School Days Sophia Waugh
For the past two years, I’ve been marking GCSE English Literature papers. After the first year, I swore never to do it again, but didn’t concentrate until too late and found myself at it this year, poring over scanned papers of illegible writing.
Although the actual work is fairly grim, there are advantages to it. You always have your own students in mind – so your expectations of their outcomes is shifted almost on an hourly basis in comparison with the students you are marking.
Remember that we teachers have no clearly defined idea of what the new grades look like. The final results depend on the performance of the whole cohort – thousands upon thousands of children. So if, when marking, you feel everyone is doing poorly, you up your expectations of your best students and feel a little more hopeful for the borderline cases. Except they never become ‘cases’ – such a horrible, clinical word. Last year, I had a very good top set and, between them, they achieved a good collection of the elusive 9s (the equivalent of an A**) and 8s.
This year, I have had two sets – both weaker. And of those students, there is one for whom I have been praying hard.
A grade 4, equivalent roughly to a low C, is now the standard students need to enter any form of further qualification – apprenticeships etc. A grade 5 – high C/ low B – is what those who go on to do A-levels need. This particular student is predicted a 3. She is dyslexic, finds English difficult and needs her hand holding. For the first term or so of our acquaintance, she was mouthy and difficult, obstreperous and rude.
For some reason, she then switched and, for the rest of our two years together, worked harder than any student I have ever met in 17 years of teaching. In a class with some very badly behaved children, she managed to block them out and keep her head down. Her father, she told me, cannot read or write; I wonder whether he was also seriously dyslexic and no one noticed it when he was at school.
There was a chance that she could get her 4, and, oddly, I thought she was more likely to get it in Literature (perceived as harder) than Language. The themes, the characters and the quotations were all embedded in her brain, thanks to her diligence. The Language papers, where students are given unseen texts to analyse, were more difficult for her. I found myself dreaming about her and her results. She is not a ‘case’.
Yet every time I marked a paper at the lower end of the scale, I found myself comparing her work with what was in front of me. Every time I opened up a paper where nothing had been written at all (there were lots), I breathed a sigh of relief for two reasons – £5.20 was earned in 20 seconds, and my student was shoved higher in the rankings. Then I remembered the blank paper belonged to a student another teacher had wept blood over, and I remembered myself.
I’ve just seen my student’s results: 4 in Literature and Language. Definitely not ‘a case’.
‘Yeah, you’re a bad boy’