Friday, August 31, 2012

Exams and the English mess

From the start I'll declare a personal involvement in the current mess-up over English marks. Bratus Major needed 4 A-C marks to take his courses at college and got 6; however he needed 2 of them to be in Maths and English. He got a D in English. Fortunately after consultation the college accepted him provided that the exam was remarked and if he still failed he'd take a remedial make-up exam at the college.

The big joke in this is exactly why the English pass was required given that he's pursuing a science course. I can understand the basic need to be able to spell and express oneself correctly, but the English exam doesn't just cover that.

When I took my GCSEs English was split into two - Language and Literature. If I recall correctly I achieved a C in the former and a D in the latter; mainly due to the type of literature we were forced to read. If I'd taken a combined exam I'd guess I'd have received a D grade. Do I seem inarticulate to you? Unable to express myself in the written form? According to my presumed grade I am.

A combined test by definition cannot differentiate between those who have a command of English and those who just don't like poetry, which was a fair percentage of the type of literature I was forced to read. If the need to possess good English skills is a requirement than this can be assessed by the school simply via an interview and a written introduction from the pupil. So why the demand for a particular grade?

Politics. The schools are rated by their English and Maths grades, the politicos are caving in to pressure from the media to elevate these two above all others and the schools are taking the load. It's not that I don't think these two disciplines aren't important, they are. It is that focus should be aimed at the exams themselves. If, as passed through the rumour mill, it is true that universities are complaining that students are approaching them with pass marks in these two subjects yet seem to possess little knowledge of them then that is the fault of the exam boards.

One could argue that the schools are failing to teach, but some pupils just won't be taught; not can't - won't. Unless they are taken into one-to-one study they won't pass and the schools simply don't have the funding to accomplish this. Yet at the same time the politicians and the media pile pressure upon them to somehow perform this task.

Given this failure I'll turn to the true purpose between the study of humanities at high school - it is not to educate; it is to integrate. It is to provide a shared social base that allows us to communicate smoothly and without misunderstanding between ourselves. The consequence of focussing on grades is what has resulted in the older generation shaking their heads when a member of the younger generation professes an ignorance of, say, Roger Daltry. It's not that they need to know who this person is more that this knowledge provides a link between the generations.

It is this that I think has led to the demand to teach the 'classics' Dickens, Shakespeare etc. so that we in future we all have that in common. That's fine except for two minor points - 1) None of these works were written for children or young adults and 2) How many people read them for pleasure?

You want a shared base get them to read the Harry Potter series; chances are they already have; that if they haven't they probably want to; they are written for children of this age, and that they contain enough subtext, foreshadowing, and 'classic' storylines that they'd make excellent literary exemplars. The only reason Dickens and Shakespeare crop up is because that's what they were forced to read at school.

Before any says "But wait shouldn't they be reading these to provide the common ground you've been talking about?" the answer is no because we want the current school-age children to share that ground with the previous generation who weren't taught thus. All we'd be doing is pushing them to share with the current generation of politicians who'll be shuffling off the stage.

Teaching Dickens etc. to school-age children does not instil in them an appreciation for these works; in fact it's more likely to put them off them entirely - I still dislike poetry of the Wilfred Owen and "wandered lonely as a cloud" type due to being constantly forced to analyse and tear it apart as a student. Again the joke being these were never written for that age-group. Yes there's a need to study metaphor, but it's done in such a ham-fisted 'gunning for grades' manner that it makes a mockery of it all.

In short although we need to teach English there is no requirement to grade it formally. Dropping this will mean a less regimented approach with the teachers being able to fulfil the hidden requirements of this course, integration, by simply teaching them what they know about English rather than what some Oxbridge types think they should know.


thomas said...

Hi, i live in stourport too, and have read your last few rants. Thought i should finally show myself. This was a nice read, I've got problems with my English GCSE's but thats mainly because of my teacher.

FlipC said...

Thanks Thomas it's always nice to know there's someone out there.

I can sympathise with the teacher plight. My English teacher retired halfway through my GCSEs and when the new one came in she took a look at our coursework and stated it all needed to be regraded - downwards. Half our coursework down the drain.

So have you taken your exams yet or are you still studying?

thomas said...

Still studying, but I've given up all hope of getting that English GCSE at school. I'm totally relying on College to sort this out, you can do GCSE at college right? Thats what I heard. I really want to change school but i think it might be a bit late for that as it's my last year.

FlipC said...

I'm sure most colleges offer GCSE courses; so long as you can get in.

Given that a lot require a pass in English for pretty much anything it depends on how well you do in your other subjects; particularly those connected to the subjects you're looking to take to A-Level.

It does sound too late to change schools now. Consider the impact this might have on your other subjects? Ditch a poor English teacher and gain a poor Maths one in return.

Is this a personal problem with a particular teacher or do the rest of your class share your sentiments?

thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thomas said...

No, it's not personal. First of all, she had three months off because she was unwell. And second, she doesn't really teach, us about writing, she just tells us to get on with our gothic horror while she sorts out other stuff for other classes. The other students love it because they just want to mess around.

I had a look at some of the courses i would like to do for college and I'm gonna need to already have multiple GCSE's even if they aren't related to course itself, this is the second worry for me. Because the teachers haven't even decided if our class is going to do a science GCSE or not.

