Saturday, 16 December 2017

My MBE experience (1)

Thanks so much to all those whose kind words have led to my appointment to the Order of the British Empire and to those who have shared my pleasure in the whole experience!

I will write more about what happened over the coming weeks, but meanwhile I am uploading a picture so that the lovely lady who works on a Saturday at Felicity Hat Hire, West Wickham, can see my delight at her recommendation!  I know that you are planning to join the teaching profession, and I am sure that you will do well, but the hat shop will be losing an excellent employee!  Thanks SO much for your patience and your excellent advice.  (And thanks to Susan Bullock who recommended this wonderful shop to me!)

This is my photo, so can be embedded somewhere else if needed:

These photos prove it really happened!  They are supplied by a different photographer.  I have paid to be able to display them here as 'news', but they should not be copied / embedded anywhere else.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Letter to Ofqual July 2017

Here is the letter sent to Ofqual in July 2017 by ALL, ISMLA, ASCL and HMC following the publication of Ofqual's position paper on Inter-subject comparability.

Downloadable from a link on this ALL London page.

A level MFL results 2017

I attended the JCQ briefing on A level results on Thursday 17th August.

Amidst the continuing concern about the decline in numbers studying A/L and GCSE Modern Languages, and the serious impact of severe grading, one positive step has emerged with the correction being applied to grading this year to take account of the impact of native speakers.

On Ofqual's page for the AS and A level results for England 2017
one of their 3 Key Points is:
3. In A level French, German and Spanish, outcomes at grades A* and A are up following an agreement with exam boards to make an adjustment to take account of native speakers in these languages.

So the percentage of candidates gaining grades A and A* has risen from 2016 to 2017 in all 3 of those languages:  French 37.3% to 39.0%; German 39.6% to 41.4% and Spanish from 34.4% to 36.9%

This adjustment is in addition to the highly technical correction made last year to redress the incorrectly low (ever since the introduction of A* grade in 2010) percentage of candidates gaining an A* grade.  The proportion of A* grades relative to the number of A and A* grades in total  is now around 26% meaning that ML candidates are being treated comparably to other "facilitating" arts subjects such as History.

Both of these adjustments have been made by Ofqual following research undertaken after joint representations by ALL (Association for Language Learning), ISMLA (Independent Schools Modern Language Association), ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) and HMC (the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference).

All 4 organisations recently wrote a Joint Letter to Ofqual welcoming the action they proposed to take this year regarding grading at AL ML this year linked to the issue of native speakers, as they did to the action taken effective in June 2016 to address the anomalies in the proportion of A* grades in A/L ML.

They also welcomed the offer of further work to address grading issues in A level ML, but expressed their deep disappointment that Ofqual's announcement about inter-subject comparability (ISC) does not address the issue of severe grading at GCSE.


Further information:
Joint Council for Qualifications: Press release and full Results:

Department for Education: Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb congratulates students on A level results day

Ofqual Guide to AS and A level results for England, 2017:

Evening Standard: A-level language marks improve after criticism exams were too hard for non-native speakers

The Telegraph: Number of top grades awarded in language A-levels increases amid decline in students taking French and German

TES : Foreign languages set for less ‘harsh grading’

ALL London: How do grades in languages compare with grades in other subjects?

Sunday, 4 June 2017


This afternoon I was passed an article in PC Pro: 'Profile: Lingvist.  We meet the Hadron-Collider scientist whose app can teach you French, Spanish or Russina in record time.'

How could I resist not logging on immediately?  I did so, and 90 minutes later, here I am sharing my experience in case anyone is interested.

My conclusion is that it is a wonderful app, especially suited to reasonably intelligent learners who can spell, and who appreciate or need to learn the real language heard, spoken, read and written in the 'real world'. I will be trying it out next week with some of my older learners, and I recommend it without reservation to sixth form and university students or to eachers who may want to 'up-skill' themselves, whether in their specialist or supplementary language.  Or it may suit people who just enjoy solving clues.

If you’re interested, I am now on level 48 of 51, having made deliberate mistakes to test the app (not that I'm competitive, you understand …!).  Many of the words are not ones which I learnt at university where I studied mainly 17th century - 20th century literature.  The PC Pro article talks about learning language from 'movie talk', and I certainly recognised many expressions from a range of scenarios.  I personally try to maintain my skills via watching France 3, especially the soap opera 'Plus Belle La Vie' and cooking programmes.  (I don’t cook - I just like watching the clear French and the rapport between the hosts).

