Responding to Ofqual as a history department

On Thursday Ofqual published a proposed set of changes to the 2021 exam season that included shifting exams to June and narrowing down of exam content at GCSE but not A-Level. One of the most interesting changes happened to the history qualification where in every exam board students will have to complete an entire module less than the norm. Now, it has to be said that all of this is subject to consultation and review but if you gauge the general reaction to this news I feel like the history changes will probably go ahead which begs the question – what module do we drop?

There is a compulsory module in each of the exam boards, which I’d be very interested to hear how they selected that as it seems to lack obvious decision making, and for AQA, Edquas and Pearson are the non-British depth study (Conflict and tension for AQA), for OCR A it is the Period study and OCR B the British Depth Study. That leaves the decision of which module should be culled and I will try and rationalise some thinking.

Option 1 – cull the module that your perform worst on. As with my previous post on data this absolutely must be the worst compared to national. For example if your students get 50% on average in the Germany module but the average in the country is 50%, yet in your Elizabeth module you get 48% and the average in the country is 45%, I would argue you are performing better in the Elizabeth module. This was a particularly difficult decision for us because the module we haven’t done yet is our best performing one compared to national.

The reason to do this is simple. Your students do the worst on one module so it makes sense to get rid of it. This means your comparative average goes up and grades will too by default. Seems simple right? I know many people who will do this and I completely get it. However, we won’t be doing this because of the rational I will set out in the next option…

Option 2 – cull the module you haven’t done yet. This, timewise, makes the most sense logically. We perform best on the Elizabeth module but we also don’t start it until September. We usually finish it by the February half term and can focus heavily on skills and revision from that point on. However, if I can start the skills and revision process 6 months earlier, I would back my staff and students to claw back the difference between modules quite quickly. The difference between our best and worst modules (comparatively to national) is only 5% and it’s hard to think that with six months of extra focus that we would fail to claw that difference back.

This would be the option I would recommend. There is no point in starting another module and dropping one you have already done. Ultimately, the narrowing of the exams this year is down to the fact that we have had less teaching time as a nation due to COVID and to throw out a module you have already taught and go ahead with one you have yet to do will probably get rid of the point of these changes. My advice would be back yourself, your staff and your students to capitalise on extra time spent going over the work you have already taught.

We have an excellent process for this and the progress the students make from February to June with us is quite remarkable so I’ll be backing that to improve even more with the additional six months of focus.

Ultimately I believe that these changes will stick and that will be a relief to history staff up and down the country. I was prepared for the changes not to be made and to be honest, would have be fine with that. However, as this is only provisional at present, I would advise Heads of Department to have contingencies in place just in case after the review process, we revert to doing the full selection of modules for 2021, no matter how unlikely that may seem.

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