Someone sent me an email …

I’ve written before about the pressure of making the right/wrong tiering decision -> here but an email I received this week (more about that below) coincided with something I found in the board meeting papers from Ofqual last week that made me go … hmmmmmmmmmmmm then grrrrrrrrrr. The specific piece is shown below and is from the  “Strategy, Risk & Research” update for their November board meeting (if you’re really interested you can find all the papers from the meeting here) and you don’t need to ask … yes I am this sad! I try to read everything that comes from the DFE and Ofqual.

With regards this quote – don’t get me wrong I think there will definitely be a shift towards Foundation but as to whether a large proportion will be on the foundation tier remains to be seen – define “large proportion”? More than 50%?

Whilst I’m here …. On the subject of tiering its interesting to note that the date for making changes to tiers of entry without a charge is 21st April, which for most of us in the Easter holidays. Come on guys (exam boards!!) … give us a break … move this back a week at least!!

Now I’ve digressed … as to my email – with the permission of the person that mailed me the below the following is an extract … I’ll say no more but leave you to read it …

Hi Mel,

I’ve been meaning to email you for some time to say thanks for helping me maintain some of my sanity. Your blog posts with regards all the changes at GCSE have been an absolute Godsend and I have taken lots of comfort from the fact that I am not alone and as you’ve said “we are all in the same boat” (NOTE FROM MEL – there was lots of other nice stuff but I’ll cut to the chase).

…. At the minute I am so very stressed about making the wrong tiering decisions. At night I lie awake and all I can see are the faces of my students. Each of them has a story to tell and aren’t just “numbers” and I am conscious that the decision about tiering could be far-reaching for them. For example, let me tell you about Josh. 

Under the old GCSE I would have said that he was a solid “C” grade students – I used to know what that kind of student looked like but I feel like I have no frame of reference anymore.  Josh’s home life isn’t that settled and I know that could have an effect on his performance (Mum isn’t well!) in fact, Josh’s elder sister (they both act as carers for their 2 little brothers when Mums illness is at its worst) missed a grade C by 1 mark and now in year 13 she managed to get the C she needs last November having now sat her Maths GCSE 4 times – this is affecting his perception of his ability too. In his mock on the Higher tier Josh didn’t do too well but has done the Foundation tier and a good chunk of his marks come from the back end of the paper. He is making the typical mistakes like not reading the question carefully – the one where they had to write the smallest even number is a great example. The word “even” didn’t register with him and he is losing silly marks. He so very badly needs a 4 to enable him to get on the course he wants to do and ultimately onto the uni course that would mean he could be the first person in his family to do this. 

It just feels like this cohort aren’t ready for the scales of the changes. I know that my current year 7 is the strongest I have taught in a long time so something is changing lower down the school system. I mean change for the good BUT this makes me both sad and hopeful at the same time. I’m hopeful that in the long term the younger students will be better prepared for the new style of questions (oh I’m all growth mindset!) and wonder how big a pair of balls (isn’t that the kind of phrase you would use eh Mel ? ) it would have taken to wait until students that have been subjected to the new KS1 and KS2 come through the system? It just feels like the next couple of cohorts have no resilience or curiosity to want to solve the problems posed to them and that’s the sad point. I am sad that their experience of maths is exam focused and feel like we’ve sold them short (I wonder whether we’ll see a dip in maths teacher recruitment when this and the next couple of year groups would be considering a career as a teacher as a result of the raw deal they’ve been given?).

In my 28 years of teaching I have never felt so incompetent as I do right now. Students, parents, SLT, colleagues are all looking to me to give them guidance. I am being asked for predictions that I have no idea where to start and when parents/students ask me “so what do you advise?” when we discussed tiering – for some students I have no answers.

However, there is light on the horizon. This summer will be my last GCSE sitting as I’ve decided to take early retirement. I will miss the students but I’m not going to miss ANY of the other stuff. To be frank I’ve had enough.

… so thoughts guys? I just want to reach out and hug this person … so in lieu of that I’m sending a virtual hug xx  


2017-07-02T19:57:04+00:00 February 1st, 2017|From the Coal Face, Teaching|


  1. Sarah Marshall February 2, 2017 at 7:44 am

    It is so sad. I know so many people leaving or wanting to leave teaching. They are all great teachers who care about and support their students. They have a love for their subject and a love of giving students opportunities. The changes in exam systems, lack of funding and extreme pressure from league tables are pulling our schools apart. It doesn’t matter how good the schemes of work are if we don’t have the specialist teachers to teach it we have a problem. I also send a hug to all teachers out there who feel out of control and overwhelmed.

  2. Anonymous February 2, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    It`s not just schools. I have spent the past 26 years in the Further Education system and seen lots of changes, chief amongst these are funding changes which have driven the system to its current state. I totally sympathise with the email above, as the new GCSE us just hitting us and FE does not have the same support mechanisms that the schools have.

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