Joy or Relief? Exploring experiences of the first round of GCSE (9-1) English and maths


– by Michelle North, OCR Head of Subject Advisors 

Teaching the first group through a new qualification is daunting. It can feel like you’re leading a class through dark and mysterious uncharted territory. Much more so when you’re a head of department trying to lead your team as well. If you’re lucky enough to be a head of department in tranche 2 or 3, there’s good news – you’re not actually the first ones through – the heads of English and maths have been treading a path for you, and you can learn from them.

Whole Education and exam board OCR have been working in partnership throughout the last academic year to capture heads of English and maths’ insights as they experience the first round of delivering the new GCSEs, and are the first to have their students assessed using the new models and grading systems. We’ve been exploring how different departments have tackled the challenges by reviewing and updating how they’ve planned, delivered and assessed students during the course, as well as capturing their experiences as their students completed the final exams, and revisiting these reflections once they had the first set of results in front of them.

We’ve gained a wealth of insight from this research, and a range of recommendations, which we’ll be sharing at Whole Education’s Annual Conference on 28th February 2018. One of the most fundamental insights we discussed was this: it is different. You have much more freedom with a linear model, to plan a growth trajectory for your students. It’s not enough to take the modules from your old course, add in the new bits of content here and there, and continue with delivering your good old long term plan with minimal change for the new qualifications. You should be thinking about the opportunities to allow students to mature and develop in the course of your 2, 3 or 5 year curriculum, and planning with this trajectory in mind.

That being said, it is also clear that teachers should trust their professional judgement. Although big changes seem daunting, teachers were generally happy that where they had given thought to what they were doing before implementing significant change. When it came down to it they were generally happy they had made the right changes.

If you’re keen to find out more, make time to meet with your colleagues in your English and maths departments and ask them what they’ve learnt this summer, how they planned for success, and what they’re tweaking in their plans this year. Do take a look at your subject’s pages on the OCR website where you’ll find guidance and support for approaching the delivery of a linear course, including our teacher guide: moving from modular to linear. And if you can, join us at Whole Education’s Annual Conference where we’ll be discussing our findings in more detail.


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