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Exceptionally Long Read: Teachers responses to the first exams for the 2016 reformed GCSE (9-1) Drama qualifications.

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After the first exams for the new reformed specifications in Drama (and Theatre) I ran surveys to gather feedback on teachers’ responses to the exams. This was designed to capture ‘gut-reactions’ on the examined assessment components and not an overview of the whole course. The GCSE survey received 500 responses. The A Level surveys received 103 responses.

I have analysed the data and presented the findings below. I have attempted to report the statistics in an as unbiased way as possible and welcome questions on any of the findings. There were no compulsory questions, however, most respondents answered all the questions. A very small number of responses didn’t fit with the categories provided so have been removed from the analysis as outliers where they didn’t fit in easily.

To read about the A Level Exams click here.

GCSE exam – Friday 18th May 2018.

There were 500 responses to this survey. The first question asked which 2016 specification the students completed. 8 responses were for WJEC which has been added to the Eduqas responses as they are run by the same company and have similar assessments. 3 responses were removed from the analysis. 1 stated no exam board, 1 stated BTEC and 1 stated iGCSE.

GCSE 2016 exam pie chart

GCSE legacy exam pie chart

From the survey, it is safe to assume that Pearson is no longer the market leaders at GCSE. This mirrors the surveys that have been completed previously, in particular, the one completed by National Drama after the Which Board to Tread event. The legacy specification results are helpful to show the breakdown of teachers responding to the survey. In 2017, the entries for OCR and Eduqas (WJEC) were lower than the percentage of responses on the survey, which may mean that the responses for the new specifications will not be entirely representative of the actual entry percentages which will be released on results day. No respondents said they had moved from a vocational qualification (such as BTEC) to a GCSE course.

It was clear early on that a lot of teachers ‘shopped around’ for the new specifications and there was going to be a lot of movement between exam boards. This is reflected in the survey too, however, over 50% of all exam board respondents stayed with the same exam board as their old specifications.

AQA

GCSE Eduqas

GCSE OCR

GCSE Pearson

The next 3 questions answered how teachers felt about the exam. The first question asked if the exam was what teachers were expecting. It had 5 options, yes, sort of, not really, no and not seen. 5.4% of teachers responding had not seen the paper. The responses were more heavily weighted towards the positive options with 32.2% saying yes, and 26.4% saying sort of. 19.2% said not really and 16.8% said no. Broken down to each exam board shows that teachers of AQA and Pearson were more positive about the exam believing it was more what they expected than the other two boards. Percentages below are rounded figures so may not add up to 100%.

Exam board

Yes

Sort of

Not really

No

AQA

74 (79%)

15 (16%)

4 (4%)

1 (1%)

Eduqas/WJEC

15 (13%)

33 (29%)

40 (36%)

24 (21%)

OCR

5 (3%)

61 (35%)

48 (30%)

58 (34%)

Pearson

66 (71%)

22 (24%)

4 (4%)

1 (1%)

The next question asked if the exam was similar to the sample papers (SAMs). It had the same 5 options as the previous questions. The responses here were slightly weighted towards the negative options with 30% saying no, and 19.4% saying not really. 16.2% said sort of and 29.8% said yes.

I believe that this may be partly due to the number of teachers who had not taught a written exam at GCSE before and there has been little training available on understanding assessment principles. This isn’t a criticism, merely an observation, and is partly due to some of the restrictions in place by the regulators, and partly due to the confidential nature of exam materials and assessment strategies. I don’t have an answer for how to improve this, but it is an area that has interested me having worked in assessment. It is something I am thinking carefully about.

Broken down to each exam board shows that teachers of AQA and Pearson were again more positive about the exam than the other two boards. Percentages below are rounded figures so may not add up to 100%.

Exam board

Yes

Sort of

Not really

No

AQA

78 (83%)

11 (12%)

1 (1%)

4 (4%)

Eduqas/WJEC

4 (4%)

23 (20%)

37 (33%)

49 (43%)

OCR

1 (1%)

23 (13%)

57 (33%)

92 (53%)

Pearson

65 (68%)

23 (24%)

2 (2%)

5 (5%)

The last of these questions asked if teachers were happy with the paper. The results here generally mirrored the previous questions. The responses were more heavily weighted towards the positive options with 31.7% saying yes, and 29.5% saying sort of. 20% said not really and 17.8% said no. Percentages below are rounded figures so may not add up to 100%.

