Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Getting ready for the Curriculum Review

Perhaps it's a good idea to start rehearsing arguments and counter-arguments as we prepare for the curriculum review.

The experience of listening to the Radio 4 programme entitled 'Is it worth learning a language?' brought to light (for me) the problem of

(1) asking the right question [as Mike Elliot pointed out, the debate was sparked off by the falling numbers in GCSE languages .. perhaps a better title for the programme would have been 'Why are numbers falling?' .. the question tended to assume immediately that the fall was because of people questioning the validity of learning a language ..)


2) getting easily distracted from the key question / drawn into separate discussions

I must tidy my house and prepare lessons (!) ...but I'll use this blog again to plant an idea which might help others / might be something I can develop .. perhaps as a way of getting out of a vicious circle of debate. I prepared this list of arguments and counterarguments in the context of analysing exam results but the structure could perhaps be useful in this context as well:

Arguments and counterarguments

Key headings and arguments copied and pasted below ...

Time: It is argued that languages get less time than XXX (any of i) English, Maths / other subjects + issue of time at KS3 ii) what the QCA assumed iii)what they get in other countries)

Counter-arguments: subjects such as BS get no time at KS3; virtually all subjects get the same time at KS4, German / Spanish is more often than not a second language / starts later / gets less time and yet the gradings for those subjects are virtually identical to French. The disparity re grading goes back to before QCA / what evidence was used to match time to criteria. In other countries, time for non-English languages is often similar across the ability range to ours, and non-English teachers in other countries despair about the lack of interest in their subject.

Aptitude: It is argued that you need a particular aptitude to succeed at languages. This would make it similar to music, art and drama, but significantly, those subjects actually appear on the other side of the "difficulty" spectrum to languages. Also, studies such as CEM showed the lower correlation between subjects such as music & art and the "mainstream" (which endorses the "aptitude" argument) but MFL shows a good fit (same as History). This effectively undermines the aptitude argument as a reason for "severe grading" for MFL.

Motivation / being an "option" It is argued that if pupils are choosing a subject then they will do so because they wish to study that subject / will be better at it. This is where the situation with MFL in the last 4 years offers rich pickings for analysis, as the subject has moved from being "nearly compulsory" to "often optional". Often it is a local decision as to how optional MFL has become and the timescale involved. Appendix 1 offers a simple analysis to show that the exam boards have not acted consistently in what is a very difficult time to make judgements on standards, It is not surprising that complaints about fluctuations and inconsistencies in gradings have exploded as a result. The very fact that some exam boards are making some adjustments in some languages undermines the argument whichever way round it is being put!

Teaching and Learning (QCA example - Jim Knight's response). It is argued that the problem lies on the quality of teaching and learning in ML. Response:

There is a false logic in the QCA's position of implying that you should tackle teaching and learning INSTEAD of tackling severe grading (with its implicit assumption of criticising ML teachers relative to teachers of other subjects).The key point is that BOTH teaching and learning AND severe grading need to be tackled. ALL subjects should be focusing continuously on improving teaching and learning. Languages is uniquely disadvantaged because of severe grading at GCSE.

Urdu (QCA example) To bring in Urdu as an apparent comparator is surprising given the number of native speakers taking the exam and the minimal number of students who will have been taught Urdu from scratch in school.

You and Yours Radio 4 programme: Is it worthwhile learning another language?

I've just posted this comment to the Radio 4 You and Yours programme:

One important factor is that QCA confirmed officially in Feb 2008 that half of the students gaining a grade B in maths will get a grade C in French - half of those getting a grade C in maths will get a grade D in French. All the evidence shows that it's the setting of grade boundaries in French exams which goes back 30 years that is the issue - this is an in-built negative handicap - there should be a level playing field between Modern languages and subjects such as maths, science, history and geography. I have documented this here: http://www.all-london.org.uk/severe_grading.htm

Monday, 30 August 2010

ML numbers at AL and GCSE, and “severe grading”

I've prepared a summary of the latest situation regarding the numbers taking ML at A-level and GCSE (+ spreadsheet with all the numbers and graphs, updated to include June 10 results), and also regarding “severe grading”.

I’ve updated the pages on the ALL London site so that these documents can easily be downloaded. I have created 5 separate pages with up-to-date figures:

- numbers at GCSE ML over time
- numbers at AL and AS ML over time
- severe grading at GCSE
- severe grading at AL and AS
- the issue with the new A* at AL for ML

There is also a timeline relating to the last few years, with presentations, documents etc, including the presentation I gave at the Ofqual Inter-subject comparability seminar in Oct. ‘08

The issue with the new A* in A-level French (and to lesser extent in German and Spanish) is a new one, and worth pursuing vigorously before it becomes embedded. It is also one which is unlikely to have been noticed at an individual school level, and only becomes clear looking at the national statistics.

There are also links to:

BBC News article today about Ofqual’s brief to look at comparability of qualifications (but not the points equivalence).

BBC News article “GCSE results: Trends explained” - “CILT, the national centre for language learning, agreed with this [John Dunford’s] analysis, saying the trend was "less to do with student disaffection" and more to do with "performance table pressures".

“Rule of thumb”

Judging from the ML forums, the numbers and results in ML continue to be source of much anxiety and concern, incl. how they are judged. A further thought to help fair judgement would be to publicise a “rule of thumb” arising from the QCA report (Feb ’08): if all pupils took Fr (or Gn) and Maths, to get the cohort % who “should” get A*-C:

Take the Maths A*-C cohort rate e.g. 70%
take the Maths C grade percentage e.g. 30% ( and so 40% had A*-B), and halve it e.g. 15%
Add this to Maths A*-B rate e.g. 40% + 15% = 55% to get the French cohort %

Clearly if ML is optional, then this needs to be adjusted, esp as those choosing ML are likely to be better at it, but at least it is a quick “rule of thumb”

I hope the above help to give a factual basis for the situation.