Why do I like it so much?
• It is very easy to log in and create an account
• It is very intuitive.  You can work out quickly what to do whether on PC or smartphone (but there appear to be more functions on the mobile e.g. telling you which words to revise).

The language really is up-to-date and relevant covering formal and informal contexts.  The language chosen has clearly come from high-frequency language encountered through watching TV, (for example cookery,  fitness, political,  documentary programmes) and films (e.g. crime stories), as well as languages used by businesses, industry, medicine, entertainment channels, the Internet, employment and finance.

• The machine pronunciation is accurate,  e.g. 'mars' was correctly pronounced sounding the 's' at the end of the word
• I only spotted one very minor omission (not an error) in translation where a word was missed out .. and there is a way of signalling this to the developers.
• It is not fussy about capital letters or accents. You are not penalised for missing them out.  (I realise this may not suit everyone's purpose).
• I note that the default is the masculine when translating first person sentences - but I can see that it would be tricky to change this

• It naturally moves you to language to match your ability and provides a challenge
• The algorithm used clearly picks up the words where errors were made and reintroduces them regularly

• It teaches language in a context: you work through 'cards' where you have to supply the translation of a specific word which will then fit in a target language sentence.
• You are given useful 'clues' as to the word required: exact number of letters, synonyms for the words needed which may well be cognates
• There are no 'short cuts' to avoid learning: If you fail or make a mistake, you are given the answer and you have to type it in before you can proceed; if you do not turn off the sound, you have to listen to the whole sentence read aloud before being allowed to proceed [This is the part which will put off some more impatient learners!]
• If a verbal error is made, a grammar window automatically opens to show the conjugation of the verb.
• If you are 'nearly there' the program seems to recognise this, and highlights in red the letters missing from your attempts
• You feel a sense of achievement as you go through the levels.  (Though when I used my PC I was not aware of this ..)

• You can get through it much quicker with Swype set to French and audio muted.
• Show the translation at all times to improve translation skills.

I look forward to trying this out with a language I do not know.  I will be interested to see how it meets the claim to adapt the learning programme to my individual needs by taking account of what I can do in French.
I could understand if this product were to become monetised, but it would be great if, like Duolingo, there were a way of keeping it free!

Thanks to Mait Müntel for this innovative product!

Some screen shots

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Severe grading

I am half smiling, half grimacing  after re-discovering a recording of a 2010 'You and Yours' programme in which I was asked to explain my position with respect to 'severe grading'.  It is chapter two of this link.

The situation has not changed.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Controlled Assessment: A Brief History!

A reminder of the rationale for the Languages GCSE 2010 Controlled Assessments in Speaking and Writing.

1. December 2006 - QCA 11-19 reform programme - 'The current system will be monitoring [sic] to ensure integrity, safety and a reduction in burden'.  The Government wanted to tighten up the GCSE.  'Coursework' for subjects was often carried out in 'uncontrolled' conditions' (i.e. could be at home, could be someone else was actually doing it, even though all had to sign it was their own work ..) so the new GCSEs (first taught 2008, first tested 2010) insisted that all subjects be tested by final exam except when there was a compelling case that it was impossible to test subject skills in this way.

2. As Part of this review, QCA commissioned an investigation into the assessment of speaking for GCSE modern foreign languages,  Here is the executive summary:

Executive summary
Assessment of GCSE speaking: the current position
The current method of assessing speaking in modern foreign languages (MFL) has changed little since the introduction of GCSE in 1988. The majority of students take one examination at the end of the two-year course. This test is usually composed of short structured role-plays and a prepared presentation followed by a conversation. The test is recorded. In most cases the recordings are sent to the awarding body for marking, but some awarding bodies give centres the option to mark the tests and for their marks to be moderated by the awarding body.

The nature of this test can lead to formulaic responses and heavy reliance on a limited range of memorised language. This in turn has a negative impact on teaching and learning, with little opportunity for students to demonstrate and apply their knowledge and skills and to develop independence.

