A simply appalling idea


The bid to remove speaking and listening from the final English GCSE grade will have fundamental repercussions for students, says SecEd's increasingly angry headteacher diarist.

I’m angry and becoming angrier all the time. I’ve looked back over my columns for SecEd this year and have re-read my colleagues’ diaries.

They have made me laugh, at times they have made me very sad, they have reassured me when they have picked up on something that has been vexing me, and they have generally encouraged me knowing that we are all on the same journey and thinking in a similar way despite the fact that we have never met and don’t know who our colleague diarists are.

So, why am I angry? It’s very simple; English GCSE – again. This time it is the proposal to remove the speaking and listening marks from the final GCSE grade. A proposal which will, no doubt, be approved regardless of the outcomes of Ofqual’s current consultation.

Yet again we are subject to a change which has fundamental repercussions for our students. Yet again we have had no say, we just have the announcement only days before the submission of year 11 marks. 

My year 10s and their teachers have started a course thinking that they knew the end position and now, without warning, the assessment criteria have changed. 

Where else does one “buy” a product having approved the specification and then find there has been a fundamental change? At its most basic, we have paid to enter students for an exam that has now been changed part way through. 

However, what concerns me most is that I believe that speaking and listening are critical skills for any child and to diminish them in this way is unhelpful.

What is the real agenda? Let’s be honest, Mr Gove has issues in the same way that all of the politicians in my lifetime have had, regardless of party – they all need to show improvement and all claim a fundamental belief in raising standards. 

So what is going on? How can we just stand by and be told that an integral part of the current examination, the speaking and listening component, is suddenly out of play? That it will feature on the certificate but will play no part in the grading?

I am appalled that it has been reported that this is because teachers have somehow “fiddled” this element of the results. My colleagues’ integrity is beyond question, as are the hours that teachers of English have always spent marking and assessing and developing their students’ verbal communication skills. In fact, I have colleagues who have told me that they are “terrified” of making a mistake. How did we get here – again?

I would have been a Pupil Premium kid; things were tough for me in many ways, but one of the biggest advantages I had was that I was an early and avid reader and my parents encouraged me greatly. 

Subsequently, I joined a choir and became a soloist. Both of these helped me to become a confident and articulate speaker. I developed a confidence that usually comes from a more advantaged background. It has served me well.

Speaking and listening are vital communication skills in relationships, in the workplace, in our global environment. We should be raising their importance not suggesting that they don’t matter so much anymore. 

We will continue to do all we can as a school to ensure that our youngsters develop their ability to stand up and communicate well, along with their ability to listen carefully and actively to gain the full import of what they are hearing. 

We must be determined that they will not suffer social disadvantage but gain as much as they can so that they can take their place in the world no matter what their starting point. We also need to use our own voices to make our views known and ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again.

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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