Life after levels: GCSE 9-1 survey results

Before half term, I sent a small survey to 10,000 teachers in UK secondary schools. I already knew that a popular “life after levels” alternative to NC Levels at KS3 was to extend GCSE grading all the way down to Y7, but I needed more detail to help plan our future grading strategy at Yacapaca. We got 201 responses – 2% is very creditable for an online survey. There were only three questions, and here are the results:
Just over half – 53.3% use GCSE 9-1 at KS3.  I don’t know what proportion of the “in future” respondents will use it at KS3, but if we assume half of them, it pushes the total usage up to 60.5%. Like or lump, it’s becoming the default for KS3.
Oh dear me. How on earth are teachers supposed to communicate student progress to each other, when two thirds record it on one basis, and one third on an entirely different one?
What makes it worse is that, as you can see below, it is not at all clear that many teachers even know there are two bases in common use. Too many teachers are likely to be labouring under the delusion that their way universal. I leave the kind of disastrous cockups that might ensue to your imagination.

What else is important to you about GCSE 9-1 grading?

This open question was designed to illuminate the thinking behind the raw statistics, and indeed it did. I don’t have permission to credit these quotes, sorry:
There is a lot of confusion over the grading system. Accurate mapping from A* – G is not available
  • nor can it be, due to Grade 9 being norm-referenced. At the top end of the ability spectrum, you can only predict a GCSE grade if you have national data for that cohort.
The difficulty is that we don’t truly know the accuracy of what we are doing as the way the governmental has set this up has made it quite impossible to judge 1-9 outcomes. We can only really guess.
  • Got it in one.

It’s grade inflation proof.

  • They promised us that, didn’t they. Actually, only Grade 9 is norm-referenced and therefore grade inflation proof. After a few years, student results will just pile up at Grade 8 instead.
There is no link to the IDEAL / Blooms theory, or if there is nobody in my school is aware of it.
  • This is a very interesting point. NC level descriptors focused attention and teaching effort onto high-order skills such as evaluation and understanding. One of the very unwelcome consequences of pulling GCSE grading further down the school is that it will focus teaching back onto knowledge – the very bottom of  Benjamin Bloom’s pyramid.

It is a total Joke. Nobody appears to know what is going on. It is a grade now or a scaled down Y11 grade. I’m already completely sick of it and haven’t started to use it properly.

  • Pretty much sums it up.

What I learned from the Features survey

Looks like people are getting survey fatigue: only 46 responses to this one. Still worthwhile, though.

Who replied?


This looks fairly representative of the population as a whole.

What do they use Yacapaca for?


My interest here was how plans are changing. Homework and revision are both on the way up, but I was surprised to see homework featuring more in future plans than revision does.

Here are some of the feature requests that came up. My apologies if yours is not covered.

Feature requests that we could action

  • Flight paths. I think we should replace the Progress Charts with these.
  • Per-student usage report, especially for revision.
  • Download data with separate student forename and surname (why don’t we do this already?)

Requests for features that already exist

  • Re-insert incorrectly answered questions into the quiz at a later point. Yes, we have that! It’s in Revision Streams but not in quizzes as this would sabotage the quiz as a summative assessment.
  • Tests correlated to national standards (e.g. National Curriculum). They all are. If you don’t see the results you need, check the settings of the student set.
  • Resources matched to the National Curriculum. All that can be, already are. If you want more, write them.
  • See results analysed by gender, SEN status, etc. If you have that metadata in your student records, then this analysis is now available from the Assignments list. It’s a brand new feature, so no shame if you didn’t know that was there.
  • See student sets even when they have no results. You can see these in the list of student sets, from the top of the Students dropdown.
  • See a report immediately after a quiz is finished. Access all reports via the dropdowns in the Assignments list. No need to wait for the email.

Requests for features we had in the past but have removed

  • Moodle integration. What a waste of money that was. Even the people who had campaigned for it didn’t use it in the end.
  • Author control over quiz timing. Utter chaos until we removed that. Most authors didn’t  have a clue how to use it, but used it anyway – the result was a total mess for the rest of us.
  • Allow students to use the Back button in tests. What happened? The kids would guess the answer, then repeatedly go back until they stumbled across the right one. No knowledge or thinking-through required.

Requests for features we definitely won’t do

  • Sign-on integration with your local system. We’ve looked into this several times and the bottom line is it’s a morass. It never works as well as you hoped, and breaks whenever any of the other vendors changes their system. What we do have is brilliantly simple tools to upload students and for them to then set their logins to something easy to remember. Use them!
  • Edmodo integration. I appreciate that Edmodo is the new Moodle, but that does not make it any more attractive from my point of view.
  • Anything involving printing out. This is the 21st Century.

Overall, no-one asked for anything gobsmackingly new or different, but I did get a strong steer that we should focus on homework as a key use-case. It is also clear that we are falling down on user education. Given that I can’t have one-to-one conversations with every teacher, I need to find more ways to facilitate teachers helping each other.

Insights from the mobile devices survey

I’m very pleased to have had as many as 140 responses to the survey. The answers to the multiple choice questions were fairly predictable:

ImageThe transition to mobile is well underway, with the usual spectrum of early- to late-adopters.

ImageiPads are where it’s at, but the strategy really has to embrace everything. At least no-one said “Google Glass” yet.

As always, the insights were to be found in the comments. Some teachers see no benefit whatever to mobile

…everything you can do on a iPad or Android device can be done on a PC.

whilst others are looking into an exciting future, even if they don’t yet know in detail how to manifest it

Less didactic teaching – more project based, providing resources, more group work, personalised learning, learners making choices about when they take assessments, learners choosing the materials that suit them best…

and of course many simply express uncertainty.

It seems most teachers at the start of the process are asking themselves the question “Can I (or how can I) run the existing system more efficiently with this new tool?”

Those further down the track are starting to discover that usage evolves under its own logic, if you let it

My sixth form students already use their own devices,initially  the biggest change I found that when asked a question they unsure on they turned to Google,  but they altered as they settled in  to the use in the classroom, attempting to answer first and then googling to see who was right, it was nice to see the development from reliance on the device to using it to support the knowledge they had.   (It wasn’t an easy path though!)

What I hope to see if we run the same survey next year is that a few have moved beyond the current framework, and instead are looking outside education for inspiration. Apps and services like Foursquare, Google Goggles and Ease into 5k use a mobile devices’ sensors and capabilities to deliver experiences that are simply not possible in any other way. None of these three are particularly intended as educational apps, but each has potential. More importantly, they inspire us to look beyond classroom and curriculum, and into a new way to develop the minds of our young charges.