14 Nov 2020
By Mark Richards
The government is adamant that GCSE and A-Level exams in England will go ahead as normal in the summer of 2021. Exam boards have published details of how they will reduce subject content from specifications. Furthermore, the most recent announcement was that the dates of exams will be pushed back by around three weeks.
Of course, it would be foolhardy given the current situation to believe that there won’t be any further changes announced of any kind. The current COVID climate is a moveable feast, but we can see that the government appears to be absolutely determined for schools to stay open, regardless of what lockdown restrictions may have be imposed over the coming months. What’s more, we can safely assume that the government will want to do everything in its power to avoid a repeat of the grading fiasco of earlier this year.
So, next year’s exams are on. Yes, the decisions about reduced content probably took too long; and, yes, the announcement of a 3-week delay for the start date of exams probably should have come earlier too. But it is what it is. At least schools know where they stand now.
So, how should teachers adapt their planning for the year ahead?
More depth, less breadth
There will be some winners and losers with the reduction of subject content that must be studied – schools who spent considerable time in Year 10 teaching components that have now been cut from the 2021 exams, for example. However, (in theory), the delay to exams and the reduction in teaching content should enable teachers to teach with less breadth and more depth.
There should now be more chance to allow a little more time to focus in on the topics/themes that you really need to spend more time on. In more normal times, teachers often found themselves having to rush onto the next topic, to ensure coverage of all the content. Focusing on depth rather than breadth also potentially gives teachers more time to highlight and emphasise the links and transferrable skills between the two exams for a subject.
Focus on the nitty gritty
Now more than ever is the time to focus on the nitty gritty – the most important aspects of the various skills students need to do well in individual questions. It might mean you should ‘cut to the chase’ and just tell the students what they need to know. Don’t waste your time on the extraneous and the superfluous. Focus on the skills students really need and let them spend appropriate time mastering these.
Ensure uniformity of delivery
Co-planning within departments should ensure that all students receive the same diet of subject specific language and terminology, as well as making sure that all pupils are given the same messages, advice, and cover the same content. Keep things simple and straightforward. Parity of approach will be really beneficial should the worst happen, and another school-shutting lockdown be imposed. Similarly, if the need for individual students or ‘bubbles’ to self-isolate continues over the next few months, a collaborative teaching approach will make it easier for students for keep up-to-date and not fall behind.
Revise, revise and revise some more
With so much teaching time lost earlier this year because of the lockdown, time is tighter than ever this academic year. This means that students should be tested on what they have previously learned, if not every lesson then certainly every week. Of course, what the ‘test’ consists of is up to you. It could be conventional exam questions or quick quizzes – the key thing is that learned content is regularly revisited.
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