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Exam chief questions early GCSE entries

by Pete Henshaw

League table pressures are forcing schools to enter more able students early into their maths GCSE, to give teachers time to focus on helping those who struggle. The claim comes from the chief

of exam board AQA, who says that schools want to bank C grades for high achieving students as early as possible, so they can focus their time on getting less able students up to the C benchmark. Andrew Hall, speaking at the

annual conference of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education on March 15, pointed to figures showing that in the past three years, the number of entries

for GCSE mathematics by students aged 15 or under has tripled. He said he expects this trend to con- tinue this summer. He said: “We need to understand

why this is happening and what impact it will have. For students who are strong performers and will go on to study maths at a higher level, early entry may be a good thing. But what about the less able performers? “Some teachers tell us the pres-

sures of league tables are forcing them to enter students early to try to ‘bank’ a grade C, so they can then focus their teaching time and effort on those who will struggle to achieve a grade C.” Mr Hall said there are concerns that students who are entered too

Young composers record Royal Opera House fanfares

Twelve young composers are to have their music recorded by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and played at the world famous London venue. It is all part of the Royal Opera

House’s Fanfare competition, which challenged students aged 11 to 16 to compose a 30-second piece of music. The 12 winning students com-

posed 10 pieces between them, with two joint-entries, and their music will now be used before perform- ances at the venue as audiences take their seats. More than 275 students entered

the competition and the winners will now take part in orchestration workshops with composer Duncan Chapman and attend the recording of their fanfares in April. They will also attend the pre-

miere of their fanfares on May 28, when they will be credited in the performance. The winning compositions were

selected by a panel of Royal Opera House professionals including music director of the Royal Opera, Antonio Pappano, and music director of the Royal Ballet, Barry Wordsworth.

Mr Pappano said: “People

should be given the opportunity to experience classical music when they are young and my involvement with the Fanfare competition has to do with getting young people to compose and seeing what happens”. The winners are Chewepe Tsate,

11, and Gabriel Davies, 12, The Purcell School of Music, Hertfordshire (joint entry); Neelesh Prang, 12, Michael Wake, 12, Burgoyne Middle School, Bedfordshire (joint entry); Ji Eun Oh, 11, The Purcell School of Music; Adam Bowman, 15, The Purcell School of Music; Lauren Hunt, 14, The Petersfield School, Hampshire; Emily Kemp, 14, Hele’s School, Plymouth; Charlie Abbott, 14, Oakham School, Rutland; Jon Hamilton, 11, individual entry from Croydon; Bethany Reeves, 11, indi- vidual entry from Putney, London; Sam Hall, 16, individual entry from Rochester. The competition is run in

partnership with educational resource NUMU and web por- tal Teaching Music and the win- ning entries can be heard online at

early could be “scared off” the sub- ject.

He added: “At a national level,

this trend may be having a negative impact on the take-up of mathemat- ics at A level and ultimately damag- ing our national competitiveness. “I believe that this area needs

robust research and diagnostic data which will help teachers make the right choices for their students. AQA and the other awarding bod- ies need to play an active part, even if it means less income for us from re-sit fees. This is about educa- tion and doing the right thing for students and the prize of building a nation more confident and able in mathematics should be our focus.” Mr Hall also used his speech to raise concerns about what he

labelled the “unintended conse- quences” of the current design of AS and A2 examinations. He said: “There is a very clear

pattern of students re-sitting units. Some would argue that giving stu- dents several bites at the cherry is a good thing. But more research is needed, since the scale of it, combined with the age profile of the students involved, suggests to me that what we are seeing is predominantly the re-sitting of the less demanding AS units, early and repeatedly. “I think we should all be con-

cerned about the potential effects on the students, what they are really learning and retaining, and what they are doing merely to reach a points score. There is a risk that

we are kidding the students indi- vidually, and ourselves as a nation, about the level of mathematical capability.” Mr Hall said he supported

AS levels and recognises the need for re-sits, but he questioned the weighting of AS in the final A level award and whether this should be less than the existing 50 per cent. He added: “Would that remove

some of the unintended conse- quences of the design, while pro- tecting the positive aspects?” The Advisory Committee on

Mathematics Education is an inde- pendent committee, based at the Royal Society, which discusses maths education issues and advises government on issues such as the curriculum.

