Saturday, October 8, 2011

Just Like That

I've had quite a good start to the term. True we have an OFSTED inspection due imminently and everyone is a little on edge but overall the students seem much more settled and motivated and I've been enjoying my teaching. I've stuck around for a second year which seems to be helping and our behaviour for learning policy is also starting to have an impact. 

Then an email that I almost deleted without reading has turned everything upsidedown again. The email was from the Edexcel ICT subject advisor which I subscribe to for BTEC updates. The email in question concerned DiDA, a course I've not taught for several years.   As I was glancing through it make sure there were no references to BTEC I came across this paragraph:-

As you know, DiDA qualifications are 100% internally assessed. This means that in their present form they will cease to be counted in performance tables from 2014. You will need to bear this in mind when deciding which ICT qualifications to offer in Key Stage 4 from 2012 onwards. If you teach DiDA over 3 years you need to be aware that your current Year 9 pupils’ results will not contribute to your school's league table results when they reach the end of Year 11 in 2014.

Now while we do not teach DiDA we do teach OCR Nationals in year 9 and 10 (with no core ICT in year 11). OCR Nationals are 100% internally assessed in the same way that DiDA is. I knew that the current specification was being replaced at the end of the school year to fit with the new government requirements but the final accreditation date for the current specification was summer 2014 and I had no reason to think that the results would not still count in the league tables. The new specification is not yet available and is for first teaching in September 2012 so all year 9 have started on the current specification. Despite my personal views on the OCR Nationals course I have built the course up to the students stressing that they are working on GCSE level coursework and that they would get their first GCSE by the end of year 10. They have responded well and are working hard and producing work of a good quality. Suddenly, just like that, the rug appears to have been pulled from under us.

One of the driving reasons for the introduction of the ICT OCR Nationals as a core subject at KS4 at our school was to improve our 5 A*- C results. We are under notice to improve, to a large extent, because of our current 41% 5 A*-C GCSE results. A qualification not contributing to these headline figures would be hard pushed to justify it's curriculum time. Added to which, what message is sent out to employers / colleges if the course is not a 'proper' GCSE. OK the students would still get a qualification but what would it be worth?

Obviously the first step was to find out whether OCR Nationals were affected in the same way as DiDA. So I checked the DoE website and the OCR Nationals website - nothing mentioned on either. So I contacted fellow ICT HoDs and tweeted out to my PLN. General feedback was no I must be wrong, surely the qualification would still count or we would have heard about it. People seemed pretty confident but I was having trouble identifying a definitive source for this confidence. I contacted my OCR Nationals moderator who passed by query up the line. The response was as follows:-

'My understanding is that the Government, cannot change the
rules once the qualification has been accredited and this will only
come into effect after 2014, however, I do not know for sure and this
is not something that we should be giving advice on, this must be left
to OCR.  Please suggest to your team member that he/she directs the
Centre to contact OCR directly to find out the position this way no
wires get crossed.'

However as a friend pointed out:-

It’s true they can ‘t change the rules regarding GCSE equivalence points for already accredited qualifications BUT they CAN change which qualifications they will or won’t use in league tables at any time.

So we phoned OCR directly to find out. Only it turns out they don't know either and may not know for sure until January. However it was not sounding hopeful. Our supplementary question about which units are likely to stay the same under the new specification could not be answered either. We are promised a call back in the next few days but are left in limbo. Are we teaching a course which will have little or no value, either for the school, or for the students themselves?

So I am left weighing up the options with little hard information to go on. Carrying on with a course whose results will not count in the league tables is not feasible for a school in our position. I have only 1 hour a week for two years so am well short of the 180 hours required to deliver a traditional GCSE.   Short courses and other 1/2 GCSEs such as Functional Skills will no longer count in the tables either so they are not an option. So I seem to have only two options:-

  1. Try and guess which units under the current specification will be largely unchanged under the new specification and switch from teaching unit 1 (which is the core unit and will have to be externally assessed) to a unit which could be entered for the new specification. My choice here would be the website unit (although it could end up as a controlled assessment unit). Then register the cohort for the new specification next year and do the externally assessed unit in year 10. However if I guess wrong I will not have time to get the students through the course as we do not have year 11 to fall back on.
  2. Scrap core ICT and revert year 9 back to KS3. The school is looking for more core curriculum time for English and early discussions indicate I could trade core time for an additional options block offering Computing GCSE and a level 1 ICT course. This together with my two existing BTEC groups would offer a fully differentiated ICT options choice and allow the majority of students to gain an ICT qualification suited to their needs. However this would mean telling the students that their hard work so far had been largely wasted and that they would not after all be working towards a GCSE in year 9. It would also leave a large hole in my year 9 SOW.
To give me a breathing space to try and decide the best way forward I have decided to switch all students to working on the OCR Nationals website unit. If I had a KS3 year 9 I would be teaching website design, it may count towards the new specification OCR Nationals and for any student choosing the  BTEC course as an option it would not take much work to convert it to the BTEC website unit. 

