Sunday, 24 June 2018

Exam Experience

The higher-foundation debate has gone on for years. This is my tenth year of teaching and it predates me.
Do I enter borderline kids for higher? Is foundation better for them? This felt like a massive decision with the new GCSE last year, but I hope that this never makes a difference.

Being a 'higher' student is a bit of a badge of honour at our school. The notion that someone perceived to be a higher student might be entered for foundation sends shockwaves through friendship groups and rumours spread like wildfire - like someone's seriously ill... 'Did you hear about Jenny? She might be sitting foundation' 'Sir, is it true that Billy won't be doing higher?'

I never really had much of a concern about it. In my eyes, a grade 5 student stands an equal chance on either tier and a grade C student stood the same chance too. My mind was changed last year.

Meet Annie. Annie is a sixteen year old girl who can do maths. She can get by and she's in set 2. March comes around and she gets 40 marks out of 300. I made a decision - foundation. I knew she could do maths and I knew she could do the questions on the first half of those papers. What I didn't consider was that she could only do them with a run up - that she needed 15 easier questions to build up her confidence. Annie needed to be entered for the foundation tier for her GCSE.

It worked. Annie got a 5. A 5 that she wouldn't have achieved on the higher tier. She probably had a better exam experience too. She didn't toil for 4 and a half hours in the hope of scraping 30% together. This has changed my mind on the foundation-higher debate.

It has also changed my mind on how we should assess students from years 7 to 11. On how we can try to support every student's individual needs even in assessments. This is part of a longer journey for me and our department.

In terms of which tier to enter students for? Foundation for all until you prove yourself.
'Everyone does a foundation paper at the end of year 9. Get a 5, I'll let you have a crack at higher, because if you're not going to get a 6, then I doubt you should be entered for the higher GCSE.
I'd rather you felt smart for 4 and a half hours at the end of an 11 year journey than feel like all that hard work ultimately made you feel less able because you couldn't access 70% of a paper.' That's what I'll tell the kids.

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