board? That would seem to be a whole other pragmatic decision that wouldn’t particularly help teachers and schools that already have to bear the burden of extra and uncertain work in these existential times.

GCSE English Literature – Examining for 2021: Encore x 3

The latest provisional latest is courtesy of AQA and it is as clear as any oxymoron would be:

aqa 2021 latest

Having jumped on the compulsory poetry bandwagon – you know, the one with the square wheels – they immediately had to reconsider as it fell into a ditch full of murky decision-making.

OK, I’m stopping with the figurative tangent. This is yet another variation on what had been a pragmatic decision from Ofqual that was probably the clearest decision they ever made as Ofqual. So the poetry anthology study is now an option, though unseen poetry is tagged onto Shakespeare as the compulsory element. I’ve lost track with how this fits in with the other big players so will just leave it at that. The argument presented is that poetry has a vital percentage element to covering the course, but I’m wondering how, in a pragmatic move to lessen the amount of text/s that need to be studied [quite simply because of time], the percentage allocations themselves could not be altered for this one year?

Study Habits

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GCSE English Literature – Examining for 2021: Encore x 2

I’ve written on this site about next year’s revamped GCSE English Literature examination requirements here

both in terms of Ofqual’s decision to reduce workload by making elements optional, and the subsequent ‘outrage’ from teachers and others about making the study of poetry one of the optional components. Mine was, and still is, a pragmatic view, not about any ideologies regarding the study of poetry [which in ‘normal’ times I would always make a feature of study, and examined if terminal examinations have to exist…], but about the absolute pragmatism of the Ofqual decision and most teachers’ quite understandable pragmatic responses to this.

And that was the situation, despite the disagreements, and teachers will have planned over the summer accordingly.

However, AQA have suddenly intervened to unsettle even more that unsettled, if nonetheless, established reality of what would be the case for 2021. I have no idea if this was simply opportunistic – appearing to side with that outcry to keep poetry a compulsory element [myself and most others, I would suspect, having no idea it was possible to interpret Ofqual’s decision] and therefore making them an ‘attractive’ choice to those with that view – but it certainly isn’t pragmatic. Here is their offering, at the time of writing:

aqa 2021

This was immediately confusing for me, and didn’t – and still doesn’t – make sense. What this would effectively do is increase the commitment to teach and for students to respond to the number of elements for the 2021 – precisely what Ofqual’s initial decision sought to avoid because of Covid and GCSE students’ loss of time in schools.

I would consider myself one of the more consistently passionate English teachers when it comes to securing good sense and professional ideology regarding English teaching and the curriculum. In this case, however, I could understand entirely the pragmatic decisions made, by Ofqual [surprisingly] and teachers [as ever when dealing with imposed change]. I mention because there are others, who I respect hugely, also arguing for other alternatives where, for example, students respond to all four elements of the syllabus and their lowest mark in examination is disregarded. That sounds sensible, but it doesn’t address the fundamental problem of students having significantly less time [and it looks like there will be further impacts of Covid] with which to study.

Add to this the fact teachers will have planned their ‘reduced’ teaching, I cannot understand these latest developments at all. By all means, just scrap the exams entirely for 2021 and set up teacher assessment opportunities to award grades [though I accept the genuine problems here of standardising/moderating]. But that isn’t going to happen, therefore…

To add to this confusion, AQA are now ‘listening’ to teachers’ reactions to the decision they made after the first apparent ‘listening’.