WARNING: Ignore All Reports On GCSE/A Level Exams

Why the title? Well, read the words below and you will see that reading reports on Google is about as useful as reading your illness symptoms on Google. It just drives you insane! So avoid such activity at all cost.

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Two reports in the news today have prompted me to write these words, because I am so appalled, as a professional teacher, at what this present government is doing to the education profession and the students in their care. 

The first is this one. 

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/alevel-gcse-exam-mistakes-unions-b2104881.html?fbclid=IwAR1fHB7pzMGtAjUec3-HX_Va3rjeYt_1E8N_CeMbzaYTsIV_j8rrCEbe1ic

It details how so many errors were made in preparing for this year’s exams at GCSE and at A2 (A Level), but what it does not go near (very much) is the problems this will cause the present crop of students, three of which, as my latest students, need as much confidence and help to achieve those grades as possible. 

You see, I am now a tutor, offering online tuition. I did offer face to face until one of them unwittingly gave me Covid which had been caught by them, at their school. 

So now we are in this position of delivering online lessons at GCSE and when I look at the content, it makes me want to weep. To then see in these reports, however accurate or not they are, that the exam boards; AQA and Edexcel and the likes, are messing about saying do not revise for one thing and do revise for the other and then swapping them round on exam day is nothing short of scandalous. 

You are being let down on a huge scale by the very people your parents voted into power and it needs to stop now!

The second report seen this morning is even more damning and more frightening for the current crop of students having just finished, last Monday, their final A2 Language exam. They breathed their final sigh to know that the exams are finally over, only to see this. 

https://inews.co.uk/news/education/exam-results-2022-every-school-drop-gcse-a-level-grades-ofqual-head-1692533?fbclid=IwAR3yzu_sNouxsmIyIY1prIK3juE4fVPa5ZvXS-ZG_eVk1cipW5NQHnZTvdc

In this article, the news writers are saying that we should expect a grade drop from last year, which makes this teacher of English respond in two ways. 

The first is political, I am afraid, for I am of one persuasion that sees what the present Tory government is doing and hates them for it. 

You see, if they mean to mess around with the grade boundaries yet again, as they tend to do each year, to keep the numbers getting a Level 3 or a level 4 at GCSE and a C at A Level, lower than normal, then two things come to mind – well a lot more than two but they are unprintable and ethically unsound, as well as physically impossible – one of which is the effect on the student. 

The student at A Level who has been hitting B grades all year in class work will suddenly get a C and think they have screwed up the exam somewhere. They will begin second guessing what they did wrong and that will stay with them for decades! 

Some students and their families spend from £20 a week on tutors – one was two lessons a week this last year with me so you do the Maths – so they are forking out a lot of cash to get their child over the line when Covid, crappy platforms like Google Classroom, really poor teachers hiding behind Covid as an excuse and not teaching the skills and information the student needs and then exam boards are all messing it up for all our  students. 

There is little wonder that the education system in this country is messed up beyond measure and before my left leaning principles come out to play, the same would be true with any Labour or LibDem government if they were in power because they break the one rule that is quintessentially true to us all that if it is not broken, then do not fix the thing!

So, if and when you see these reports on Google and the likes, ignore them. If after each exam, you were able to say that you revised like mad, did your best in the exam, scoring what you think is your predicted grade – itself a fallacy as we are all different in exam stress situations – then you have done your best. At the end of the day, the exam mark and grade will not represent what you did or how well you did, but will show and share just how corrupt and twisted this current system actually is. 

So do not worry about these reports, or about your grades. Because the exam boards mess about with exam boundaries – what is a C and a B and so on – at both GCSE and A Level, you are at the mercy of a bureaucrat rather than a teacher and their  professionalism. 

This is why I think all assessments should be teacher assessed as we, your teachers, know you best. It is about time we began trusting our teachers rather than belittling them just to make it so that exams either become harder, or grades harder to achieve, over teaching our students to shine, which is what they will have done this and every year, regardless of their final grades. 

R Johnson
Premier Tutors: Sheffield

A Level English Lit Paper 2B – A Moan + Tasks!

When I talk to students of any level who have had two years of teaching in their school and they tell me certain things, I want to shout out my ranting obscenities at their teachers. I really do. Teachers may blame Covid but that is no excuse for being rubbish at their job! Today has been no different because I shared my final tuition session with a student today on the subject of Protest Writings at A Level and the 2B paper he is about to sit on June 20th, 2022. 

It is now June 14th so he has six days left, so we went through the novel, The Kite Runner and although he knows the novel well and can tell me about themes and ideas, characters and stylistic devices, authorial methodology and the likes, he knew nothing about the context of when and where this novel was written. 

Now this got me asking him questions. Did the teacher teach him about the theatre in Shakespeare’s day when reading King Lear? Did she teach him about the political and social ramifications of Shakespearean England and its monarchs when reading Richard II and all that that does entail? Did he know about the 1980s when reading the five Tony Harrison poems, one of which is a real beast? To each question (and the same before, in previous sessions, with Gatsby) did he have that in his lessons with his teacher? 

The answer was in the negative!

Did he know why Hosseini wrote Kite Runner? I found out the answer before I saw him. He saw that before 2003, when it was published, the Taliban had banned a very popular pastime in Afghanistan, which is why he chose initially to write a short story because they had banned children from flying kites. I have zero idea why they banned it as an activity for children, neither do I care regarding their choices made, but the fact that this was missing from his knowledge and skill set six days before the final exam of 2022 made me want to scream! 

And I can scream with the best of them! 

So, I had to backtrack and thought of sharing it here, but in more detail. 

