Consultation on GCSE subject content and assessment objectives

I have just thrown a VERY cursory glance over the document entitled Modern languages GCSE subject content and assessment objectives published today on the DfE website along with similar documents for other subjects.


The general tone of the ‘proposed’ content strikes me as being similar to the O level. It could be the frequent appearance of the phrase ‘literary texts’ which brings to mind a mini Gove jack-in-the-box, popping-up every time a sentence contains mention of  ‘contemporary  culture’ so that it doesn’t become too modern-sounding.

It’s not that I object at all to the use of literary texts in the appropriate place, but the specific reference is just too, well, insistent.

Oral examinations (not speaking tests, I note, which is perhaps too modern?) are to be internally conducted but not assessed – some pressure relieved there?

There is a hint of CLIL in the phrase “make appropriate links to other areas of the curriculum to enable bilingual and deeper learning, where the language may become a medium for constructing and applying knowledge“.

My “Award for Raised Eyebrow” was won by the reference to “translate sentences and short texts from English into the assessed language to convey key messages accurately and to apply grammatical knowledge of language and structures in context. 

And the “Two Steps Backward” trophy goes without question to the equal weighting for each of the 4 skills. Again.

As I say, it was a very quick viewing, and I’m sure there’ll be other things which occur to me in the weeks to come.

Responses required at DfE by 20th August.


What Went Well … Even Better If … Maximising Performance in Controlled Assessments

I attended this event this afternoon/evening, and it was well worth it.  It was organised by the National Association of Language Advisers (North West region) of which I am a member.

I’m sure that to many of you, the information isn’t new, but in case you wanted a refresher, I’ve put my notes below for you to take a look at, or take away!

I apologies to the two speakers, David Mee, and John Halksworth, if I have misinterpreted any of their comments, but hopefully I have done them justice!

Click here to download: Notes from NALA NW Controlled Assessment event

NALA North West Regional Conference

If you’re in or near the North West of England on 1st March and are interested in some quality CPD related to Controlled Assessment, then can I point you in the direction of this event:

You can download the flyer here:


Don’t worry that both of the speakers are Spanish moderators – as the flyer says, it’s the underlying principles and ideas that will be offered which are important.

NALA (National Association of Language Advisers) put on great events, and so if you can make it, I think you would find it worthwhile.

Die Welle

I love using film in lessons, but I believe the audience should participate in some way; too many times, films are used as a method of keeping pupils quiet towards the end of term, which for me diminishes the art and craft of film making.  I want to encourage my pupils to watch foreign language films, even after they stop learning the language.

So here’s one of my favourites.  I absolutely love this film, and use any opportunity to show it to my students, because they usually love it too.

I find it interesting and useful for the classroom on many levels:

  1. First and foremost, it’s a great story.
  2. It’s set in a school, so has a lot of young protagonists, which is usually a bonus for hooking pupils in.
  3. The students are from a range of backgrounds (social, cultural, family).
  4. Tranferring the original story from USA to Germany provides an extra dimension when considering autocratic government/leadership.
  5. It opens up avenues to discuss some of Germany’s historical past, and to dispel some myths.

I use the film in a number of ways, depending on the class I have:

One year, I used the film as a stimulus for an extended piece of writing, before watching the film.

I showed my class some stills from the film, and told them nothing other than the names of the characters and that the setting was school.  I told them they could be either one of the characters, or a friend of one of the characters. I suggested that they think about describing the people, their relationships, the school, and what a typical day would be like.  For more able, I added that they might want to use their imaginations to describe something unusual that happened at school.

They loved it!  The less able (it was a mixed GCSE group containing pupils with targets from A to G) did basic descriptions of the characters, whilst the more able had one of the pupils with a crush on the teacher, or one of the pupils stabbing another!

After working hard on the task, the reward was to watch the film, and the pupils were intrigued to see what actually  happened to each of the characters. Some were very close to the truth.

With a much weaker group, I introduced the film and some of the historical/political references which they might have missed, and let them watch it.  Afterwards they used a gap fill exercise to summarise the story.