However as curriculum planning and options choices are well underway I do not have more than a few weeks to make a decision. Whether I have any firm information to help me make the decision by then is very much in doubt.


  1. Tis all a carry on isnt it. Similar choices for us also. Did you read my current blog post re getting Computing going at GCSE?

  2. Yes - I'm following with interest. This may turn out for the best in the long run. You can't deliver a meaningful course in 2 hours a fortnight for 2 years to an entire cohort and I hate the compromises I have to make to get the kids through. On the other hand they have already started on the course and it is so unfair to change the goalposts at this stage. Who knows - maybe the qualification will count but unless I have confirmation fairly quickly we may have bailed out anyway. Given this experience I'm not sure I'd go with OCR for any other qualification. Edexcel have at least been straight about DiDA even though presumably very few school will run the course in year 9 this year and that will cost Edexcel dearly in registration fees.

  3. We too are in a quandary about our year 9's and OCR Nationals. We've put so much time and effort into rewriting a new unit 1 business project and resources. Do we carry on? Do we start web design? Who knows. We don't offer any GCSE courses in ICT - I have wanted to offer Computing for years, (being a programmer) and hopefully will now get the opportunity. In the meantime ... decisions to be made.

  4. I just feel that we cannot make an informed decision - what if I jack in the course and then it does still count for league tables? I've deprived the students of a GCSE and depressed our stats for no reason. On the other hand if I carry on regardless and the results do not count I've wasted everyone's time. Computing is definitely the way forward but I'm more than a little cross that the goalposts have been moved when we have already started the course. Mind you what can you expect from a government who values latin above ICT?

  5. While on the one hand, I sympathise, on the other I can't get away from the fact that I think the way you (and many, many others) have been using OCR Nationals is wrong.

    "One of the driving reasons for the introduction of the ICT OCR Nationals as a core subject at KS4 at our school was to improve our 5 A*- C results"

    Tail wagging the dog. I understand why it happens but this is exactly WHY the Nationals brand has been so devalued and exactly WHY the government is cracking down on the abuse of these qualifications (stretching right back to the GNVQ). Too many schools are pushing kids through tickbox units from Y9 (and below). That's not what L2 qualifications are for.

    You ran the Nationals in KS3. I love my KS3 ICT. It's where I get to 'teach them stuff' for the sake of teaching them stuff. I can come up with my own assessment schema and I can set whatever tasks I think are appropriate in order to help my students learn purely so that they know stuff and can do stuff. To steal a third of that time away to boost league table results just feels like we're all missing the point of education and becoming institutions whose sole purpose is to print bits of paper saying that all our students can do everything - when this is clearly not the case.

    I'm sorry if that seems harsh, and it's not my intention to be negative and to beat you while you're down. And I'm sure that SMT have been very keen to push results up in this way, and that's hard to resist.

  6. Hi Mark - not disagreeing with you in the slightest. If you've read any of my other posts you will know that I loathe OCR Nationals with a passion. I started as HoD 12 months ago and inherited the current situation which I've been trying to change ever since. As one of the contributors to #ictcurric I've been promoting a more engaging and relevant KS3 and I'm very frustrated that I have lost year 9 to the sausage factory that is league tables performance. But the fact remains that my school is fighting for survival and that survival depends on those league tables. If you are below the average in terms of results you are automatically in line for an unsatisfactory rating. Given the average is more or less the mid-point that means half the schools in the country. We are being compared to schools who do play the numbers game and my SLT made the not unreasonable decision to join that game. In the longer term I'm more than happy that such ploys will no longer count but in the short term I have a year 9 cohort who have started a course which they have been lead to believe will give them a GCSE qualification but which is unlikely to do so. That is not fair. Also I now have the task of rewriting teh year 9 curriculum when I have tried to adapt year 7 and 8 to cover as much of the KS3 curriculum as possible. I now have to find the time to develop a new curriculum when OFSTED are due to walk in any minute.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.