Dear Caring Parent

Re: The New Norm for teenagers as they face their GCSE and A-levels

I sent you a message two weeks ago (see the link here), in which I answered the number one question that parents of teenagers often ask me. At the end of that message, I promised to discuss the new norm for teenagers’ learning in my next message.

What I am sharing is important and I’m assuming you are one of those parents who appreciate the importance of your children’s education and who will be prepared to invest seven minutes or so in reading this…

Before I fulfil my promise of discussing the new learning norm, I’d like to share with you my experience last week, in the conversations that I had with parents of GCSE and A-level students, following the release of the exam results.

In case you do not have the time to read the next part on my story, you can skip and go to Part II on The New Norm and what works

As I normally do in August when the exam results are released, I sat down to telephone parents and ask them about their children’s exam results. I should have been more sanguine as I began to make the call, given that it is always an overwhelmingly positive experience. However, given the importance of the result and the potential ramifications, one is always a little apprehensive. Anyway, the conversations stated very positively as parents and students were very delighted with their results and they showed appreciation. At some point during the phone calls, I won’t say I started to get a bit bored, as the feedback was just one way – positive, but I was kind of looking to hear something that would challenge me a little.

A lesson or two for the teacher

After calling the vast majority of the parents I was meant to be calling, in my next couple of calls the challenge happened, as these two parents, although they were grateful, their children had obtained results that were not as good as expected. Of course, the very least I could do was to discuss with them why their children may have been awarded those grades, and then to offer my support and guidance as they pondered on the next step for their teenagers. I did exactly that.

One key lesson that a couple of bad results taught me was a reminder that, while teacher assessed grade resulted in a higher number of top grades, the top grades were not just handed out to every teenager like candies. In fact, some of those who did not do as well might have performed better if the traditional exam had taken place and were disadvantaged by teacher assessment. I wrote in more detail in a couple of blogs in which I discussed the injustice felt by some students and parents on what I termed “grade misallocation”,  but there is not enough time here to go into that notion here.

The second lesson to learn from teacher assessment is that the teenager must be prepared for both the traditional exam and also teacher assessment – just in case. It is highly unlikely that that exams won’t take place in 2022, but no one can be absolutely certain…

Part ii – The New Norm and what works

What is apparently clear is that learning by teenagers is now a mixture of online and offline. Online learning is not entirely new, it is just that the pandemic forced young people to rely on it more and has also helped us all to gain new capabilities. I will quickly provide a list of some of the things that we did which I believe helped our students to make the best of online/offline learning and achieve high exam grades.

  1. We insisted that online teaching must be on live video – so students can see teachers and also for the students to also have their camera on so teachers can see what they are doing. Body language is an essential aspect pf learning.
  2. In addition to the small group teaching, every student also had a 15-minute or so one-to-one – in a private breakout room – allowing more personalisation and for the concerns of each individual child to be addressed
  3. For students to handwrite the questions they answer, instead of typing it, reflecting the way the GCSE and A-level exams are done. They then scan or take a picture of their work and submit that for marking. This is a big one and I’ll explain the rationale later

Before I explain why the third point above is crucial, I’ll tell you a little story about both my son and my daughter.

A couple of days ago, my daughter said to me:

“Papa, can you have a look at my handwriting and tell me what you think… I had to write bigger so that the teachers can read my writing, and I feel a little pain on my wrist when I write so much. I’m not more used to handwriting because we type a lot since online learning started.”

Now, my answer to my daughter was a question: “How did you do your end of the year exams?”

Her response: “Oh, we handwrite in tests and exams”

The story about my son is that he used to get A or A* in English in all his tests until he moved to the senior part of the school where he had to do a test, and he was shocked when he got a B in that test. The main reason was that the new teachers who marked that test could not read his handwriting, and they did not know him, so they could only award marks based on what they could or could not read.

There are two issues with handwriting and how they may affect exam grades:

  1. The speed of writing by hand is different to that of typing and this can affect the finishing time in the exam. If a child is used to typing the work they hand in to the teachers, and then they have to handwrite in the exam, there may be a problem
  2. The examiner marking the paper may not be able to read the candidate’s handwriting

At present, almost all GCSE and A-level exams are done with a pen being used to write on paper and no child wants to do injustice to themselves because of any of the above two issues. My concern is that I do not see enough teachers showing awareness for the above two and taking concrete steps to address them, which is mainly to encourage handwriting more. This is necessary, at least until the way exams are done is changed to typing.

Below is the range of subjects we now offer at GCSE and A-level.

  1. A-level – Maths, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, English, Further Maths, History, Economics and Psychology
  2. GCSE – Maths (including Further Maths, English, Chemistry, Physics, Biology – including Combined and Triple Science.  We also offer these to KS3 students from in Y8 and Y9.
  3. BTEC in Engineering.

The courses we offer:

  1. Saturday classes – available for all age groups – A-level; GCSE and KS3
  2. Intensive Revision during school holidays
  3. Excel iLearn Flex – (for GCSE in Physics, Chemistry and Biology only) a flexible course for which a set number of lessons can be arranged at a time which suits the student. Access to online videos, questions to be done after each module and submitted for teachers marking and feedback.

Due to the uncertainty about what may happen in the autumn and winter with respect to COVID-19 and the success of the online teaching, we have decided to maintain the same system of provision – teaching mainly online, at least for the first term of the next academic year. We hope to have one or two special in-person teaching sessions per term at a centre. The occasional in-person lessons will be to complement what we do online, which is in itself very effective. We will review the situation and may offer more in-person teaching from January.

To enrol your son/daughter or to find out more about how what we do can benefit your son/daughter, you can do either of the following:

  1. send an e-mail toinfo@ExceliLearn.com or visit https://ExceliLearn.com/free-consultation/to complete a short form, and members of my team will be happy to arrange a consultation call with me, which can be by phone or we can have video Zoom call
  2. Alternatively, you can call Eunice or Aimee on 020 7112 4832. To find out more about the Saturday classes, you can visit: https://ExceliLearn.com/new_academic_year_2021/

Not sure about which subjects?

We are fully aware that a final decision may not yet have been made as to which subjects your son/daughter will be taking with us in the new academic year. As a result of this, there is complete flexibility in changing or cancelling the course you have enrolled for before our courses start in September.

Keep safe, and I wish the whole of your family all the very best for the summer. We look forward to working with you to deliver hope, aspiration and, above all, achievement for your son/daughter.

To the Success of your Child

Idris Musty (Mr)

BSc PGCE

 

P.S. In order to secure a place for your son/daughter, make sure you enrol by 28th August 2021, as we may not be able to guarantee a place beyond that date.

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