I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about the lack of space for student flair in our examination system.
I’ve never used a course text book. I’ve taught English for a quarter of a century and designed all my teaching materials. I will be looked upon dimly by Liz Truss MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, who emerged recently as an avid fan of text books…when speaking to an audience of publishers.
Just teach the subject well. I began teaching in a sixth form college with five A level groups in my first year. I loved it! In those days I believed (with the idealism of youth, quite rightly) that examination success would be a by-product of teaching students to be active readers of literary texts.
Today the mark scheme is god. Teaching Economics A level has been a slightly depressing experience. It’s hard not to be reduced to teaching to the specification. And students are dismayed by this emphasis upon teaching to the examination mark scheme rather than teaching the subject. Recent student Harry Cunningham, writing in the Guardian, reflected upon his education under Labour and then the Coalition, saying, Throughout my time at school, but particularly during my GCSEs and A-levels, I was constantly frustrated by the emphasis on assessment and marking. The entire system seemed geared towards the end result: the grade rather than the content, and this inevitability led to a feeling I would have been better off going home to study independently. Sadly, I can identify with Harry from the Economics teacher’s perspective.
OCR and Heinemann have a close relationship in Economics A level. I’m sure their relationship is an example of some sort of market structure described in these text books…
Here’s the deal…It costs £78 to enter one student for the full four unit OCR A level Economics. The OCR endorsed Economics text books cost £43.25. Everything you need to know about Economics to gain an A* in the OCR A level Economics examination is contained in those two books. Pay OCR/Heinemann £121.25 and they will see how much of the OCR endorsed Heinemann text books a single student can regurgitate. The relationship between OCR and Heinemann is surely unhelpful in developing talented, free-thinking economists.
The examination system has become a reductive process. I know the text book is just the content and the examination tests understanding and application, but the OCR Economics specification/OCR endorsed text book connection is very close. Consider this tiny example to exemplify the OCR-Heinemann text book relationship. Here’s an AS level question:
If you think that’s bad…here’s a 15 mark question from the January 2013 A2 OCR Economics paper:
Here’s the mark scheme:
And here’s the page from the text book about the elasticity of demand for labour:
We live in a world where examination markers are thin on the ground: the mark schemes enable anyone with a basic understanding to mark the Economics examination papers; if they are unsure, they can always refer to the OCR endorsed Heinemann text books.
The structure of the textbook is a mirror image of the structure of the specification. Here’s the specification overview:
Here’s the contents page of the AS textbook:
Here’s the contents page of the A2 textbook:
And here’s the Waterstones blurb for the A2 book: This is an accessible, engaging student book that is tailored to the new specification. It is complete with a range of inspiring activities for use in class, or for homework, it helps to add variety to lessons. Succinct definitions for key terms are highlighted for easy reference. Exam advice and topic-specific pointers ensure exam confidence. Full colour diagrams clearly illustrate key concepts. Real-world activities bring learning to life and reinforce understanding. Relevant, up-to-date examples are worked into the text to ensure lively, enjoyable learning. To make planning straightforward, the book includes both optional units (Transport Economics and Economics of Work and Leisure) as well as the mandatory final unit on The Global Economy.
Where is the place for a student to express flair? One of my Economics students, Luke, gained a grade C in the final Unit 5. We’ve looked at his paper and it is a superbly written response to the questions asked, but explores relevant economic content which isn’t detailed on the mark scheme and cannot be found in the OCR-endorsed Heinemann textbook. Now, with inexperienced markers who cannot exercise professional discretion, if it ain’t on the mark scheme it ain’t gonna get any marks! And Luke, by the way, was offered a $270,000 bursary to study Economics at Chicago but chose the PPE course at Oxford instead.
Luke tweeted me recently. He’s suddenly realised the limited nature of the OCR Economics A level specification:
How to get full marks. In a recent paper 3 mock exam two of my students gained 57/60. When I talked to them they said they had been working through the text book at home and just learning it. They said my lessons were good, but they’d realised that what they had to do to do well was learn the text book verbatim; Harry Cunningham’s reflections made real…I would have been better off going home to study independently.
One national examination board? I still can’t work out why Michael Gove rejected the idea – in his speech announcing his U-turn he seems to blame OFQUAL. It was one of his ideas I did support! Even the Daily Telegraph thought it was a decent idea…
Whose media? Whilst we have the text books, there is great content on-line for free. I have fallen in love with the author of this website: http://mrshearingeconomics.weebly.com/ What has been amusing my students is whether the object of my affection is Mr Shearing or Mrs Hearing…and of course there’s always Geoff Riley whose expertise and generosity know no bounds.