Ask yourself what was happening when the writer you have studied was writing. Then make a list of what life was like then and in which country. Taking the Hosseini novel for a second, as an example, it was published in 2003, so presumably it was written post 2001. 

What does that date mean to you, as a reader? What would it mean to him, as being from Afghanistan, but living in America at the time and presumably being the recipient of some serious racism? Do you, when you see 2001, remember the history of the 11th September in that year? Does the thing known as ‘9/11’ mean anything to you? It should, for that is when the planes hit the twin towers and within two years, this novel is published, suggesting a causal link between the after effects of that heinous day in American history, with the inception of this protest novel. 

The World Trade Center south tower (L) burst into flames after being struck by hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 as the north tower burns following an earlier attack by a hijacked airliner in New York City September 11, 2001.

Now consider what I created with this student’s aid. 

1950-59……children expected to obey parents and much more confined in their attitudes to home and life. Rebellion building though with the inception of Rock n Roll in 1958. Elvis Presley. Jerry Lee Lewis. Cliff Richard et al. 

1960-69……the rise of the Swinging Sixties, flower power, the summer of love, drugs, drink, rebellion happening between parents and families, Vietnam, wars on different continents et al

1970-79……in the UK, the 3 day week, unemployment, recession, the rise of the Thatcher government and all its austerity measures that would destroy and devastate the UK. worldwide panic and loss of confidence. Punk Rock. Sex Pistols. New Wave music (just) et al. 

1980-89……1982 Falklands War, 1984 UK Miners’ Strike (watch Full Monty again) and the effects of the now ensconced Thatcher reign. Trouble and strife everywhere, riots, protest marches against nuclear weaponry (I went on one in London) and rebellion, as well as major poverty, Thatcher being outed. Continued rebellion across the country. 

1990-99……changing times across the world as policy regarding all manner of things changed. New Presidents and Prime Ministers, but never a real change for the better or for the positive. The O. J. Simpson trial. American President Bill Clinton was accused of dodging the draft and doing naughty things with his intern. But, 1997 though, in the UK, saw a real change when Labour won their election and Tony Blair entered Number 10. A landslide victory for a centrist candidate (he was never so far left or right but more like a Liberal) but jobs started happening as we went into the year 2000, often remembered as Y2K. 1997 saw the death of Princess Diana and the rise of dislike in how the Queen dealt with it. In the end, it was Blair who helped her to see a better way. A very rocky decade for some.

2000-2009…..this is a time when Labour lost power in the UK because of what happened post 9/11 and because Blair went into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, with President GW Bush at his side. British troops died in Iraq and the country became disaffected by his desire to go to war. Britain was fed up with war after Thatcher in 1982. Lies were told and the Tories came back into power under David Cameron and then, later, Theresa May. Facebook appeared in 2005. Twitter thereafter. Social Media became a platform for anyone to add comments, whether true or not. The Beslan Murders. Soham Murders. The arrival of the CRB and now, the DBS Disclosure. Thousands accused of crimes they never committed. Growing distrust in the authorities, Police, justice system. 

2010-2022…..same sex marriages legalized. Prince William and Katherine married. War on Terror still going on. British Olympics in 2012. Queen longest reigning monarch. Brexit (need I say more?) Boris Johnson. Freedoms being eroded yet again. Covid19 emerged to kill indiscriminately, throughout the world. Russia invading Ukraine. 

We did this in a short time and I have since added to it here, but the point is to look at when your writer was writing? So, if it is Tony Harrison and X, on the death of coal, it is the 1980s to 1990s and how Thatcher closed them all (the mines) more or less, down and we started buying coal and energy from the likes of Russia. Need I say more there in the present climate of war in Ukraine? 

When you look at the context of when the texts you have read over the past two years were written, you then understand more about why a writer chose to put pen to paper, or press a key on a computer and create a masterpiece. 

That much is important to remember as you revise for this exam.

So, here are some tasks for you to do before the 20th……..have a go at them all, where applicable. 

  1. Read about when Shakespeare was alive. 
  2. What was society like?
  3. What was the attitude of the ruling classes to those in the theatre? 
  4. Why did he write the play he wrote? 
  5. How was it received by the public and those in authority?
  6. Did it (Richard II) cause things to happen? 
  7. Why did your writer actually write their work? 
  8. What socially was happening at the time? 

Do it for all your texts read and studied before the 20th June exam. Google has all the answers so there is no excuse. Make your own mind up on each text. 

By doing this, you will be able to add some real and concrete, social and historical context to your exam answer. You will score more points and get a higher grade, for sure!

God bless. 

RJ

WHY?

I always ask my students a question that annoys the life of them, whatever we are reading.

An example is Macbeth! I ask WHY Lady Macbeth is so manipulative. They give me an answer and I reply with WHY? So they give me a deeper answer and I ask WHY? again. After about 4 or 5 times, they are infuriated with me but finally get to the deeper understanding I am trying to teach them.

Try it now.

Answer this one – WHY DID SHAKESPEARE WRITE MACBETH?

Try to ask WHY 3 or 4 times, based on each answer and see where it goes.

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Done it?

Now watch this and wonder, why did Shakespeare actually write Macbeth? (hopefully, outside of UK viewers will be able to access the iPlayer)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0bvhk3w/lucy-worsley-investigates-series-1-1-the-witch-hunts

Was he saying something to the newly crowned King? If James I was so into getting rid of witches and witchcraft, then what is Shakespeare doing by introducing 3 of them right at the beginning?

I know what I think.

Try it with your other texts and see where asking WHY leads you.

RJ