Exam board

Yes

Sort of

Not really

No

AQA

69 (74%)

20 (22%)

3 (3%)

1 (1%)

Eduqas/WJEC

26 (23%)

34 (30%)

29 (26%)

23 (21%)

OCR

13 (8%)

45 (26%)

56 (32%)

59 (34%)

Pearson

48 (51%)

30 (31%)

12 (13%)

6 (6%)

There were 2 questions in the survey which allowed for text responses. These were:
• How did your students feel about the paper?
• Any other comments about the paper?

There were some key themes that appeared across all the exam papers. Responses across all exam boards included positive and negative sentiments. The recurring comment across all exam boards was that the exams were too short for the number of answers required from students. Comments which did not relate specifically to the exams were not reported. These included responses describing teachers’ and students’ comments on social media, the 40% exam weighting and exam boards not publishing grade boundaries before the exam (They are not created until after the exam), and customer service provided by exam boards where it is not specific to the exam component.

The results to these questions have been broken down by exam board. The proportion of comments mirrors the proportion of teachers who said they were happy or unhappy with the exams. I haven’t commented on the general positive or negative comments which haven’t given any specific details, or comments on the lack of time. The comments with specific details were generally negative across all exam boards.

AQA responses

Most of the comments for AQA were unique or there were 2 similar responses. The comments have been collated and then alphabetised.

  • How did your students feel about the paper?

Mixed messages! Some enjoyed the extract chosen, some felt it was limited with the space!

Section C question wording was confusing.

Section C was a good open question which they could respond to.

The extract threw them a bit, but the questions were generally fair.

The girls felt it was unfair That the set text question focused only on male characters.

The paper was too hard for everyone to access.

The students were expecting a costume question and a picture question. They were surprised the Live review question wasn’t about production elements.

The wording was too ambiguous. Mixed responses

They said it was ‘different.’ They were not expecting it to look like this!

They were very disappointed and surprised by the question that asked how Hansel used the performance space (he was sat in a cage for the extract).

Wary of the grade boundaries

  •  Any other comments about the paper?

AQA need to specify puppetry for particular set text for section b. Non-sensical to study this with The Crucible

Blood Brothers 6.3 – use of space when characters are essentially simply standing and talking to each other?

The comic tension in Q7 was interesting, not a term I have used in lessons. Dramatic tension – yes, dramatic irony – yes, comic tension – no.

Greater guidance is needed to support students in their approach to the 32 mark question.

I thought the paper was fair and fit well against the SAMs. I may, however, have to change to a vocational qualification as I have very low literacy rates amongst my students.

It was a fair paper that reflected the SAMS. Questions were appropriate; I felt that AQA wasn't trying to trick us. Drama should be about awarding marks and giving the student the opportunity to gain those marks. This paper had plenty of opportunities to do that.

It was as expected having been on some training courses. I imagine that for those teachers who were unable to attend the courses that it may have been quite a shock/difficult to prepare for.

Live theatre section was too open

Only 1 sample which had little to do with the real exam. The wording of the questions was unnecessarily difficult.

The phrasing of the Section C performer question was a little tricky and put students off track initially.

Question choice around a character they knew the least.

Section C focus on the actors’ interpretation of a character which suggests we should have studied the text of the live theatre seen. This could have been worded in a less complex way.

Some notes for Section C would ease the stress a little.

The text was different to the one specified by the board

Two design and one performance question in live productions when most students choose to write about performance was a bit mean - gave them no choice. Why can't there be four questions instead of three?

Two digit box for the answer that was 3 digits long

 

Eduqas/WJEC responses

There were a number of similar responses for both questions. These have been summarised and the number of similar responses has been stated.

  • How did your students feel about the paper?

No of responses

Summary of comments

35

The students were confused by the mark allocation and weightings as they were so different from the SAM.

Very confused about the structure of the paper.

6

Finding two extracts also confused several of them and there was not enough time to find the number of extracts needed.

5

Students will have lost lots of marks as they would not get their timings right.

2

Thrown by the different format and the number of extracts referred to and the complexity of the answer booklet

1

In the question where they had to describe the relationship in the chosen extract, the characters selected weren’t appropriate.