 3. At the same time, Lord Dearing was conducting a review into languages. (Published March 2007)
His understanding of the problems at GCSE are in section 3 of his report.
In the light of the evidence from teachers, he made recommendations which included the two following aspects:

(1)   Subject matter for writing and speaking: The content needed to be flexible to suit the individual motivations of the students.   [See 3.17 ' It is particularly in these years that the context of the learning needs to be stimulating to pupils and to engage them in discussion, debates and writing about subjects that are of concern and interest to teenagers.' ]
(2)   Speaking test: It was deemed that a short final test was stressful and unreliable.    [See 3.22 . "We also proposed a new approach to the assessment of speaking and listening, which rightly account for half the marks in the GCSE, on the grounds that the present method is too stressful and too short to be a reliable way of assessing what the candidates can do. It is interesting that when people spoke about the oral test, that however long ago it may have been, it is often remembered as a stressful experience. We therefore proposed that these parts of the examination should be over a period through moderated teacher assessment."

4. QCA (as Ofqual was then) required the Awarding Organisations (AOs) to take account of the Dearing review  (informed by teachers).  As part of the overall 'across all subjects' requirements, QCA  stipulated that the controlled assessment could only be 0%, 25% or 60% (and nothing else.)  This led inexorably to the decision to require 60% of the content to be assessed by 'controlled assessment'.   This then allowed for (1) subject matter for the writing and speaking to be determined by the teacher  in response to pupil preferences rather than being quesitons common to all set by the AO in a terminal exam and  (2)  the speaking skill to be tested over time rather than as a final short exam.


Monday, 10 April 2017

GCSE 9-1 grading

*********************** UP-DATE DECEMBER 2017*****************************
I have up-dated this post to reflect the situation for the 2017-2018 academic year, including suggestions about gradings of mock exams and some useful phrases in letters to parents.




This blogpost is focussed particularly on ML in the context of the reformed GCSE currently being studied by Year 10 but the principles and messages are exactly the same for

(a)    Current Y11 in maths and English
(b)   Other reformed GCSE subjects for current Year 10

People are asking how they can use the results of mock exams being taken by current year 10 pupils to estimate final GCSE grades.

Being fair to all the pupils of all abilities at a time of major transition and change (and by extension to their teachers) taking a wide range of GCSEs  in a real world of historical legacy and political realities, not starting from scratch, we need to be sophisticated and thoughtful and avoid simplistic solutions.

It's a complex situation but there are a few key principles to help through this transition period to ensure fairness for pupils.

There is a range of information available from Ofqual itself (the body responsible for ensuring the quality of standards in qualifications which have been written by exam boards within the constraints set by DfE) and from ASCL (the Association of School and College Leaders).

There is also much rhetoric around which is confusing the situation and so it is important to unpick some of the political rhetoric, failed logic etc. etc.  For example, 'the content is more demanding'.  Yes, the specifications do appear more demanding.  They have stripped  out any mention of what pupils can be expected to know understand and do at lower levels.  However, grades will be awarded according to 'comparable outcomes' (see below), not according to any statement-related criteria.

At a time of transition, change and uncertainty this can open a floodgate to discussion (e.g the value of statement-related criteria).  This may be very interesting, but it can unnecessarily distract from the task at hand,  It’s important to focus on what is happening in order to ensure fairness to pupils during this transition.


The Ofqual Blog has some extremely useful posts.  Here are some examples:

(a)    a 9-1 campaign including a chart to show how grades 1, 4 and 7 will compare with current grades G, C and A

(b)   Grade boundaries: the problems with predictions 3/2/17  This blogpost explicitly says that it is unhelpful to estimate grade boundaries in mock exams.  Three reasons are given for this, and I copy and paste the third of  these below:

Statistics will play a key role in making sure this year’s students are not disadvantaged by being the first to sit these new GCSEs. Exam boards will use prior attainment at Key Stage 2 for the 16-year-old cohort to predict likely achievement at the key grades – 1, 4 and 7. The bottom of these grades will be aligned with the bottom of grades G, C and A respectively so the proportions of students achieving these grades or higher will be broadly similar to the previous year. We, and the exam boards, will have the full national picture; other organisations will only have a sub-set of the cohort, which may not be representative of the national situation.

