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The value of co-operation;Sounding off;Secondary

GCSE CONSORTIA

Rather than continue to lament the divide between state and independent schools, we need to take positive steps to dispel the myths. In fact, much has been done to build bridges, such as the introduction of GCSEs and the bringing together of many exam boards.

As an English examiner I regularly see work from former Oxford and Cambridge board schools (which were mainly public schools) alongside work from state schools. It is a salutary experience to realise that in the independent sector many candidates regularly gain A* or A grades in my subject.

Examiner teachers (who may themselves see work across a much wider range of ability) are often forced to revise their estimate of what constitutes first-rate work, while becoming aware that they share problems with other independent schools.

But I would like to see this stateindependent co-operation extended, with the creation of consortia for the GCSE years or beyond. Sadly, opportunities for this are mainly confined to the independent sector.

Examination boards provide guidelines for consortia, with excellent additional advice coming from visiting moderators. They offer real opportunities for state and independent schools to share responsibilities and planning. Good examiners must be aware of standards across all abilities. The same applies to individual teachers and schools. Going it alone, while seeming to save time on meetings and consultations, can lead to a dangerous insularity: a failure to see you may be setting false standards.

I would like to see many more GCSE consortia that bring both sides together. There must be agreement on which board and syllabuses are chosen, and on marking scales and techniques, to aid internal moderation and the vital final moderation across all participating schools. As assessment techniques still do not feature sufficiently in training courses, young teachers could benefit from such guidance and control, and experienced teachers be weaned off eccentric practices.

More valuable contact comes from the moderation of coursework. All the schools viewing a training video on speaking and listening, then pooling their response and agreeing standards for subsequent class assessment, or exchanging folders of written work at suggested different levels and then reaching a consensus, are just two examples.

Task-setting could also be improved. As a former course-work moderator I recall my frustration at the unsuitability of many tasks, their failure to differentiate or, more seriously, enable candidates to show their ability.

I would urge any consortium to establish a bank of tasks, not to discourage initiative, but for it to be called on to aid appropriate task setting. It would also provide invaluable in-service teacher training during the setting-up period for all, but be of particular help to new staff.

Teachers would benefit professionally and socially from the regular contact and training provided by such a consortium. It would help demonstrate a clear grasp of standards - and would be a unifying force. Will more state schools take up the challenge?

Peter King is a retired English teacher. If you have a strong opinion on a curriculum subject, write to Brendan O'Malley, secondary curriculum editor, TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY

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