Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

It Should Be Plain English: Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

It Should Be Plain English: Comment

Article excerpt

I'm not sure how much longer my kids will believe in fairies. And by fairies, I mean the GCSE English exam system. And by kids, I mean my class of 15- and 16-year-olds. They are a pretty sharp bunch and they've twigged that clapping their hands to save Tinker Bell doesn't guarantee good results. Come August, when the results are through, she may rise up, sprinkling fairy dust over their grades, but equally she may end up dead in her coffin, as cold and stiff as a Barbie. It's finally filtering through to the students that it's not their efforts that matter, but a prudent mathematical formula that's weighted against happy endings.

And their suspicions are being voiced. Yesterday, I handed them a GCSE marking scheme so that they could peer mark each other's work. Before they began, they asked me for clarification on the terminology. One boy was persistent: "Miss, what exactly is the difference between a 'detailed exploration' and an 'analysis'?" I could tell that he wasn't going to be fobbed off by my usual sleight-of-hand. He had the air of a child who wants to know why all of "Santa's presents" still have Argos labels attached. Had I been asked the same question before becoming a teacher, I would have said they were broadly interchangeable, like calling a coffee an Americano or a cookie a biscuit. But as the exam board ranks these skills in two separate mark bands, I needed to justify why they were different. I hedged, as I always do, by bandying about words such as "insightful".

It's little wonder that students struggle to decode the descriptors. …

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