(c)    Setting grade 9 in new GCSEs  This post sets out how the number of grade 9s will be caluclated

 2.      ASCL ADVICE

ASCL has provided advice to students,parents,teachers and  headteachers.    This link includes links to downloads for the following:

  1.  FAQs for school leaders
  2.  FAQs for teachers
  3.  FAQs for parents
  4.  FAQs for students
  5.  Technical Notes in Advance of the June 2017 GCSE Results

Here is a copy and paste of the first FAQ in the Headteacher paper:

1 Can I give my governors an estimate of how our GCSE grade distribution in the reformed GCSEs will be this year? What about grade boundaries?

ASCL’s advice is not to rely on any predictions of grade boundary marks for new GCSEs next summer. Statistics will play a key role in making sure this year’s students are not disadvantaged by being the first to sit these new GCSEs, and the setting of grade boundaries will need to take account of the national picture which will not be known until all the papers are marked in the summer. In the School Inspection Update March 2017, Ofsted inspectors have been advised not to press schools for predictions of outcomes this year. It is possible to give an indication of the likely grade distribution because of the statistical linkage specified by Ofqual. ASCL will be publishing more guidance on this in the coming months.

One of the most common issues being raised on ML fora relates to other teachers or managers either expecting to be able to convert raw marks to grades or having managers who are putting pressure on them to convert raw marks to grades as a way of telling pupils about their attainment / progress. What can you do about this?

You have to assess what is or is not within your control.  Staff are in a complicated situation.  The ideal is to have managers who understand the situation and are not making unrealistic demands.  

What is in your control …
Following tests, give  pupils specific advice on how to  improve - in effect using the assessment formatively e.g.  'you have shown you understand how to form the past tense, but you do not do this consistently accurately.  Learn all the verbs which take 'être' in the past tense.'

What is out of your control ...
There may be requirements set by your management at school, and you have to follow their direction.  However, you could refer them to the Ofqual blog and to ASCL's advice.

I hope this helps,.


I paste below some comments I have offered on the Facebook group Secondarymflmatters regarding using sample papers to judge pupil attainment within the 9-1 framework.

A possible approach to getting a rough idea of how your pupils are performing relative to their target grade.

Step 1: 
Imagine if the spec had not changed. Looking at the current cohort, what would you have estimated for
(a) A*-A 
(b) A*-C and 
(c) A*-G? 

[And I don't think you should have to give the an actual past paper to determine this .. it's what I think most schools do at the start of Year 10 .. an estimation ..and as a new teacher, that's where your colleagues / SMT will be helping, based on prior attainment]

Step 2: 
Work out the raw mark which gives you these percentages on whatever set of exams you administer .

This gives you your 'anchor points':
A = 7
C = 4
G = 1

Step 3: Nobody can calculate the intermediate grades as this depends on the raw mark distribution of all pupils taking the exam up and down the country. However, to get a feeling of what they may be, use the method which will be used, i.e.: rule of thumb:

9 =top one fifth of the combined A and A* grades
8 = half way between boundary 9 and boundary 7
6 = top third of the raw marks between a C/4 and an A/7
5 = middle third of the raw marks between a C/4 and an A/7
3 = top third of the raw marks between a G/1 and a C/4

2 = middle third of the raw marks between a G/1 and a C/4

Here are the percentages of candidates who gained the anchor grades in England last year:
French: 7/A 22.7%; 4/C: 68.8%; 1/G - 99.7%
German: 7/A 22.9%; 4/C 74.3%; 1/G 99.9%
Spanish: 7/A 27.1%; 4/C 69.8%; 1/G 99.4%
Obviously you cannot possibly use these percentages and apply them to your cohort, as every cohort will have different prior attainment. The pattern will be especially different if you are in a school where languages are still compulsory. (Not sure there are many of us left in the state sector!).
From this info, last year in England you can see that there would have been differences in the percentage awarded a 9 across the languages.

Out of interest, the percentages needed in tiered maths papers last year were as follows:
AQA Maths higher,
A = 52% of the total marks available (so feel good if you manage to understand half of what you are faced with!) ,
C = 19% of total marks available. (the argument from Ofqual being that those who are of this standard should really be entered for a foundation paper)
AQA Maths Foundation:
C/4 = 52% of the total marks available and
G/1 = 11% of the total marks available.
Edexcel Maths higher
A = 52% of the total marks available (as AQA)
C = 17% of total marks available. (slightly lower than AQA)
Edexcel Maths Foundation:
C/4 = 51% of the total marks available and

G/1 = 11% of the total marks available.


