By Mark Richards,
Whether you are a teacher with twenty years’ experience or two years, you will recognise the same struggle at this time of the year. The start of the new year marks the six-month fight to help Year 11 students meet their GCSE target grades.
Although coursework and controlled assessment have largely been consigned to the past, not much else has really changed in twenty-odd years. November and December have long been the period in which most schools hold their GCSE mock exams. As the result start to roll in, the penny starts to drop – for the teachers at least: the students are way off where they need to be in terms of progress and target grades.
Mixed ability classes, streaming by attainment, smaller or larger class sizes, regular interventions – most schools have tried it all, and often it doesn’t always work. Every January, it feels like you are always in the same position – playing catch up and mounting an uphill struggle to convert those pupils who have underperformed in their mock exams.
Increasing GCSE performance: keep things simple and straightforward
The key to successful intervention is to keep things simple and straightforward. The best approach for any subject is to run intervention sessions based on diagnostic analysis of mock results. This should be completed on a question-by-question basis. Look at the raw marks that students achieved on each question and compare it to the mark they need to pass or achieve their target grade. If you analyse the areas for improvement needed on a particular question, unit, or section of exam paper, you can then reassess and repeat as necessary.
Start early and be accurate and clear
The earlier interventions can begin, the better. However, the most important things are to have accuracy, consistency, and clarity. To achieve accuracy and consistency, it is important that all students sit the same set of exam papers, if possible. Obviously, it is vital that all teachers use the same grade boundaries, which should be taken from the most recent series of external exams. Internal moderation is important to ensure consistency of marking.
A massive amount of data can be amassed at this stage, but it is advisable to keep this relatively simple. A central spreadsheet which covers students, all subjects and their grades will give you a clear overview of a pupil’s current performance.
Once all the marking, data collection and number crunching has been completed, the real work can begin. Staff at all levels need to be involved in the decision-making process that will drive the way interventions are delivered.
Now is the time to interrogate the internal data you have and ask probing questions. These will depend on the context of the school and the nature of the Year 11 cohort. But you should now be able to identify the students who need stretching. It should be clearer which classes are either over-performing or under-performing. Now is also the time to look for any trends regarding specific subject component, questions, or assessment objectives.
Interventions that are precisely targeted and focused will yield the best results.
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