What to do with Year 11?

The trouble with schools is that we are playing catchup with Year 11 when we ought to be looking forwards.

We don’t have much time left with Year 11 and at the moment we are all desperately trying to play a catchup game with the vague hope that governments will do something to ease exam pressure, perhaps similar to the recent announcement in Scotland. 

Even if we move to coursework and teacher assessment, I don’t believe this will serve in the best interests of young people.   I’m convinced we have to look towards what they do next. I said something to the same effect back in April for last year’s Yr11 cohort, but I think I was too late then, and I’m probably too late now, but this is my tuppence worth with regards to the GCSE qualifications this year . . .

At this stage in the year, does any experienced Year 11 teacher or senior team, not know their cohort well enough, to be able to say with a 99% degree of certainty, what level their students would be capable of working at in Year 12?   I only have anecdotal evidence and personal experience to back this, but I believe we can all identify which of our students would be able to sit A Levels comfortably and who might not quite manage all the A Levels, but may manage other Level 3 quals. We also know who would need to do Level 2 and Level 1 courses in Year 12. 

Rather than look backwards to catch up on work missed in each GCSE/vocational qualification a student sits, wouldn’t it be better to look forward and enable young people to effectively access their next level at Post 16 now?    Still carrying on with all of their subjects seems almost pointless now.  If we do, then we are in danger diluting the skills, knowledge and most importantly, learning habits they need for the courses they are going to take up next year.  This will result in many struggling and higher numbers dropping out (an let’s not forget the accompanying mental health issues).   

Those I have mentioned this to, agree with me, but everyone says the same thing: ‘No one would go for it, it’s a huge undertaking’; ‘There would never be the political will’.  My argument is that Governments had the political will and the energy to close down all of the schools, cancel exams, shut down countless businesses and keep everyone in their homes for 6 months.  We’re damaging the future lives of young people enough at the moment, surely then, this isn’t a big ask.

This would be my plan:

  • Everyone would still continue with their English and Maths (especially from a literacy and numeracy point of view).
  • Schools would identify which level they believe their students would be capable of following at Post 16 and discuss with/inform students and parents.
  • Working closely with the school’s Post 16 provider, an enhanced series of taster sessions and careers sessions would be put in place, enabling students to select make informed choices regarding the courses/programmes of study they would wish to follow at Post 16.    
  • Post 16 Providers and schools would work together to develop Post 16 bridging courses, which would in the main, be more focussed GCSE (Level 2) level work, which homes in on the subject matter at A Level or level 3 BTECs, albeit at a level 2 standard.  It would be a good introduction to the Level 3 qualification where the student would become familiarised with the concepts and vocabulary.    For those who would study at Level 1 or 2, these courses could begin.   
  • The normal school timetable would continue for Year 11.  When in their chosen subject class (if studied at school they would follow the bridging course) when in another class that they have ‘dropped’, they would utilise the blended learning capabilities we have all been developing and study the course independently during the lesson.   There may of course be simple timetable changes which would enable the student to see more of a certain subject teacher, but let’s not allow this to initially distract us.
  • There would be some subjects that a school doesn’t offer e.g. niche A levels such as Forensic Science or Law etc.  This is where we would need Post 16 providers to work with us in developing programmes of study for these courses.  Other vocational courses such as Motor Vehicle, Hair & Beauty, would be problematic for many, but again Post 16 providers may be able to offer facilities.   Failing that, there are school based skills basic to most vocational qualifications which a school could deliver.   This section is without doubt the most difficult to accomplish, but not insurmountable.
  • Accompanying all of this would have to be an ethos which focuses on rebuilding the habits of learning for all of our learners.  I am always advocating extended learning tasks/activities or projects and I make no exception here.  This would not be the time for pure didactic teaching (in times like this we need to develop young people who do not need the teacher as a crutch), we need to be developing independent, autonomous learning.
  • At the end of the year schools could produce certificates which state that the student is ready to move on to the next stage of their learning.
  • We would have to accept that this would be the cohort that did not come out with the full range of GCSEs.  At the end of the day, Post 16 providers, employers and universities want to know what level a child is capable of working at, so that they can progress to their next stage.   I believe schools have the professional expertise to make these judgements, backed by portfolios if necessary.

Advantages:

  • Students will become more motivated
  • Better prepared students for Year 12 – fewer courses to study (a focus on what is relevant to them)
  • We have blended learning approaches in schools now – let’s use them to our advantage

Disadvantages

  • Initial hard work for schools and Post 16 providers (but I think it could come down to tweaking existing courses
  • In Wales young people do not have to continue in education post 16.  How do we ensure they do not become disenfranchised with less GCSEs?   (This may need some timetabling changes in schools, or they are given a ‘Graduation certificate at whatever level the school thinks they achieved?  They would of course still be working on their English and Maths.
  • Coordination and capability to provide the courses which schools may not have the expertise or facilities to deliver.   

So, do we have the will to do it?  Could we make it work?  Can we tolerate one year group passing through without the usual compliment of GCSEs?     Maybe it could be the beginning of something new?  All young people struggle in Year 12 with the jump to A level, maybe something like this can relieve the stress?

Am I being politically naive? Possibly, but it’s workable. Let’s put the needs of the students first and add a dash of pragmatism. At this stage, it’s too late to worry about missing out on all the advantages of a broad curriculum. 

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