Useful paragraphs about new GCSE 9-1 grading.  Used 2016/2017.  To be up-dated for 2017/2018

(a) ASCL documents from this link:



This year sees the introduction by the Government of new GCSEs in English Language, English Literature and Mathematics including a new 9-1 grading system for those GCSEs, whilst retaining for this year existing GCSEs in other subjects and the A*-G grading.  To ensure that pupils this year are not disadvantaged, Ofqual, the independent regulator, has ensured that the number of pupils getting new grades 9-4 will be the same nationally as gained grades A*-C last year.  The short timescales and late delivery of materials have made this a very stressful two years for pupils and teachers, and we are delighted that the hard work and commitment shown has resulted in excellent results across subjects.


7th February 2017
Dear parents,

As you will be aware, there have been major national curriculum and exam changes at Key Stage 4 over the past two years.  The changes affected both current Years 10 and 11 (but in different ways) and these were outlined in the Upper School Handbook and at Parent Information Evenings.  We are aware, though, that many parents and pupils still have questions about the alterations and so we felt it would be helpful to revisit them in a summary about Year 11 pupils as they approach their final exams.

Year 11 English and Maths
The key changes for English and Maths occurred in September 2015 for current Year 11:
English has moved to an untiered system, i.e. there will NOT be a Foundation Tier and Higher Tier as there was before.  Pupils will be assessed by written exams at the end of the course, so there will not be any Controlled Assessment (or "coursework").

Maths has retained the tiered system, i.e. there is a Foundation Tier and Higher Tier, with an overlap.  The Department for Education (DfE) has tightly specified the content for "Foundation only", "overlap" and "Higher only", and the assessments are designed to cover the material with pupils sitting written papers at the end of Year 11.

However, it is rather confusing (particularly to parents with older siblings) that the same names "Foundation" and "Higher" are used because the grade range covered by each has changed significantly.  Previously the overlap was old grades C and D.  Now it is effectively old grades B and C, i.e. higher attaining pupils than previously are now in the overlap.  The new Foundation tier effectively covers old grades G - B (officially 1 - 5 in 9-1 grades), whereas previously it covered old grades G - C, and so more pupils will be sitting foundation exams than in previous years.   As always, we will be reviewing each pupil on an individual basis to decide which tier of entry will give them the best chance of achieving the best grade.

Year 11 other subjects
These are the existing GCSE specifications being examined for the last time, and the results will have grades A*- G

New grading system and nature of assessment
The most noticeable change for the new Maths and English specifications has been the move to a new grading system.  It is based on numbers rather than letters.  Exams will be graded from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest.  Pupils who fail will be awarded a "U" for an unclassified result.  Crucially, the new grades will not simply map directly onto the old ones, as can be seen in the Ofqual diagram on the right.  Ofqual is the independent exams regulator, and they have decided to fix some comparison points.  The same percentage of pupils will get grade 4 and above in the new system as currently get grade C and above.  The actual percentage varies from subject to subject.  Similarly the same percentage of pupils will get grade 7 and above in the new system as get currently grade A and above (also "grade 1 and above" equal to "grade G and above").  This is important and reassuring news for pupils and parents at a time of much rhetoric about exams being "tougher" etc.  Although there is more advanced content in some subjects, adjustments will have to be made to the type of questions and the grade boundaries so as to ensure that pupils are not penalised, and get the grades they deserve.


Advice from a HOD maths:

  • Don’t get stressed about it; ultimately it made very little difference to outcome for those on the borderline.
  • Make the decision on an individual basis and collectively with students and parents.  Ultimately it depends how the pupil feels (assuming the data says they are on the borderline)
  • Don’t be afraid of entering someone for the higher paper even if they haven’t done all the higher content – they don’t need to get much of it right!  May be try and get them to do both mocks. One in the hall and another in class or at another moment.
  • Delay your decision as much as possible – teach at the boundary between the two specifications to enable this.
  • 9 times out of 10 the students are leaning toward the same decision as you by the time it gets to the exam anyway.
  • Constantly point out that there is now a two grade overlap, they can get a 5 on the foundation, which is equivalent to a low B anyway.  

Comment: Nationally in maths the entry ratio changed from 25% Foundation / 75% Higher to 50% Foundation / 50% Higher - the figure will obviously be different in ML because it is not the whole cohort doing the subject.


. Link to AQA GCSE 9-1 Maths raw mark/grade boundaries last year