Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Efficiency and exam boards

I am sick of being told to find 'efficiencies' so I'm going to tell some other people to find them for me.
source: https://slightlychilledporcupine.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/the-grinding-gears-of-bureaucracy
I've always thought exam boards are really bizarre organisations. Who knows quite how they work? They seem to work on a shoestring, with hoards of part time staff on 0.05 contracts and spend their time passing the job of marking out to anyone they can get their hands on with a pulse and a vaguely relevant qualification even though most of those people already work 50 odd hours every week. In the mean time, someone who runs them gets an OBE and everyone says it's a jolly good show and we all go around for one more dance.

"I've got a fish tank and some free time between 9:06 and 9:21pm?" 
"Great, you can mark biology A-level then!" 

I have every sympathy for them in some ways. They live in shadow of the QCA, soaking up the ire and frustration of teachers which really should be aimed at 'the man' itself. Lets be absolutely fair - it wasn't any of the exam boards who were sitting about saying 'what these kids need is more grammar and remembering' 


I do think there's a huge amount exam boards could do about general teacher workload and here's a few ideas and reflections based on my experiences with new specifications in the last couple of years. (I'll name no names as I understand from my colleagues that the experience is pretty universal)

1: Think about the fact a specification should be a document for students to read (at least in part) and carefully consider the way things like assessment criteria and coursework requirements are presented. At least some part of the specification should be designed to give directly to students.

In my spec, criteria spread across pages - I want to print out and give to students but every single student needs two pieces of paper, not one.

In my spec a lot of the language describing the tasks and criteria are obtuse. It is fair to expect different levels of outcome, but it's not fair to leave students baffled about what exactly it is they are supposed to be aiming for.

2: Provide some simple student focussed resources that can be used in class. Video would be great. A simple talking head video explaining what the assessment is, what the criteria mean. Why not? Why leave students at the mercy of varying interpretations by teachers, some of which will be inevitably inaccurate.

3: Organise the information properly. My specification has some criteria in it whilst some others are in sample mark schemes. Some content is outlined in the specification, some things are in notes on the website, somethings can't be discovered unless I log into a secure site and find additional material.  Some further things have been added to the 'news' tab of the website and still more emailed or revealed in online training sessions.

It's 2018, digital information is really easy to organise and update. As a member of a subject support group on facebook, I'd say 60-70% of posts are people asking 'where is X?' - that can't all be people who are too lazy to look - it must be an indication that the information isn't well organised.

4: Provide a hub for teachers to share resources. Why not? It's the absolutely ideal point to bring staff together and share resources. Why is this happening in 'the TES resource sharing area' (a private organisation profiting from education) or within ad hoc groups online but not at the source (i.e. the exam board web page)

Perhaps particularly useful resources could be 'endorsed' by the exam board, reducing their own workload in terms of providing training and support. In time, the exam board website could become a really well used hub saving people lots of time and sharing good practice which could only benefit learners.

5: Actually encourage teacher feedback. It's genuinely hard  to speak to anyone who is actually responsible for the content of the spec or the information on the website. It can be a positively Kafka-esque conversation and getting a response beyond 'Thanks, we have logged your comment' takes real perseverance.

As someone who is essentially the user of a service, I'm amazed I've not had a survey to fill in, or a phone call to discuss my impressions of the new specification and points where it could be developed. It's not that I think I have amazing insight, it's that ultimately, I am paying the exam board to enter my learners, I am paying them so I can fill in reams of (sometimes ill designed) paperwork or to sit trying to work out what the hell criteria x or y actually means and I feel as if it doesn't matter what I think, it doesn't matter what my experiences are, it's a 'put up or shut up' arrangement which seems to be


These five suggestions would (I think) go a long way towards eliminating some of the long evenings spent trying to work out exactly what it is that 'the exam board want'

I'm well aware that it might be challenging for the boards to fulfil these points as I get the impression they aren't exactly generously funded at 'ground level' but if the Government is actually serious about teacher workload, it could do a lot worse than look at the work which could be saved 'at source' which for many of us is the exam board.

A small amount of funding here, to enable proper oversight, to update technical expertise, to provide a really good service and some full time commitment (at least in the first year(s) of a new specification could pay itself back many times over in time saved by teachers and thus more time to actually teach, assess and do things that really develop and benefit young people.

I'm not sure me endlessly rooting through quasi legal documents really is the ideal use of my time in terms of educating young people holistically.

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