A good night’s sleep

Whether they are playing computer games in their bedrooms or chatting on Facebook till the early hours, many teenagers do not get enough sleep. The charity Sleep Scotland is

so concerned about the issue that that it has created a new teach- ing resource pack – so schools can help pupils to understand the importance of a good night’s sleep and the impact sleep has on their performance in the classroom as well as their men- tal and physical wellbeing. “You wouldn’t dream of let-

ting your child starve at school all day, but most people don’t appreciate that being sleep- starved can affect your child’s behaviour, concentration and the ability to learn,” said Jane Ansell, director and founder of Sleep Scotland. “And that’s not even including the many other health consequences, such as obesity and depression. “We want young people

to have the same information about the importance of sleep as they get on healthy food and the need for exercise. Teenagers’ rooms are more like call centres these days. They’re on Twitter or Facebook till late at night and many of them don’t get the nine and a quarter hours of sleep a night that teenage bodies need.” The Sound Sleep teaching

pack, which was launched this week, contains learning resourc- es, lesson plans and background reading for teachers. It was devel- oped following a pilot scheme in Glasgow secondary schools last year. The pilot confirmed the fact that many of today’s teenagers suffer from sleep deprivation and struggle to meet their full poten- tial as a result. Sleep Scotland is also plan-

ning Sound Sleep training days in nine cities across the UK from September 2011. These will fea- ture sessions on why the impor- tance of sleep should be taught in schools, the physiology and psychology of sleep, and how pupils can develop a good sleep routine. For more on the teaching

Going live: Students from last year’s Fanfare competition see their work being recorded Helpline reports surge in calls

A national charity has reported a surge in calls from teachers worried about false allegations by students. The Teacher Support Network

has reported what it calls a “dra- matic rise” in concern over the issue. Between May 2009 and May

last year, the charity only received six calls on the issue, but has reported 27 calls in the 11 months since. In its Education White Paper, the

coalition government has promised to introduce new legislation to provide teachers facing these kinds of allegations with anonymity. However, questions have been raised over how this would work in practice, given the nature of close-knit school communities and the local press.

Teacher Support Network’s

chief executive Julian Stanley said: “These figures show how serious allegations against teachers can be. We know from speaking to teachers through our support lines that these allegations not only cause severe emotional distress and anxiety, but also undermine confidence, have

long-term mental health implica- tions and may drive some teach- ers from the profession entirely. “In short, these allegations can

wreck not just the careers, but also the lives of the teachers, their families and the reputation of the schools where they work.” Visit

resources and training days, go to

Fourth Irish-language school to open in Northern Ireland

A new Irish-language secondary school is to be opened in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of colleges in the sector to four. The North’s education minis-

ter Caitriona Ruane, a prominent supporter of the language, says the new school will be opened in Castlewellan, County Down. Catering for pupils leaving

Irish-medium primary schools in Castlewellan, Kilkeel and Downpatrick, it will initially be set up as a unit attached to St Malachy’s High School in Castlewellan. It will bring to four the number

of schools providing Irish-medium post-primary provision in the North, although only one – Colaiste Feirste in Belfast – is a standalone school. Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta


(CnaG), the council for the sector, has agreed protocols with Catholic bishops to govern the establish- ment of further Irish provision in Catholic-managed English-medium schools. CnaG chief executive Sean

O Coinn says these protocols will ensure that pupils will continue to be educated in a linguistically sup- portive environment. He adds that CnaG is already

working with parents, and Irish- medium primary schools in Maghera and Derry City to develop post-primary provision in those areas by next year. Secondary pro- vision, Mr O Coinn says, is the biggest challenge facing the sector. “Setting up Irish-medium provi- sion is very challenging work, but

governors, staff and parents have persevered and are taking historic steps to ensure that young people in these areas will have access to Irish in the future,” he said. “International research has

shown consistently that, in addi- tion to the undisputable linguistic benefits, there are many educational advantages in educating children in a second language, and these advantages increase in proportion with the number of years spent in bilingual education. “Therefore, it is incumbent on

Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta and the Department of Education to ensure that these benefits are avail- able to all children whose parents send them to Irish-medium primary schools.”

SecEd • March 24 2011

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