The dust has now settled following another successful batch of exam results, and the time has come to start planning for the year ahead. The main issue for key stage four is to respond to the changes that have been recently put in place by our chosen exam board, OCR. After a number of years with AQA, it was a major decision to switch exam boards, and I am disappointed that some of the modifications have removed the very features of OCR ‘B’ that attracted me in the first place. However, planning for the new linear specification is not going to be a problem, despite its late accreditation. I usually spend a bit of time over the summer closely reviewing progress with the key stage four, and the new structure can be easily incorporated into this process. I presume it has not been so straight forward for colleagues who are in the middle of a three year GCSE programme.
As I see it, the main changes for this September’s Year Ten will be as follows:
1) SDME – This will now be a part of the exam at the end of the course. No more early entries or re-takes. It will now be extended to an hour and a half exam, and there will be no pre-release booklet.
2) GEOGRAPHICAL INVESTIGATION – This has disappeared. The Geographical Enquiry section (25% of total mark) willow be entirely made up of a fieldwork investigation of 2000 words.
3) THEMES EXAM – There will now be no choice for students, who will need to answer 1 question from each of the three sections. Raw marks for each question have been increased, and the exam will now be extended to one hour forty five minutes.
4) SPAG – Increased importance on basic English skills.
These changes have a number of implications for planning. With the SDME now part of the final exam process, it means all four syllabus themes will need to be covered in detail. This obviously increases content and adds a bit of ‘lesson pressure’ – something the previous format avoided, which was one reason it attracted me. The absence of the investigation helps to ease that pressure, but loses an excellent opportunity for some deep independent research, another aspect that led me to move to OCR. Although the SDME is still a fundamental unit of the syllabus, I was not pleased to see that it has been moved to a part of the terminal exam. I was much happier with the flexibility previously offered, which allowed teachers to plan a two year course with a good spread of pressure points – SDME, investigation, fieldwork and final exam.
So, my reshaped two years for the new intake year tens will probably look something like this (although, in reality will be somewhat more flexible):
YEAR TEN: AUTUMN TERM (2012) – Rivers and coasts; SPRING TERM (2013) – Fieldwork; SUMMER TERM (2013) – Economic development.
YEAR ELEVEN: AUTUMN TERM (2013) – Population and settlement; SPRING TERM (2014) – Natural hazards; SUMMER TERM (2014) – Revision & SDME preparation.
The SDME theme for the June 2014 exam will be natural hazards – presumably, the actual title will not be released beforehand. The only guidance we have is that it will focus on the issues of hazard planning and protection, as well as hazard prediction methods.
Looking further ahead, the SDME in the 2015 exam will be based on the economic development theme, and will be based on issues of aid and development as well as managing economic development and environmental conflict. Future SDMEs on population and settlement will be based around the issues of population management strategies and settlement development and planning, while the rivers and coasts SDME will be based on the issues of flood management strategies and coastal management strategies.
The fieldwork enquiry in the new-look exam still offers a choice of titles, and I will probably stick to a whole-group approach with a coastal theme and use “How distinctive is your chosen coastal study area?”. However, I will be making sure I give more able candidates a chance to develop their own enquiry questions in order to access the top marks in the assessment scheme. Alternatives fieldwork titles for this cohort are: “How well is the stream/river in your chosen area managed?” “How well do changes within your chosen study area affect its sustainability?” or “What are the consequences of economic change in your chosen study area?”
As far as my current year eleven is concerned, their next year of study slots into place quite easily – building on work already completed in the ‘old’ structure. Two of the exam themes have already been covered, which leaves fieldwork to be completed in the Autumn term, working to the title “How do geomorphic processes affect your chosen coastal study area?” However, I will need to decide whether to use the Jurassic Coast or north Devon as the location. It is also hoped that the (final?) geographical investigation will be completed during this term, choosing from the relevant titles on the web site. With the SDME already covered and sat in June, a number of individuals will presumably still be able to rest in January. That leaves the final exam theme of natural hazards to be completed in the spring term. If everything goes according to plan, the summer term will be free to complete any outstanding exam sections, and also embark on a thorough revision and exam technique programme.
I have taken time to explore alternative exam boards, but am reluctant to make another switch so soon after the last. There are obvious implications in terms of resources, new planning needed, and so on. I still have the feeling that the OCR scheme is the most appropriate for my students, but will review our position once more when the new specifications have bedded in. With future changes to GCSE on the near horizon anyway, perhaps it is best at present to try to make the best of the hand we have been dealt – even if it is probably not a way of working I would have designed for myself.
Teachers should take time to be fully aware of the new changes, as this will be a difficult year, working to two quite different structures. The OCR web site has all the information needed – even though it can be a little difficult to locate at times. The OCR B Ning is also a useful source of up to date information.
I would be interested to hear from other teachers who have been wrestling with the recent exam changes (whatever exam board they have chosen), and how they have been trying to plan out the best way forward for their students.