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Primary Education News
News Secret Teacher: I can't bear the way my school treats students like statistics
My students who speak English as a second language are being made to fail one exam to boost their scores in another. How do I explain to them that the school is willing to let them fail?
I teach English to the bottom set in year 11. So, no Saturday revision classes, no after-school tuition, no constant rewriting of controlled assessments and no pressure to get that C. After all, it doesn't really matter what they get, does it? As long as they meet their F-grade targets, the school should be happy, right?
I've a small class of 17 pupils, all of whom speak English as a second language. Many entered the school in year 7 not being able to speak any English and half of them are classified as refugees or asylum seekers having come from countries such as Nigeria and Afghanistan. They're a delightful class. Having only begun speaking English four years ago, these pupils understand, far more than the majority of other students in the school, that hard work is the key to success. However, many of these F-grade students are now in a position where, providing they do well in their summer exam, they should all achieve Ds and, for one or two of them, a C has not been ruled out. This is what success looks like, right?
No, actually. Not according to the school. These aren't teenagers. These are statistics. Suddenly, with the reality of achieving a D grade, the pupils become alarms on the radars of all of senior leadership teams. "Well if they can get a D, why can't they get a C?"
I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that, in a few years time, these pupils could sit their English GCSE and not only get a C but go right up to an A or A*. Unfortunately, right now, their language levels just aren't yet good enough. It's not about teaching them exam skills; it's about giving them time with a dedicated language specialist who can teach them English as a foreign language. But it's OK. We have a solution.
Word on the grapevine is that the Cambridge iGCSE English exam is set in such a way that it is slightly easier for students to achieve a C grade. And so this is what my students will do as well as taking the normal GCSE.
On the face of it, this seems like a great plan. I would love my students to achieve a C grade in English. But actually this solution isn't for the students at all. It's for the school.
There's a catch. If these students do achieve a C grade in their iGCSE, they won't count as one of the school's students who have achieved 5 A*-C grades unless they also sit the iGCSE English literature papers. They don't have to pass it. They don't even have to get anything higher than a G grade. They just need to sit it.
And so I have been given my instructions. For the next two months I am to drill my pupils in exam technique, preparing them for both their English language exams. Due to the focus on this, there is to be no time dedicated towards teaching them The Importance of Being Earnest, The Tempest, The Great Gatsby or indeed any of Tennyson's poems.
Then in May, the students, my students, who have worked incredibly hard against all of the odds, will enter an examination hall for two exams, of around two hours each. They will be entirely unprepared. They will have been instructed by me, as their teacher and who they trust completely to help them succeed, to write their name at the top of the exam paper and then sit there. In silence. Doing nothing. When they receive their GCSE grades in the summer, maybe they will have achieved their C. But they will also have a U grade to go with it.
This is nothing more than farcical. It's a waste of time and I feel like I'm failing my students. I've still not told them yet. How do I explain to them that I am happy to put them into an examination room and watch them fail?
Today's Secret Teacher works at a secondary school in the north of England.