We do the worry over coursework. The pupils chill

29th October 2010 at 01:00

Exam coursework has always seemed to worry our teachers more than our pupils. I'm not sure if this just happens at our school, but as the deadline looms it is the teachers who grow increasingly anxious and begin tearing their hair out while the teenagers are so laid back they practically fall over. Usually they do not seem to understand why teachers are making such a fuss.

Though we try to develop their independent learning skills, it is rare for them to get on to and complete coursework without plentiful prompting from us. After so many struggles ensuring they get the work handed in on time, it is a relief that this will be the final year our English faculty will have to go through that pain.

We were very pleased when we heard that coursework was to be replaced by controlled assessments. It seems that the "powers that be" believed that coursework was subject to abuse - and particularly that many parents were doing most of the work. While this was not true of our parents (part of me wishes it was), I could see their point.

It is also true that exam boards were fed up about receiving thousands of pieces of coursework that looked almost identical. Few of those pieces would have been copied and plagiarised - they may have all appeared the same because teachers were using writing frames and similar tools, an approach that can get pupils writing but results in a lack of creativity and imagination.

In any event, we assumed that controlled assessments would mean that the whole process would be fairer for our kids who get little or no help from parents.

My teachers have had to get to grips with the process and have carefully planned each controlled assessment - of which there are many. The rules are strict and complicated, so my examination secretary has produced a policy document which outlines very clearly who does what and when and how so (hopefuly) there are no mistakes.

One of the biggest issues around controlled assessments is finding time in the school calendar to do them. We have tried to be very organised, but when the dates were put in the diary it was still a shock to note just how many of them there were, especially as we now start some of our GCSE courses in Year 9. So now, before we agree to any trips or visits, or take up any unexpected learning opportunities for our pupils to drop the normal timetable, we have to check our diary to anticipate which classes might miss out on their lesson. If a controlled assessment is planned in that week then we say "No, thank you".

Furthermore, we check the diary before we allow staff to go out on training or anywhere else. This leaves very little opportunity to do the things that our children really love and to take learning outside the classroom. Looking for a silver lining, I suppose that may be just as well as we are likely to have little spare cash for such expeditions next year.

More worrying, however, is what happens when pupils are absent from school and miss their assessments? Regular attendance at school is something we still struggle to ensure. But despite all our efforts, many parents and carers don't understand just how important school is, especially the last two years of statutory education.

Neither pupils nor parents have really understood how significant the controlled assessments are and how they will influence their final grade. We continue to bombard them with messages about this but they have yet to digest them and take them on board.

Similarly, many don't quite understand the significance of modular exams, and many still seem to regard these as mocks. It is almost impossible for pupils with attendance problems to achieve an accredited grade in most subjects, but we persevere and never give up.

Our school has set itself a target of a 10 per cent increase next year in the proportion of getting five A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. We need to achieve such high targets because we must reach national averages - otherwise we can never be judged by Ofsted as anything other than satisfactory.

We have been able to achieve dramatic improvement to our results before. But all the changes to the exams, including the new courses and modular GCSEs, as well as the controlled assessments, mean it won't be a doddle.

Just as with coursework, I think we will end up worrying about all this more than our pupils.

Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green's School in Tower Hamlets, London.

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