I got invited along to a school meeting during the week to cover the GCSE changes that come in this year.
I say “invited”, the invitation was no more a suggestion as it was a demand from the ex-wife based around the fact that she had gone to the last school meeting. Not that I minded, it’s unusual for me to be able to take time off from work (having a job that finishes late most nights) but this slotted into the diary nicely.
Originally believing it was a meeting for Aaliyah, my 13-year-old, who is in year 9 and due to choose her GCSE options in the not-too-distant future, it was only at the last minute I found out that I was mistaken.
The meeting was, in fact, for year 10, and so was more pertinent to Charisma, my 14-year-old. This year sees the GCSE changes which have implemented by the government come into force.
Instead of being able to get grades from A* to G, the grading system now goes from 1-9, with 1 being the lowest (equivalent to an old F grade, as there is no G-grade equivalent) and 9 being the best. A grade of 5 is now approximately equal to a high C or low B grade under the old system.
Obviously with such big changes the school decided that it was best to get all of the year 10 parents together to go through it. In honesty, they probably could have done it with a letter home, but in fairness to them, they seem to have spent a great deal of time on the adjustment.
What struck me most was the positivity. Each and every teacher that spoke seemed full of positive comments, whether it was about the change to the grading system, their decision to move to a different examination board, or even just in the way that the school was approaching everything.
Almost every other chair in the busy school hall had a sticker plastered to the back of it. “You can do it!” they all read. Yet another reference to the mindset change that the school seems to be successfully implementing.
As we had walked in and signed ourselves in (some things never change in schools) we were each handed a 65-page document that broke down the individual subjects and how they were affected by the changes in GCSEs, and also what was expected from the pupil.
There seems to have been a shift from coursework to in-school work - something that one of the teachers attributed to “the possibility that parents were doing the coursework for their children”. He was quick to explain that he felt that was a nationwide view rather than one for his school, but he believed in what he was saying.
If my poor kids had asked me to do their GCSE coursework, not only would I have refused, but even if I had done it for them, they’d have likely got a lower mark than doing it themselves!
We must have spent a good 90 minutes in the hall in total, with individual presentations from the head of Maths and the Head of English who I swear has taken the loss of Of Mice and Men from the curriculum to heart.
Just as things were getting ready to wrap up, they introduced one more teacher to a very audible groan from the entire hall. I can’t even remember what he had to say, in all honesty, but he was soon finished and we were free to go.
I remarked to Charisma that - once again - it was the type of thing that could have probably been done with a letter home rather than a meeting with parents, though we wouldn’t have had such positivity conveyed via a written A4 sheet.
The upshot of it all is that I now know what grades are what. I hadn’t realised before that each GCSE year group would get graded against their peers, so there is no longer the ability to say that a score of x% will get you a grade of C. I swing wildly between believing this is fair and thinking that it’s quite tough.
It’s completely possible, for example, that Charisma could get all grade 8s in her GCSEs while her sister, Aaliyah, who takes them a year later could get all higher grade 9s with lower marks.
What that will help to do is to erase the annual “GCSE grades are easier to get this year than last” that we have seen for as long as I can remember. My C grade in 1994 is the equivalent of an A grade in 2012. Probably. Don’t go fact-checking that, though!