Saturday, 1 September 2012

Testing Times

The shower curtain is almost done. In a fit of extreme sewing I have hemmed three of the four edges only to be thwarted by running out of thread a third of the way along the last edge. Ah well, it's further on than it was yesterday.

My mad sewing frenzy was only interrupted by yet another salesman trying to get me to buy a plastic door.
'Have you thought of getting rid of this old wooden door and replacing it with a state of the art PVC door and frame?'
'No I have not'
'Are you not worried about security?'
'Are you worried about heat loss?'
'So can I leave this brochure with you just in case you change your mind.'
'Is your husband in?'
I was actually beginning to wonder how many times I'd have to say 'no' when he decided he was not going to win this one and went off to bother someone else.

Paralympics Watch

The mother of all tantrums took place yesterday and I missed it (thanks shower curtain) but from what I've read I'm not sure if it was justified or not.

Jody Cundy was set up on his bike in the weird contraption they use to launch themselves. When the starting gun went he remained, wheel spinning madly for a second or two before being launched. Everyone I think is agreed on that. The debate is was the fault his or that of the equipment? The judges reckoned it was his fault, declared a false start and disqualified him. Jody clearly begged to differ and had a massive strop that included shouting, hand signals and a bottle of water. In the end he was dragged away by his coach. To be honest the judges must have been pretty sure of their facts to do such a thing but if there was even the slightest hint of a doubt they should have allowed a second start. I have a feeling this one is going to run and run.

Time to catch up on some of the news I missed in the last week or so.

Neil Armstrong has died but his name will go down in history, probably much to the chagrin of his remaining team. Buzz Aldrin was fiercely ambitious and was desperate to be the first man on the moon while Michael Collins has all but been forgotten. However was Armstrong really the first man or was it all carefully engineered because NASA knew the 'ordinary man' would be the more popular choice? Ever since I stayed up with my father to watch the landing, I was nine at the time, I've wondered, 'if Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon, who is holding the camera filming his exit from the module'? Yes it could have been on the moon buggy but I'm still not that convinced. Nothing happened during that mission that wasn't controlled to within an inch of its life by NASA. Armstrong was a brave man and will rightly take his place in history but the first man? Still not that sure.

As a former, and hopefully will be again, teacher I have watched the row over the English GCSE with some interest. For those that do not know the GCSE is a series of exams that have to be taken by all sixteen year olds in the country and are used as a stepping stone to A levels, college courses, training or employment. This year's row centers around the changing of grade boundaries which mean many who were expecting a C based on their January exam performance have now ended up with a D instead.

Now not only was I a teacher but for several years I was also one of the examiners that marks these exams. And I can tell you changing grade boundaries is the norm rather than the rare event everyone is now squealing about. This is down to a little thing called the Bell Curve. This curve is as the name suggests shape a bit like a Bell, the bottom left hand side of the bell represents the worst achievers while the bottom right hand side represents the best performers or elite. So the bottom left would be the U grades and the bottom right the A* grades. The very top of the bell is the national average and therefore the C grade. The majority of the population will fall between the D and B grades and after every exam the grade boundaries are shifted slightly so this remains true. And this shifting has been going on for years., even before the GCSE's came in.

So why the uproar? Well teachers don't like the results because it reflects badly on their performance. What they don't seem to have grasped it that the problem only seems to lie with the C/D boundary. Those kids predicted to get B's and above seem to have done just that so really performance isn't that big an issue and no school will take action against a teacher over one poor result. Anyone who has ever been near a classroom will know that there are some kids, and indeed whole classes, that you just can't reach.

The kids are upset because instead of getting a good result for a minimum of effort they've suddenly realised that maybe they should have worked a bit harder. I've always found that those kids with ambition are never satisfied with their grades, even if they get A's across the board they will still strive for the A*. However there are also those kids who will do just enough and absolutely no more. When the January results came out those that needed C's and got them probably thought they were onto a winner, and so either kept up the same level of effort or dropped a little thinking, 'well I'm heading for a C so I'll leave that and concentrate on something I haven't done so well in.' I know this happens, I've seen it.

OK so this year it does seem more prevalent than last year and without looking at the January results it is hard to tell why. Could it be that this year there has been an upturn in pupils learning English as a second language? That is one possibility and quite frankly has my vote. Whatever the cause one thing is sure, every sixteen year old in England and Wales will have suddenly realised that if you want something you have to work for it, and that can't be a bad thing.

Tomorrow is the re-start of the Formula One season and I cannot wait, how I get through the winter months without it I'll never know. So I'm doing all my little jobs today, I have a pile of ironing the size of the Eiger to get through and the kitchen and bathroom to clean. Well better jump to it.