So Ofqual are launching an anonymous online survey next week, (TES article here) with the aim of teachers disclosing any tactics that schools have used to give students an “unfair advantage” in boosting their exam results.

Basically the idea is that they want to hear about any practices, which according to the article are used to  “maximise” results, and I quote “such as asking students to memorise marking schemes, entering students early for exams or focusing on areas of the curriculum that are most likely to be tested”. I am assuming that this last bit comes direct from the speech that Glenys Stacey made yesterday (which by the way Ofqual isn’t on your site. In fact there are no new speeches since March!) because it isn’t mentioned in their press release (here) where the page is actually headed as “Ofqual invites teachers to share their views and experiences on exam strategies”, which to me sounds all very banal and innocuous, but I suspect that there is a hidden agenda!

So lets deal with these things from the TES article:

– Early entry for most has all but gone. I have blogged about this “a lot” (this is favourite post on the matter) when it was removed and I think the government really don’t have a clue about some students of whom you would never say have “a fair advantage” … they have an unfair disadvantage. Regardless, my feelings are irrelevant and the government still haven’t addressed the far worse (in my opinion) matter of entering students on the same day for a sitting with a different exam board (best grade will count!) so effectively they will get two bites of the cherry.

– Memorising  mark-schemes  is just ludicrous! Of course I use them in my lessons and students have access to them to mark their work, and I will continue to do this. I check my answers when I do the Saturday morning crossword, so why would I deny access to my students to be able to check their own work? 

– Focussing on areas of the curriculum that are most likely to be tested. Every single school will be doing this to some extent in the lead up to the exams, but teaching it all the time is nonsense … why for example would I spend valuable time some obsure topic that isn’t going to be of any value or use to  the student in their life and furthermore isn’t going to get examined. The topics that get examined are the result of government policies and so MUST (**surely??!!??) be of some importance … this will be even more so when we get the new GCSEs, and at the end of the day you cannot test students on every subject, they have ever been taught. ** If only you could convey sarcasm in the written word**

I wholeheartedly agree with Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) when he says: “Not doing everything [a school] could to prepare students effectively would be a dereliction of duty,” Mr Lightman said. “While we take very seriously our responsibility to work closely with Ofqual to maintain standards of professional practice, ASCL has serious concerns about the idea of treating anonymous and anecdotal feedback as ‘evidence’. “Hearsay and rumour have no place in evidence-informed policy. Explicit procedures to report malpractice are already in place and should be used where there is cause for concern.”

Lets make this clear I do not advocate cheating. I never have and never will but if we are going to get our wrists slapped or vilified in the press for preparing students for exams then the world has gone completely off its rockers. If we aren’t able to use our professional judgement in preparing them, we may as well not teach them anything (at all! EVER!) and just send them into the exams. Whether we like it or not, the current system of education is measured by passing exams and so that is what we do. Consider going for a job interview or appearing in court as a solicitor – which is something the head of Ofqual would know about as she was previously a solicitor (and dare I say it … not a teacher!) –  or even something as mundane as going to a meeting – most of us will have done some preparation for it. Imagine just rucking up on the day without any insight to what is to come; it just doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.

… cynicism alert … I don’t quite understand what the purpose of this survey is, and what Ofqual is trying to achieve. Maybe it’s just a quiet news day – we haven’t heard from the other “Of – something” for a few days, so they thought they’d better get in quick and grab the headline.