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Thinking of creating a three year English GCSE course - what are the pros and cons?

Discussion in 'English' started by bitofablur, Jan 29, 2018.


Does your school start their English GCSE in Year 9?

  1. Yes

    4 vote(s)
  2. No

    8 vote(s)
  1. bitofablur

    bitofablur New commenter

    Hi all,
    If this subject has already been discussed would somebody kindy mind pointing me in the right direction?
    If not, here goes.
    I'm looking at starting KS4 English in Year 9 - I would be interested in hearing what experiences other people have had of it.
    Any advice or recommendations would be very gratefully received!
  2. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    Someone asked this about a year ago if you flick back through this forum.

    I don't mind repeating myself though: My old school did this and I HATED it - Romeo & Juliet, Lord of the Flies, Jekyll & Hyde and conflict poetry FOR THREE YEARS!!!! The kids were sick of it after I taught them in Y9, then had to do it again twice. Ugh. I was only at the school for that year, so don't know how they did in the end. As I said to my HoD at the time 'Why don't we just prepare them adequately in years 7-9?' I don't see how studying the same texts over and over would help learn quotes, which was her argument; I think it would actually put them off English, and not prepare them at all for dealing with Literature AS. You're better off embedding context at KS3, and having them learn quotes during KS3 too, so that it's not a shock at KS4/5.

    On the other hand, you've got to know your audience. I teach GCSEs and AS/A levels lang and lit in China to Chinese kids - they cannot cope with spreading the GCSEs over 2 years, due to how they're used to 'learning' (remembering, more like) at Chinese schools, so instead we have to do language in one year, then lit in the next. I know some schools do this in the UK too, but it leads to problems because if they do lang first they may not have actually read a book for over a year by the time they start lit. I taught someone in the UK last year who'd done it like that at his school - I was teaching him AS Lit in Y12 - he was lazy, and after every poor attempt at an essay he'd explain it away with 'Well, I haven't learnt lit since Y10' (well why did you choose A level lit then!!!!)

    So, there you go!
    bitofablur likes this.
  3. saluki

    saluki Lead commenter

    Quite useful to do language skills in Year 9 though. Unseen texts over and over again for three years. If the Language paper skills are embedded early it should be a piece of cake by year 11. Hopefully, this should inform the Literature skills in years 10 and 11. Language always seems to be put on the back burner because schools are always rushing to cover the Literature spec.
    I am amazed by the amount of students who have been in the school system for years and years and cannot use an apostrophe and have never heard of similes and metaphors.
  4. gingerella

    gingerella New commenter

    I feel it is important you don't demotivate pupils by sucking all the creativity and joy out of KS3. In the city I work in the top 5 schools all did a 2 year KS4, the bottom 4 all did a 3 year. I can imagine nothing worse than 3 years of looking at extracts. It would demotivate me and I love the subject.
    blueskydreaming likes this.
  5. roamingteacher

    roamingteacher Established commenter Forum guide

    I'd put the energy into ensuring rational progression (including skill development) from 7-12 rather than taking 3 years to do a 2-year course.
    Is the idea they would have longer to study texts, or more enrichment and extension opportunities or....? Depending on your goals, it could be reasonable but - from the comments above - the assumption seems to be you'd just have more time to do the same content. Is that right?
  6. saluki

    saluki Lead commenter

    Skills development deffo needed. spag and writing creatively. AQA have language papers from year 7 upwards and I believe that this is needed. I am just so upset that kids in primary school are learning to use punctuation and discourse markers and yet loads of 16 year olds call an apostrophe a 'flying comma' and then don't know where and when a 'flying comma' should be used.
    Plus, many students have an interrupted education with a succession of teachers, illness and other things. Certain ground needs to be revisited over and over again.
  7. Tangalle