And so far, we have only done ONE level 1 CLAIT exam this year. It's not that I can't do it, because our previous teacher gave me three exams in two months when i first started three years ago. She is just lazy.

I'm thinking the only GCSE I'll get is in maths :/ and maths isn't my strong point. This gets me so mad.

Anyway, so you're a gamer. I'm quite a big Metal Gear fan.

FlipC said...

Again I can sympathise my Maths teacher got pregnant leaving us with a substitute; came back... and then got pregnant again so most of my pre-GCSE years were with various substitutes.

Okay just to make sure I'm not assuming anything are you 'normal' school age we're not talking adult classes are we?

If that's the case speaking from the adult perspective - talk to your 'home' teacher (assuming they're not one and the same) they're not just their to take the register.

Mention your concern regarding the CLAITs and how you're not feeling challenged - might be able to switch your class. At the very least it should get your teacher's behaviour noticed and she might have to buck up her ideas.

The same goes for the Science GCSE - again from the adult perspective and lots of hindsight - it's not up to the teachers whether you take the exam or not it's up to you. They work for you.

Yeah mind-shattering I know. The reason they may not want your class to take the exams is because they think they'll fail and bring down their pass rate score. Take the initiative and again talk to your home teacher and tell them you want to take the science exam.

If you've done the classes you can do the exam - stick to your guns; there's no valid reason they can give to deny you without making them sound like either penny-pinchers or grade-grubbers.

As for college requisites - yeah I mentioned the joke of an English requirement for a science course. Papers are written so formally they bare little resemblance to 'English'. As you've mentioned GCSE at college level may become the best bet.

Metal Gear Solid - so you're a fan of interactive movies then :-) Played the first ones didn't bother with Snake Eater; after playing PC games such as Thief they didn't stack up. Found the same with the Final Fantasy games they just got a bit too repetitive while throwing large amounts of verbiage at me.

What system have you got? As you may have gathered I'm pretty much on the PS3 now. Just running through the old-school Ratchet and Clank HD collection. Then likely to return to Killzone 3 for some multiplayer unless my cousin manages to pick up Portal 2 in which case co-op on that.

thomas said...

Just been told that my class aren't going the DT GCSE either... But you're saying it's up to me if i want to take the exam or not? That is a shock.

But some good news, I know someone who works at New college all the way in Redditch, and she says that i should be able to do GCSE's there. And yeah I am normal school age.

I really want the Ratchet and Clank collection. I do often play generic shooters but I'm a single player person. I need to do Deus Ex, Portal 2 and Dead Space 2. I used to play Killzone 2 alot, I "platinumed" it even. But my main franchises are Metal Gear and Tomb Raider.

FlipC said...

Okay I've had words.

The 'con-job' is that they just state this and expect you to nod and accept it.

GCSEs aren't compulsory - they can't make you take them. However the flipside also applies - if you ask to take them they need a good reason to say no.

So again have a word with your home teacher - don't be aggressive; pose things as questions so you expect answers.

So "I heard that my class aren't taking the DT exam is there any way I can take it?" or "Is there a reason why we've only done 1 CLAIT in English?"

Next prime your parents - mention that you've spoken to your teacher about this.

Give it a week.

If you hear nothing or get the brush-off mention to your teacher that you've spoken to your parents.

Teachers are just people they want an easy life if it's a choice between having to fight you to not take the exams or to just let you take them they'll take the easier option.

If not then bring your parents into it and then the media. There's little excuse they could give that would look good printed up in a paper.

R&C is great; 3 games with each having a New Game+ option too. Deus Ex - is that the original great game or the new good game? Dead Space 2... preferred the first one. Again preferred the original Killzone to the 2nd and 3rd. Tomb Raider - yeah got fed up with the insta-death traps that required the equivalent of in-game precognition. I don't like games where progress often results in dying to learn what to do.

thomas said...

I've already talked to my parents and tomorrow I'm going to talk to the teacher. And I think I get an annual review or a parent evening in October so we can bring it up there. Also some good news, I'm going to do a science GCSE, Woop! And you're right, teachers really just strive make things easier for themselves.

I've bought Deus Ex 1 from the PSTORE and bought Human Revolution last year. Need to finish them both. And I haven't played Killzone 1 in years.

FlipC said...

Okay that's good. It's about going through the right channels and escalating the problem rather than jumping to the top. That way no-one can be accused of doing things the wrong way and it's more difficult to hide as more people have become involved (and more people can get the blame for not doing something about it before it reached that level).

I won't say teachers strive to make it easier. I mean they're unlikely to push a student failing a subject if they show a blatant disinterest in it and have rejected any help; but for a failing student who wants help... then yeah they'll put themselves out to help. But like everyone they won't fight for no purpose unless it's set up as a fight - them v. you.

HR was such a let-down compared to DE turns out the developers handed over the 'boss' fights to another with the result that -

DE on the other hand always provided multiple routes that would cater to almost any build. There are whole guides on how to beat the game without killing a single person or simply bashing heads together. If you've got a PC try System Shock 1&2 and Thief 1&2 they were the forerunners of the open choice 'intelligent' games. On the Store you might want to check out Soul Reaver for the PS1. It's like Tomb Raider, but better ;-) Combat with melee weapons and puzzle solving via switching between the real world and the warped 'spirit' level oh and an MGS level of plot.

I do hope Killzone 1 pops up on the Store I can't see an HD remake coming, but I still think it's the best of the bunch.