More Options and some concerns..

Last night was the Options Information Evening at T’s school. We had 6 appointments for talks by the subject heads that he is keen to take up for GCSE – 3 that he is very keen on, 2 more for reserve and science (to try and resolve the dilemma*).

In true RPS style the evening was well-organised, slick and on point. We started, punctually, with a speech by the Deputy Head (the head had been detained. I would say unfortunately, but I quite like the Deputy; he’s got a great manner). He made some very sound points; some that I had already had and others that I had not considered: choose the subjects you enjoy and are good at (not one or the other – you may love History but be really crap at it so why put yourself through the stress? N.B. He didn’t actually use the word “crap”. Equally, you may have a real aptitude for German but find it deadly boring. Again, you’re not going to give it your best shot if you’re trying to drum up enthusiasm at every lesson; choose the subjects that you think you might like to do at A’level; don’t do a subject just because your friend/crush/favourite teacher is doing that subject. You may not get that teacher and your friend may be good at it and you’re not. Your crush may not be your crush in 6 months time. Sage advice. He told us that the majority of students get their first choices, but not all. Seven out of one hundred and ninety-two didn’t get their first choices last year. Great hit rate but not great for the seven. So, be certain that your reserves are subjects you really want to do and not just an afterthought. They try and give everyone their first choice but can’t always manage it if it’s oversubscribed or has a timetabling clash. However, they won’t just write it off and give you your reserves, they will have a discussion with student and parents and find the best alternative situation. Quite reassuring, but just like school allocation day, I will be convinced that he will be one of the minority that defies the “it will all be fine” motto until I have it in my hot little hand that he has the subjects he wants.

So, onto the speeches. Fifteen minutes and then straight to the next one. Luckily, they had timetabled them pretty well so we were never more than a stone’s throw away from the next room that we needed to be in. Of course, we were never last to arrive (apart from for Food Tech, but that wasn’t my fault. T and K had wandered off thinking we had the wrong room while I sensibly checked my schedule and found I was right). The speeches were all generally informative. Some were more dynamic than others. Loved the Business Studies teacher. She seemed to be someone that had done some shit jobs in her time and had the experience to be “real” with the students. She’s been there 2 years and has helped to drag the pass rate up from around 50% to over 85% in that time. She did confess (not very repentantly) that she used lots of threats of violence and lunchtime sessions/after-school sessions to get that result. Fair play to her. Some were less impressive. Food Tech seemed to know she was pitching to a tough crowd and confirmed our suspicions that this wasn’t a good reserve choice.

Final session was Science. He was a very serious man (no kidding?) and he made some good points: if you don’t like one of the Science subject then don’t do Separate Science. Why risk a mediocre grade for one GCSE when you can get a better, overall, combined grade for 2? If you don’t feel you want the pressure of extra work then don’t do Separate Sciences. If you don’t want to do a Science at A’level then don’t do Separate Sciences. But there was an underlying message that he believed that going the Combined (Core) Science route was taking the easy way out. Less work, less pressure, less GCSE’s at the end of it. Sounds good to me.

However, as the session progressed it became abundantly clear to me (and, I think, most of those present) that it is not the case at all that it is an easy option. The new GCSE structure (thanks Mr Gove) means that, as for Separate Science, there are 6 exams to be sat for Core Science  – yes SIX – and each one lasts 1.5 hour and….wait for it……no coursework.

For me, this is the biggest concern of all. I can cope with changing from letter grading to numbers (just about, if I have a conversion table). I can cope with combining grades to get an average 5-5/5-4/5-6 for 2 GCSE’s if going the Core Science route (it made sense when he explained it). But no coursework? This is insanity. Sorry if I’m a bit late to the party on this. I think I was being an ostrich up to this point.

I am of the first year GCSE generation. I was in the class of ’88 who first benefited from coursework making up a large percent of our final grade. I would not have passed as many GCSE’s as I did or get the grades I did had it not been for coursework. I know not all students have a problem with exams but I think most (honest) people will be happy to admit that they don’t enjoy them. I could be wrong, but it seems that the whole reason for the shake up of exams that led to the GCSE being devised was the introduction of coursework. Now this is being shaken up again (for the sake of it?) will the class of 2018 suffer for it?  Call me cynical, but I am certain that the class of ’88 did so well so that those that gave birth to the concept of GCSE’s could proclaim it a resounding success. Will the class of 2018 have the same experience or the opposite?

On the whole we found the evening very beneficial. Neither K or I particularly enjoyed our school days (massive understatement) and we are both determined that T (and A) will get the most out of it that he can, by doing what he enjoys doing, to the best of his ability and in spite of the constraints and pressure that this new system will put on him.

Fingers crossed.






*not a real dilemma, just needing confirmation that he is making the right decision, but all of this feels like a dilemma, like the biggest decision of his life so far.


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