    Tangalle New commenter

    Definitely work on the skills with free choice of texts and ideas in Year 9. Makes the gcse course quite a rush, but I prefer it that way to revisiting texts.
  8. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    They would also benefit from lots of 19th century contextual knowledge embedded during KS3, to aid in understanding the GCSE Lit 19th C novel and Lang 19th C extract.
    saluki likes this.
  9. englishtt06

    englishtt06 Occasional commenter

  10. OneLooseCrank

    OneLooseCrank Occasional commenter

    A halfway house that I am pushing for in our department is a series of 'proto exams' throughout KS3. Some of their key assessments will be presented in the same format as GCSE Literature and Language so they are already familiar with the assessment style when they start KS4. The KS3 'language papers' contain questions in sections that encourage them to define - retrieve - infer - analyse - compare - craft. The year 7s don't compare, the year 9s don't define. For literature, they always have a novel that they are reading so we get them to evaluate a character or theme in a short extract. It's more about getting them familiar with the assessment then the literary text they will study in KS4.
    The argument in the department is that this will suck the love of the subject out, we aren't teaching them to love reading. I counter that the department isn't measured on how much students love their subjects and I'd be very happy if they were - and they will be much happier later in life if they have the open doors that qualifications afford them, open to them. It's a contentious issue. I don't disagree with the argument against early exam prep, but parents and ofsted want grades, not pleasure.
  11. englishtt06

    englishtt06 Occasional commenter

    We have a weak cohort academically speaking (indices of deprivation etc etc etc) and get excellent results because first and foremost we aim to inspire and motivate students through enjoyment of our subject. There is a prominent place for the skills etc. that underpin the GCSEs (of course) but there is also a strong argument that students will also do better in a subject they at least enjoy - if not love. They are much more switched on, engaged and motivated.

    At the moment, my friend is training to be a Geography teacher in the South West: in his first placement school everything was GCSE-driven from day-one of Y7 - and all Y9 lessons (where they start with the GCSE on the 3 year long term plan) have a starter which is based on an exam question, a main which is based on an exam question, and a plenary which is based on - you guessed it - an exam question. Students were massively demotivated and underperforming so - you guessed it again - more exam intervention was prescribed. In my twelve years of teaching, I've taught many Y11s who weren't even motivated by their GCSE results - let alone Y7s. Is there any need to repeat the old adage it doesn't matter how many times you weigh a pig...

    As a HoD, I lead on creativity, engagement and, dare I say it? Fun. And it gets amazing results.
  12. OneLooseCrank

    OneLooseCrank Occasional commenter

    You see, I don't feel that the end game GCSE course / exam is boring and done well, they can be a longer part of their English curriculum in lower school. Providing students with articles that raise contentious ideas, new ideas, evaluations of divisive people, and studying those articles for their content and implications is a) actually really interesting and b) actually their GCSE. Apart from the interesting bit. The GCSE articles are usually gaff... I think doing the right articles in the GCSE style can actually be inspirational or motivating, but the assumption is that for English to be 'fun' it has to be... I don't know... tangential modules, games, write a haiku about a leaf you saw in a puddle spinning in the opposite direction to the arc of the sun which made you ponder the path that life unapologetically thrusts upon us...
  13. englishtt06

    englishtt06 Occasional commenter

    Apart from haiku (which I have only ever done with Y7, and only then several years ago) I don't even know what half of these are so I can't really gauge the 'fun' quotient. We choose engaging texts (we do Carnegie Readers every year as a dept so annually update our class readers), have relevant and regularly updated wider reading lists per unit (with rewards for those who are a bit more reluctant), do a shed load of extra curricular activities (clubs, trips, journalism, school productions, parties, Carnegie Readers, professional writers - we've just had a poet visit and it went down a storm). This is from Y7 up to Y13. Lessons are designed to be engaging, mostly inquiry-driven; and, when looking at Language, focussed on real-world ideas and current affairs. Y9s were very recently doing Hip-Hop Shakespeare. Y12s were roving-reporters for the school magazine all this week. Last half-term, our KS3 finalists were entered into local public speaking competitions (it's a part of their curriculum, too - based on TED Talks). All our GCSE students blog (it's a standing homework) so they are writing for real-world audiences. My department are all very passionate about the subject (a mix of linguists, literature, media and drama specialists) and very proactive. SLT extremely supportive. Last year, we achieved 89.9% grade 4-9 in a cohort traditionally seen as pupil premium (I'm being very general - but you get the drift). In terms of pedagogy, we focus on the upper-region of Bloom's: creativity, being able to apply concepts in several unrelated contexts, classifying (qualifying and quantifying) etc. etc. etc. As I said, although we obviously use the GCSE papers to structure our provision, they inform our teaching rather than rule it; there is no way we will start the GCSE in Y9 as there is no need to do so - we do a general gothic unit (a mix of old and new - so texts like Gardner's Tinder and Gaiman's Graveyard Book for less able; Woman in Black for more able); Shakespeare (obvs), TED Talks, and Dystopias. All these units cover the GCSE skills without being too explicit: comparison, analysis, evaluation, contextualising, links - with structure gaining as much attention as language.
  14. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    The subject association just published an article about this. Said English teachers have lost sight of what their values are as a profession of English teachers. The things that are not assessed are as important as those that are.

