Sunday, 23 September 2012


In my department, we've spent a couple of years improving our schemes. At first, they were non-existent; at best, they were collections of vague objectives copied from curriculum documents and a task or two for a novel. There was no notion of progress, assessment or differentiation.

That changed as the school changed. Our schemes became thorough, well mapped and useful. They were differentiated. Progress was planned for.

It didn't seem enough. Reading the ofsted document 'Excellence in English' put the notion of relevance in my mind. The best laid plans for literature in year ten were, on the surface, superb. In reality, that realism and relevance was missing.

Why should they care? Beyond snaring enough marks for a certain grade, what was their motivation?

The answer came to me when I was strolling slowly home at about 3.04 one sunny afternoon, having worked all the way through from 8.57.

Thematic schemes would fix my problems. War poetry was 'dusty' and 'dead' - none of them cared about the classics of the genre. Sure, you could drop in Casualties of War by Rakim, or show a spot of Saving Private Ryan, but it still didn't seem to do the job.

Thematic schemes would place the idea of conflict in its wider context, relating to the reality of modern society. It would allow the teaching of persuasive techniques, the study of journalism, the writing of short stores - a rounded education, rather than an excessive focus on narrow objectives over a six week period, before moving onto another set of AOs or AFs after the next break.

Our schemes had the basics, forced in by the needs of the school at a certain stage of its journey. Relevance and a thematic focus would allow us to move to the next level. We started adapting our existing schemes this year. In the conflict module, we studied 9/11 on 9/11 - in a multicultural, multi faith classroom, the discussions provoked engaged students like never before. Simple questions about their views on war led to the realisation that they think war is a normal state of affairs. Their reflection in this was powerful. Their responses and thoughts when studying poetry by Ed Poynter showed how they'd developed their thinking - much more personal and considered than before.

The year seven induction scheme became more powerful when they were writing for a real audience, knowing their work would get to that audience. Revamping of the school's digital media facilities further enhances opportunities to do this.

Of course, all good teachers create relevance somehow, often intuitively. As an objective for a department, however, it is powerful. It has promoted discussion of teaching in new ways, and encouraged the sharing of ideas and resources amongst the department.

We have many more targets. Improving enrichment opportunities, leading the promotion of reading, increasing independence as engagement. The list goes on. Relevance is the start. We can show our passion, show why we care, why we teach what we teach, why we love the subject.

An unexpected response...

A response from Mr Gove's office to my previous blog, which I cunningly emailed him. They're sorry that my students didn't get the grades they earned. They like academies. They believe ofqual. Sorry. They told ofqual what to say!

Dear Mr Dunford

Thank you for your email of 24 August, addressed to the Secretary of State, about GCSE results. As I am sure you can appreciate, the Secretary of State receives a large amount of correspondence and is unable to reply to each one personally. It is for this reason I have been asked to reply.

I was sorry to read that your students did not achieve the grade they were expecting in their GCSE English exam. We know that this year’s grading of GCSE English qualifications has caused significant concern for many students and sympathise with all young people who took GCSEs this year and didn’t get the results they expected.

Ofqual, the independent regulator for qualifications in England, has conducted an investigation of the grading decisions taken by exam boards. Ofqual published its initial report on 31 August and this can be obtained via the Ofqual website at www.ofqual.gov.uk/files/2012-08-31-gcse-english-awards-2012-a-regulatory-report.pdf .

The report states that for English GCSEs this summer, a complex and unique set of circumstances came together to create a highly unusual situation for schools and students. Ofqual found that the standard set for English GCSEs this year is comparable with the standard in previous years and the June 2012 grade boundaries were properly set. Therefore, candidates’ work was graded at the right standard. Ofqual has also found a greater variation between schools’ results than would have been expected. It is looking into the issues further and will produce a final report in October.

The Education Committee of the House of Commons is also looking into the issues, and it took oral evidence from Ofqual, headteacher representatives and the Secretary of State on 11-12 September. Details can be found on the Parliament website at: www.parliament.uk/education-committee . The Committee’s investigation continues; as a next step it has asked further detailed questions of Ofqual.

Decisions on standards, results, grades and grade setting for GCSEs are the responsibility of exam boards and Ofqual which is accountable to Parliament. Ofqual rightly takes its responsibilities over tackling grade inflation and maintaining standards in qualifications over time, very seriously. Ministers and the Department have no role in making decisions about grade boundaries – this is a matter for exam boards and the regulator.

Because of the concerns expressed about grading, exam boards have made early resit opportunities available to affected candidates in November. Should you have specific concerns about grading decisions, which have affected your school, you should approach the relevant exam board or Ofqual directly to discuss them further.

In the meantime, we look to Ofqual and the exam boards to make sure that the current GCSEs and the systems that underpin them are as robust as possible for the young people who will take them in the coming year.

Regarding your comments about academies, the Government trusts professionals and believes that teachers and headteachers should control schools and have more power over how they are run. The experience of the City Technology Colleges in England and evidence from the best performing education systems from across the world shows that more freedom for schools means better results.

Academies also help drive improvements across the whole education system through collaboration and partnerships with other schools. Allowing more schools to benefit from Academy status within a supportive network is a crucial part of our approach to school improvement and we expect all academies to work collaboratively with each other and with other local schools.

Ministers believe the creation of academy chains is key to sustained locally driven improvement across the system. We are now experiencing partnerships across the country where academies are using their new freedoms to work together, to share expertise and resources and to provide local solutions that are accountable and sustained.

Our best schools are now playing a key leadership role in driving the improvement of the whole school system, through creating and leading new academy chains.

The Government wants all partners to address poor performance within their chain so that all pupils in it have a good experience of school. We will hold each chain to account for the collective standards of its membership and we will expect immediate solutions to be developed by chain partners for any fall in standards.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to write.

As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide to our customers, we are interested in hearing your views and would welcome your comments via our website at www.education.gov.uk/pcusurvey

Yours sincerely

Jenny Crowley
Public Communications Unit

Your correspondence has been allocated the reference number 2012/0057937. To contact the Department for Education, please visit www.education.gov.uk/contactus

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