Friday, 6 November 2015

In a GCSE curriculum change spiral of despair

I am so pleased that I decided (all three science subjects decided) to stay with the same A-level examination board. There are subtle differences in the content and I have at the back of my mind that I have to do a decent job of the core practicals in order to help the students gather enough knowledge to access the questions in the exam paper that will be around practical work. I have actually embraced the chance to reflect on my A-level teaching and think carefully about how my lessons and schemes support the students I teach and what I can be doing differently. I am including more technology and making more of an effort to investigate different practicals and demonstrations that I might include in my lessons.

However, the department are also working through our key stage 3 changes. Some of it we love. Some of it we find lacking (the homework) and some of it needs a bigger solution (the end of topic assessments). We really need time to discuss the changes, divide up the work, upload what we have created independently to the platform and make notes for the schemes of work to stop us from making the same mistakes next year. But we don't have that many opportunities to do any of that because we're working on year 12 now.

We also teach Year 6. Luckily, I have bought an excellent scheme of work. But it is not perfect. Again, homework isn't great and I spend three hours per week preparing for one hour of lesson because I have to make presentations and often have to make equipment or set up my classroom to be ready. Teaching Year 6 needs a lot more thought with respect to classroom management/organisation that teaching year 11 does.

So adding yet another curriculum change to the mix is distressing me. I can't describe myself as feeling any other way.

When I was teaching the final year of the old key stage 3 and making resources I didn't feel I was wasting my time. I figured that key stage 3 is flexible so I might teach that content in that way again. When I was teaching the last year of the previous A-level specification and making resources I felt the same. But GCSE teaching is the majority of my timetable and even though I am teaching the final year of a specification I am still making resources. Resources that will be unusable in their current form in the new specifications. Resources that are very specific to lesson P3f (for example) of the Gateway specification.

Why am I making resources? I am making them because the students now have iPads and I feel that I need to embrace the new technology we have to ensure that the girls are using them and their parents investment is not wasted. I am making them because (in the case of video) it genuinely does improve the educational experience of the girls. But I know I am putting effort in for the students I teach now that is not going to be laying a foundation for the future.

So this time next year I will have an even greater amount of work than I would have if there had been no new curriculum changes. Not only will I still be trying to perfect the key stage 3 and 2 schemes, and ensure we have key stage 5 schemes that prepare the students for the longer more integrated terminal examinations I will also be starting from scratch on a totally unknown GCSE where I will be able to use very few of the resources that I have spent the last 10 years developing without some level of adaptation. Add to that the uncertainty of how practical skills will be assessed and what the grading 1-9.

Understandably within school we are grappling with the best procedures and timings to deal with all the changes. The changes that not only impact science. If the drama performances or geography field trips have to change then what impact does that have on the time pressures on students and my teaching time in science? If examinations are longer, how does that impact our mock examination weeks and internal assessments? How do we change our reporting at key stage 3 and 4 to reflect the new GCSE changes? The options booklets and curriculum descriptions all have to be changed, the parental handbooks regarding revision and coursework have to be updated (twice, once saying this is provisional and again when the changes are confirmed). Etc etc, all little things that add up to a lot of administration work we need to do.

Not having a settled school environment and knowing this is going to be the case until at least 2018 is filling me with dread. I was told when I started teaching that after six years of teaching I would have my resources and be able to get a decent work life balance. I would not be working until 1am just to keep my head above water.

To have every aspect of my working life affected by the shear volume of change being created by the previous and current government is distressing enough, but knowing that it we are not being given a decent length of time makes me extremely angry. Knowing that the Science GCSE specifications will not be ready until February, 6 months after some people have started teaching it is unacceptable. For me is a yet another straw. When will the camel's back break?

I am overwhelmed by the changes, by the swirling mess of knowing that everything I am doing, every aspect of my working life is on shifting sands and there is no end in sight.

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