Monday, 8 October 2012

Music - the soul of a school

One of the things I am enjoying most about living and working at King's has been an almost daily exposure to music.  At least four mornings a week I start my day in Rochester Cathedral where I listen to (and thoroughly enjoy singing along to) the magnificent organ and our school choir.  There are few things more uplifting than great music and the school singing together.  Every week there are more than 250 individual music lessons at King's and we have more than 20 music scholars, including choristers and two organ scholars.  The level of creativity this fosters and the wonderful talents of the pupils causes an incredible buzz even on some of the overcast and wet days of recent weeks.

Last Friday evening saw music of a different style in the first 'Open Mic Night' of the year.  Organised entirely by pupils, over half of the Senior School, parents and staff were treated to twenty school bands and soloists.  Great times, great music and a fantastic way to finish the working week - even if it did give me a hoarse voice for our Open Morning the following day.

Slow down Mr Gove

The HMC annual conference took place in Belfast last week and proved to be an enjoyable and interesting experience.  There is a lot of debate currently around the quality of exam marking (see my previous post on the HMC report) and also about the importance of reforming the exam system so that it is 'fit for purpose'.  I have written previously on my desire to see increased engagement between government and schools and concerns about this were raised by two prominent speakers at the conference.

The first was Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Commons Education Committee, who made a speech in which he attacked Michael Gove's proposals as 'incoherent' and risking disaster by pressing ahead too fast and ignoring legitimate concerns.  Further details can be found on The Independent website.

A similar point of view was put forward by Glenys Stacey, Chief Executive of Ofqual which is the official regulator of exams in the UK.  Her comments can be found alongside those of Mr Stuart on the BBC website.

There is no doubt that much can be improved in our exam system but also that there are grave risks in the pace with which Mr Gove is rushing into the process.  I find myself agreeing with those who have noticed a correlation between the proposed start date for the new exams (September 2015) and the date of the next election (May 2015).  It may well be that Mr Gove's desire to impose a legacy on pupils of the future is being put ahead of the benefits of wider consultation and a more thoughtful approach.

HMC report on exam marking

What follows is a press release from HMC referring to deep concerns over the quality of marking in public exams.  The full report can be accessed by going to the HMC website and following their links.
'The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) warns that the Government’s proposed reform of public examinations will be “built on sand” unless deep-rooted problems within the examining system are addressed.
HMC, which represents 250 leading independent senior schools, has today published a detailed report uncovering endemic problems with marking, awarding, re-marks and appeals at GCSE and A level between 2007 and 2012.
HMC welcomes recent Government proposals to overhaul GCSEs and A levels, especially moves to increase rigour in subject studies, reduce the burden of assessment on students aged 15-18 and differentiate student achievement more clearly across the grade range.
But in its report, which has been sent to ministers, HMC says these changes to qualifications (the ‘superstructure’) are almost certain to be undermined by long-standing failings in how young people are examined (the ‘foundations’). 
“Unless examining is reformed substantially, the introduction of revised qualifications will amount to new houses built on existing sand,” says the report.
The report details key examples of what goes wrong and why - though much remains unexplained due to a “culture of secrecy” in the exam boards and lack of focus in Ofqual - and the wider implications of each of these failings.    
Specifically HMC detail seven failings of the current ‘examinations industry’ in England, grouped under three headings:
  • Poor quality marking: over the last five years, one school has had to challenge marking standards in 48 separate cases, covering 19 different subjects at GCSE and A level.
  • Inexplicable inconsistencies in the awarding of grades: one highly-selective school saw its English GCSE A* grades fluctuate between 11% and 65% over a decade.
  • Obstructions to redress: re-marks and appeals: the appeals process allows the boards to hide behind protocol rather than account for poor marking.
The authority for the findings derives from several sources: national data; collaborative work with schools and subject associations in the maintained sector; internal HMC surveys; and data from HMC schools, particularly from heads of departments. 
In national terms the staff in HMC schools are exceptionally well qualified in subject knowledge and its schools are part of an independent sector that government research shows to be the most expert in the country at predicting student grades accurately.'