1

The extracts picked were rubbish and my students are devastated.

1

They were confused by the swap between acing and design question.

1

They were surprised by the live theatre question about costume

  •  Any other comments about the paper?

No of responses

Summary of comments

35

Teachers need far more guidance on the changes that could be made to the structure in the exam papers.

We needed more than one sample paper to understand how the students will be marked.

Didn’t follow the format of the SAMs.

Felt like they were trying to catch pupils out. Almost like they wanted to confuse the children.

8

Having 3 extracts to look at throughout the paper was tough in the given time.

4

One question asked to comment on the relationship between 2 characters who say hello and alright!

The characters chosen within the set text questions poorly chosen

3

The paper was more heavily weighted towards costume/design.

2

ALL commented that the front of the answer booklet was confusing and that they didn’t know what to write where.

2

The changes to the structure of the exam compared to the sample paper will have a disproportionate negative consequence for SEN students.

2

The unexpected weightings threw out students’ timings so added unnecessary pressure

1

I’m confused why in DNA they didn’t look at one specific extract so students have to trawl through the text!

1

Seemed to test all round knowledge rather than exam technique

 

OCR responses

The number of responses to these survey questions was approximately double the responses for all other exam boards, which is why the number of responses is much higher than the other boards comments. There were also significantly fewer general positive or negative comments. There were common themes to the comments which have been summarised and collated below.

  • How did your students feel about the paper?

No of responses

Summary of comments

85

They were confused by the wording of questions.

They said it was vague.

It took them too long to try and work out what the question was asking.

10

It was nothing like the example paper.

Weaker students did not cope with the changes in the format of questions

8

Theatre review on actor not expected, none of them felt qualified to review a professional actors’ abilities.

Annoyed section B only asked about 1 character, too narrow.

6

Not happy about the drawing question.

3

Demanding to achieve marks in the time available for SEN students

EAL students found it difficult due to misinterpreting the questions due to some of the wording.

2

Quite repetitive focus on questions.

1

Majority commented that it was easier than the sample paper.

1

More of a design influence throughout section A than expected

1

Some questions were not really aimed at their set text

  • Any other comments about the paper?

No of responses

Summary of comments

36

The question-wording in section A was ambiguous.

I'm still not sure what was being asked for a couple questions.

Some questions were obscure, and the questions were too vague.

It read like it was not written by drama specialists.

32

Wasn't anything like the SAMS. The structure of the questions was very different

11

More materials needed to prepare the students in advance.

Additional sample papers should have been provided.

11

Question 8 on was badly worded and didn’t make sense.

6

The questions didn’t necessarily fit with all the list of set texts

5

Characterisation for section b was not expected, question contained too many constraints.

Feel like the live theatre review question was trying to trick them.

5

It is very odd that students were expected to sketch when there is no reference to needing to draw diagrams in the spec unless you are doing design for components 1 and 2. The SAM states there are no marks for the quality of the drawing.

5

There was a heavy actor focus.

5

There was a lot of repetition in the paper.

4

I liked the specific layout where four points were needed there four clear sections to write in. This makes it clear what is expected of the pupils.

I really liked the structure of the shorter questions showing how many points they needed to make.

Prefer fewer boxes and specific lines to write on with 3 reasons.

2

Far too much focus on design

2

There seemed to be less space for them to write so they ran out of paper to answer.

1

EAL students writing in their 2nd language found it nearly impossible

1

I feel everything on the paper is in the spec.

1

Like section B question

 

Pearson responses

The responses varied for the Pearson paper, however, there were some common themes. These have been summarised and collated.

  • How did your students feel about the paper?

No of responses

Summary of comments

10

Some of the extract choices were poor. Some could have been more significant in the play. Some extracts were dull or insignificant. Some questions were odd or confusing for the chosen extracts.

3

Liked the extract

Thought questions were ok.

3

Some found the paper hard to navigate. Some students wasted time looking for the section b questions.

2

The production element choices were grouped in a different way to the way it's been presented in the sample assessment materials, which created confusion.

Students found set and props difficult to talk about with the scene given.

1

Disheartening as so different from sample paper.

1

Great extract offered for section A. They all felt too stretched for time. Particularly after reading the extract.

1

The unseen extract was difficult.

  •  Any other comments about the paper? 

