Sunday 10 January 2010

Decisions. decisions!

It's been snowing heavily so school's closed as no one can actually get on to the site, or even anywhere near the place. so I've been catching up on 'stuff.'
The exam syllabuses (syllabi?) are changing, so we have decisions to make - as to what new GCSE syllabus to choose. So today I've been reading the different ones. We have to choose between either our current one or going on to the Welsh board.
The syllabuses are pretty similar, except in the finer detail. I actually like the Welsh board and there's more to this preference than the fact of my being Welsh (even though I admit that this could be a factor!) I think the Welsh one is more interesting and I feel that our students would benefit from it. But it's actually quite hard.
Now why is this a problem?
Well, a while ago, the time to choose a new A level syllabus arrived. On examining the various choices, I found that I liked the Welsh board syllabus. I thought it required the students to be independent learners and the breadth of the syllabus, I felt, would help equip them for University. When I gave my opinion to the department, I was overruled as it was decided that the Welsh syllabus was too hard. I questioned this and gave my argument about preparing the students for higher education and that surely we should stretch the students?
I was told that some students struggled with A levels and we should not make it too hard for them or they wouldn't choose to do Lit...I then said that perhaps the answer lay in being more strict with who we allowed to take the subject as students who chose EnglishLit as a 'fourth' subject because they couldn't think of anything else to do...I was told that my view was elitist! Apparently the argument that A levels should in the main, prepare students for University, and not just provide them with something to do while they decided what to do with themselves, is unacceptable. I've always felt that A levels is the ideal time to prepare students for the independent learning of Uni and not a time to continue with 'spoon feeding.' Apparently, I'm wrong. Perhaps they're right and this is an elitist view after all...
So, you can imagine what I think about choosing a new GCSE syllabus. I can see the same argument arising, because the Welsh syllabus again is harder. The thing is, I don't see this as a bad thing. We should be stretching our able students and any teacher worth his or her salt should be capable of making something potentially difficult, accessible to the others.
But with the emphasis that is placed on results and league tables, I can see the problem with this view. I and my colleagues want the best for our students, but as a department it is also important to get the best possible results, as schools are judged on them. So whatI see happening is the same as what happened when we chose the A level syllabus, we will go with the one that we feel will get us the best results. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in this, as after all, the results are what will allow the students to get to jobs or A levels, or whatever. It just seems rather strange that the results are now what matter not whether or not the students get a full and rounded education, one that will equip them not just for A levels or University, but for life. And in the long run, surely the result of a full and rounded education is students who can take exams in their stride...and get good results?

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