This year’s Year10 group get to watch it after they’ve done their next Controlled Assessment – 0n school!

Above average … for all?

I was catching up today with a very good friend who is a retired teacher.  I happened to mention that I had just read this article in the TES, headlined Labour to ‘guarantee’ C in English and maths. Now that would be something good … perhaps even miraculous? With the best will in the world, this seems at best an ill-advised statement to make. Whilst I am completely in favour of every child leaving school with a minimum level of literacy and numeracy, I cannot accept that a GCSE grade C is either the way to demonstrate this, nor achievable by all.

Mike Baker’s article from the ASCL conference in Manchester words it slightly differently:

A further question for the Labour Party’s policy review, he [Andy Burnham] said, would be how to ensure that all students reach adulthood with a ‘decent proficiency in maths and English’. He said he wanted a debate to see if it is possible ‘to have the ambition for all students to leave with at least a grade C in GCSE maths and English’.

I’m sure there are several people who would be willing to engage in this debate with the policy makers.

My retired friend said it reminded her of when she was a pupil at school, at a presentation event.  The local dignitary charged with handing out the awards praised all those who had been successful, and ended with the encouraging words “Now next year, I want to see all of you getting above the average.”

Now I don’t claim to be any kind of mathematician, but  I would love to know how he expected that to happen …

Are we just jumping through hoops?

I was going to start with ‘it’s that time of year again’, but nowadays, it always seems like ‘that time of year’.  Year 11 are preparing for yet another controlled assessment, and I am running out of inspirational ways to help them get ready.

I went through all the usual stuff again – “once I give you this task, I can’t help you with anything else”; “you have until next Monday to prepare”; “no, you can’t use those verbs in your 40 words” –  usually followed by “a verb is an action word”! 

And then there’s the issue that always makes me wonder if I’m doing it correctly- “you can’t take home your draft or your planning sheet”.  “But Miss, isn’t most of this in our exercise books anyway…?”

And of course, it is, because that’s the vocabulary and grammar they have been learning in lessons for the past few weeks.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have been doing my job properly.  I feel like I’ve missed something somewhere, but I am assured that I haven’t. 

So therefore I started to ask myself – Are these assessments just hoops to jump through, or are they really giving our pupils the opportunity to respond spontaneously to the target language?  For me, until we see how the examination results turn out, it’s still in the balance …

Panic over!

Before the Christmas holidays, I mused on why I was feeling anxious about the GCSE Controlled Assessments (Panic? Moi?) in which I set out an outline for an attempt to help both teachers and pupils feel a little more confident.

Well, that day was last Wednesday, and I’m pleased to report that it was generally regarded as a successful venture.  We ended up having to be a little flexible with some of the timings, but for a first attempt, I was pleased.  Staff appeared to be smiling on the day, which indicated things were going reasonable to plan.  No pupils were sent to me for non-participation, which was a delight.  And pupil feedback so far has identified the following:

  • pupils feel more confident about tackling their actual Controlled Assessments when the time comes (little do they know, but the first one isn’t that far off!)
  • they also feel more confident in their language lessons as a result
  • pupils enjoyed working with people from other groups with whom they wouldn’t normally work
  • for several pupils, it was their first viewing of a film in a foreign language
  • the majority of pupils enjoyed seeing the film, and wanted to see more in a foreign language

On a personal level, I do feel more confident myself now with the Controlled Assessments; having had to prepare the plan for the day, it really made me think about the structure and sequence of the tasks, and my teaching methods.  Although the final written task was not the most important thing for me, for the most part I was delighted with the work which was produced, with some pupils achieving a better standard that I had thought they would have done.  And finally, I think I have a better relationship with my class now, and feel that we are all heading in the same direction, which is an added bonus.

I’m happy to share the day’s resources if anyone would be interested – just let me know.

To keep morale up, a lot of tea was definitely consumed during the breaks – and the major criticism from pupils seems to be that they wanted chocolate whilst watching the film.  Ho hum, sometimes you just can’t win …