No of responses

Summary of comments

3

A few more example questions in the preceding 2 years would have been helpful

3

As each centre let the exam board know in advance which text they have been studying then I don’t know why all texts are in the exam paper this is a waste of paper.

Too big students for confused with all the choices

3

Leading up the exam some terminology not defined or conflicting definitions provided by the exam board.

2

A lot of last minute information, which didn’t help.

2

The choice of extract was poor for the questions.

Considering the whole play, I wouldn’t see this as one of the significant ‘key moments’

1

Extracts and 500 words useful.

1

I liked the questions and extract

1

Q9 a and b might be limiting for some students when it says 'key moment' as they may discuss literally a moment from a scene and then don't write enough for the number of marks available.

1

Question 9 and 14 could be more contrasting.

1

Students with 25% extra time felt the paper was much more manageable

1

The last question section a – how can the students be expected to access the mark for this on such an open-ended question and obtain any true accuracy?

1

Want students to be able to take set text into the exam.

 

Results and changing boards

The other 2 questions asked about results and future cohorts.  The first asked if teachers are expecting good results in August. There were 5 options: yes, maybe, not sure, no and no idea. Only 9.4% of teachers said yes. 24.2% said maybe, 33.4% said not sure. 15.6% said no and 17.4% said no idea. One challenge here is that my question didn’t define what ‘good’ meant. In my mind, this meant that the students would achieve the results that the teacher would have expected for their ability, but this may not be what the respondents understood the question to be.

Broken down by exam board, it shows that teachers are really not sure about their results for any board although OCR teachers are definitely less confident their students will do well on exam day. 

Exam board

Yes

Maybe

Not sure

No

No idea

AQA

15 (15%)

24 (24%)

29 (30%)

5 (5%)

25 (26%)

Eduqas/WJEC

13 (11%)

33 (29%)

35 (31%)

17 (15%)

16 (14%)

OCR

5 (3%)

42 (24%)

62 (35%)

39 (22%)

29 (16%)

Pearson

12 (11%)

22 (20%)

40 (37%)

17 (16%)

17 (16%)

The last question asked whether teachers were planning on changing exam boards. There were 7 options given for this question. They were: yes (decision already made), probably, waiting for results before making a decision, maybe, probably not, definitely not and not my decision.

Response

Responses

Percentage

Yes (decision already made)

35

7%

Probably

34

6.8%

Waiting for results before making a decision

171

34.2%

Maybe

26

5.2%

Probably not

133

26.6%

Definitely not

94

18.8%

Not my decision

3

0.6%

The analysis by exam board shows that there is the potential for another large move of board after results day. One outlier response is interesting, and I feel I need to report it. The response states that the teacher had invested a lot of time and effort into creating resources and a lot of time learning about the delivering the new course. They want to change board but probably won’t because they don’t have the capacity to take on the workload associated with changing boards. I wonder how many of the ‘probably not’ group have selected that for the same reason. 

Response

AQA

Eduqas/WJEC

OCR

Pearson

Yes (decision already made)

5 (5%)

4 (4%)

18 (10%)

7 (6%)

Probably

2 (2%)

3 (3%)

23 (13%)

6 (6%)

Waiting for results before making a decision

19 (19%)

32 (29%)

86 (49%)

35 (32%)

Maybe

2 (2%)

7 (6%)

10 (6%)

6 (6%)

Probably not

36 (37%)

33 (29%)

28 (16%)

35 (32%)

Definitely not

34 (35%)

31 (28%)

11 (6%)

18 (17%)

Not my decision

0

2 (2%)

0

1 (1%)

Making the assumptions that the ‘yes’ and ‘probably’ groups do change, the ‘probably not’ and ‘definitely not’ don’t change and 50% of the other groups do decide to change, it means that approximately a third of teachers may be changing specification after the first exam. Breaking that down by board shows how unhappy teachers were with the exams, especially teachers who chose OCR.

Percentage of teachers who may decide to change boards. 

AQA

Eduqas/WJEC

OCR

Pearson

17.5%

24.5%

50.5%

31%

 

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  1. Susie Drake

    Thank you again for your investment in our field of work Karen. The results are interesting and I look forward to seeing further communication after results day. Your generous commitment to the subject and support of teachers is highly appreciated. Best wishes Susie Drake

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