    I’m afraid I agree with them. Teaching to the test even before Year 10 does not sound like an innovative and brilliant English curriculum to me.

    Whereas the curriculum before this post sounds like something I would want to do let alone the pupils.
  15. englishtt06

    englishtt06 Occasional commenter

    Thank you Mr Media - as a general rule, as a department we ask ourselves, 'Do I fine it interesting or relevant?' if the answer is no, then the students aren't likely to, either. As I said before; assessment ruling the curriculum is the wrong way around (the tail wagging the dog) but sadly so many schools and departments are going down that road. Our dept is seen as exemplary and we often have visitors to come and see 'how we do it.' However, lots of our visitors are in terror of letting go and having fun, taking risks, letting students be more independent. It's not all plain sailing though: everyone has to be onboard; we have to carefully design assessment that's not onerous to mark (freeing up more time for creativity) - for example, at KS3 reading assessments are rarely discursive essays - and we have to work as a team to allow all these extra- and supra-curricular opportunities to work. Our SLT use OLEVI observation criteria which is weighted towards higher-order skills with a prominence for independence which helps, too. We are an outstanding school with about approximately a 70% intake of pupil premium. Other departments are just as innovative and keen as our SLT trust us and the proof is in the pudding: our terminal results. All our students know what the AOs are for the GCSEs but it doesn't rule their lives - or ours.
  16. OneLooseCrank

    OneLooseCrank Occasional commenter

    I like the sound of your curriculum @englishtt06. It looks like you've got a really good direction. Rightly or wrongly, I bring the question types asked at GCSE down to KS3 in whatever work they are doing to familiarise them with the wording they are expected to face. A study of a text will often go along the lines of: define a range of words, retrieve a range of ideas, infer additional ideas from language or structure, evaluate the content of the article. And this can be done around any text.
    I probably fall foul of being, as you put it, 'in terror of letting go'. I have worked in departments that don't actually cover any literature until year 9. I've seen departments or modules that seem to give a lot of time to 'drawing content from the text'. And I suppose I am weary of modules that place 'fun' ahead of the skills required at GCSE. The reason why is my year 10s arrived to me this year essentially not knowing what it meant to analyse language. They couldn't define the terms 'form' or 'theme'. They didn't know how to access an analysis of structure. But their retrieval skills and evaluative skills, at least verbally, are fine. I feel like our KS3 may be letting them down because as I see it, these skills need to be firmly embedded by the time they start KS4, not begun in KS4. I doubt anyone will disagree but I'll go ahead and explain my reasoning -- when the GCSE course involved completing CAs, we would start year 10 with the Spoken Language assessment and then move on to Shakespeare. They needed then the skills of language and structural analysis from day one of KS4 so that we could get on with reading and drafting our essays. Even though there are no more CAs, there is the same amount of content to get through, so in my mind the students need their GCSE skills embedded by the end of KS3 so that we can spend two years learning their literature texts and the language exam technique. For this reason, I use a lot of the language found in the GCSE exams and the expectations in the mark schemes to inform what I teach at KS3. And I think this means that my lessons are less fun... Maybe I do need to let go some more?

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