OK, here's my tuppenceworth. I've been teaching Edexcel GCSE drama for the last few years, but by trade I'm an MFL teacher - only started with the drama to help the school out, really. I've been teaching MFL to GCSE and A level for almost three decades. My GCSE drama group have been walloped by the mod in unit 2 this year and lost a lot of their marks. Note, incidentally, that our marking for unit 1 was described as too severe (but no marks were added on, of course). Additionally, their unit 3 marks are pretty humdrum. Needless to say, since September 2009, I - and they - had spent much time combing over the new spec trying to ensure that everything was done as requested. But here's the point - these kids put a huge amount of effort into this GCSE, and I can guarantee you that if they had instead done French, say, or German with me to GCSE and put in the same kind of effort, they would have got one if not two grades higher in their results. Why? I think it's to do with the way the subjects are examined. MFL is basically straightforward - you learn a fair amount of vocab, master some opinion/justification sentences, get up to speed with three verb tenses at a very basic level and learn a set list of useful phrases and other bits and pieces, and there you go - you'll get a grade C, no problem. It's a basic GCSE spec that does what it says on the tin, and you and your kids know what to do to press the right buttons. Access to higher grades is similarly pretty easy to understand. That's not to say it's easy - it ain't and you have to graft - but you know exactly what you have to do, and if you work at it you're on a winner. Drama GCSE on the other hand is - at least to me - a land of confusion and impossible expectations. The language of the spec and mark schemes is at times of almost Joycean impenetrability, and there's a sort of florid style about the moderators' reports that robs them of clarity and leaves you wondering what it's all about. I quote from one of this year's reports: '...still image was used at a higher level where students were asked to respond to abstract themes from the chosen play, introducing concepts which emerged through subsequent work with the text in the same lesson. Where students also had opportunities to work independently within the planned structure they were able to combine their knowledge of drama strategies with the creative use of medium and elements.' I imagine this means 'We like still images that portray the big themes of the play as interpreted by the students. We also like to see the students working without hands-on guidance at times.' But who knows? This verbose, cod-academic style is everywhere you look in the documentation, confusing you and sending you round in circles so that you end up in a rictus of anxiety about what to do to help your kids pass the wretched exam. This is all further exacerbated by the amount of entry paperwork you have to fill in for each candidate in what is, after all, just a single tier GCSE: MFL teachers (and probably others as well) would start a rebellion if something similar was demanded of them. And as for the subjectivity of the marking - don't start me. Are they really saying that a 15 year old kid who takes a major role in a half-hour play, learns all her lines, cues and positions immaculately and makes a workmanlike performance on the night - are they saying this kid is a grade D in paper 3? This is what happened with my group. Are there really as many as four higher grades she could have got? This exam is a GCSE - an exam for 15 and 16 year olds who are probably also doing 8 or 9 other GCSEs: it's not the first year of a degree course at RADA! It's almost as if there's a little group of aesthetes up there in the clouds somewhere shaking their heads pityingly at us as we run around in a panic trying to read their minds. The cutting of marks in unit 2 this year in so many centres really does reinforce this impression - you almost feel as if you've been set up to go wrong so that they can punish you. Well, what about looking at it the other way round? If so many centres went wrong ('Centres were largely over generous in their marking') doesn't that say something about the clarity of the instructions that went out to them? I'm not a mind-reader, nor am I able to spend all day every day going over the drama GCSE question - I'm just a regular teacher with classes, tutor group, meetings, duties, marking, rehearsals, and all the rest of it to attend to. I don't want to play mind games; I don't have the time. Tell me in plain English what you want and I'll get my kids to do it. Where is the sense of proportion in all this? I think at some point a reality check is in order, and - to return to where I started - the people in charge of drama could do worse than have a look at the practice of the MFL guys. Sometimes less is more.