Controlled Assessment Strategies

The Passage of Time

Originally uploaded by ToniVC

How many teachers are spending at least some of their time planning schemes of work, resources and other bits and bobs for the next academic year?

How many of those teachers will sit in 1 hour chunks (or some other arbitrary time period), during which time they start, get stuff done, save and then (whether finished or not) put everything away and start a new task for another hour.

My Y10 computing students have just finished a 20 hour controlled assessment task. 2 or 3 times a week they’ve come into my classroom, logged in, grabbed their controlled assessment booklets and ploughed on with a task. 55 minutes later they get told to stop, save, put it away until the next time – worst case scenario due to their timetable, in 6 days time.

Don’t get me wrong. There are interventions, tips, hints, guidance and all sorts of other things going on – I’m not just leaving them to fend for themselves. What seems ludicrous, though, is that sometimes the students are just building up a head of steam, getting into the zone, getting themselves into the task, when they get the call to save, log off an pack up until next time. That process of getting yourself into the right frame of mind, and into the right headspace to be able to visualise the problems and challenges you’re dealing with, must sap the students’ productivity.

When I have a big job to do, I’ll sit down and do it. It might take me 90 minutes instead of an hour. It might take me 4 or 5 hours. It might take me a few days or even weeks, but it’s very unlikely that I’ll be using pre-defined, 1 hour chunks to get it done. It’s unnatural to do so.

I’m seriously considering booking my students off timetable in order to complete their controlled assessment in larger chunks. Initially I thought about 5 days, Monday to Friday. That would give me time to do some bits that don’t count towards the time and would give the students time to really get themselves into the task.

The downsides? There’s little time to reflect on the problem. A task that is completed over 3 or 4 weeks has time to permeate, and gives the students time to research and reflect. It may be that, with such a number of subjects (plus all that, not inconsiderable stuff going on outside the classroom), most students aren’t really doing this anyway (my homework tracking book would back that up), I’m not sure.

There’s the logistics of covering my timetable for a whole week, as well as the effect on other subjects of losing their students for a week. If every department did that then it might (MIGHT) be chaos. Or, it might work out really well. Certainly the Geography department take students out for 3 days of fieldwork around this time each year. Why not computing students as well?

Another issue is that time to help students identify issues and to spend some time away from controlled assessment working on them. The OCR programming tasks, for example, come in 3 parts – each progressively more difficult. I’ll usually stop and do a week or two of revision on a particular concept before starting each task, to make the students are fully prepared. So maybe I do 1 day for task 1, 1.5 days for task 2 and 2 days for taks 3, spread out over 3 weeks?

The issue raised here also raises the question of whether the model is flawed for the rest of the year. Carousels, where students learn about Subject A for a half term, Subject B for a half term and then Subject C for a half term, with longer lessons (perhaps a half-day at a time) might be more natural and would allow for longer project-based activities to be explored more effectively. But that might be a post for another day.

Has anyone tried the more intensive approach for longer controlled assessment tasks? Any feedback from those who’ve been there would be much appreciated.

Spoilt for choice?

Your Vote Your Choice

Originally uploaded by alternatePhotography

A little over 2 years ago I managed to get my department onto the OCR GCSE Computing Pilot. Now, our first cohort is coming out the other side and with all the ‘kerfuffle’, a flood of exam boards (well, 2) have suddenly gone from saying “there’s no demand, it’s not worth it” to rushing out GCSE Computing specifications for first teaching from 2012.

My default position is to stick to what I know. I’ve spent 2 years creating resources and learning about how OCR wants me to tackle the specification, and how it wants the students to tackle it. But on the other hand, I don’t want to sit here out of habit and miss a better opportunity.

This morning I’ve had a good read through what AQA and Edexcel have to offer. And I think I’ll stick where I am. Not least because for an exam board to go from ‘no spec’ to a spec ready for submission to the DfE or Ofqual or whoever is doing the QCA’s job these days within a couple of months is a little bit rushed for my liking.


The AQA spec looks broadly similar, although the theory topics skip a lot of the software and binary representation stuff in favour of prototyping and testing and there are two programming controlled assessments which is a little more… up front than the OCR approach (in which the practical investigation has really turned into a programming task – although they were bullied into that by the (then) QCDA and I like that at least it’s something a bit different.

A key point for me is that in the summary marking criteria for the programming unit, the programming techniques used section gets 36 of the 63 marks – the next largest component being just 9 marks. Sounds ideal!

Until you read the detailed mark scheme, where you get those 36 marks for “discussion of most of the programming techniques” – death by writeup…

You actually get 9 marks for producing the code itself.


What can you say about Edexcel? In fairness, I moaned that AQA had probably rushed their specification out. Edexcel haven’t – because there isn’t even a draft to look at yet. There are some outline details – a 40% written exam, 35% practical exam and a 25% controlled assessment.

I must admit, I’m a fan of practical exams. They’re logistically more difficult, but they provide a more accurate reflection of a student’s ability than coursework and the focus switches to teaching and learning rather than doing and redoing.

That said, with options evening tomorrow, I don’t feel compelled to jump to a spec I haven’t read and I’ve not been a huge fan of Edexcel’s output in recent years (although I know many that have).

So at the moment I don’t feel that spoilt for choice. Competition is a good thing, and for centres coming at GCSE Computing for the first time either in 2012 or 2013 then perhaps the route is a little less cut and dried. For me, though. It’ll be another year at least with OCR.

Why I don’t want to be a specialist


I remember making a blog post a year or so ago about the fact that I was being pulled in several different directions and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. We’ve all the heard the phrase “Jack of all trades and master of none”, and I was worried about exactly that.

When I was first starting out in teaching I came from a relatively technical background of computer programming with a bit of networking and web design thrown in for good measure. I expected teaching ICT to be similar, but quickly found I had to brush up some relatively specific tasks – vlookups in Excel, switchboards in Access. This was OK and while it was a little less technical than I would have liked I figured I knew where I stood.

Then along came iMedia, and suddenly I reading documents that referred to the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Means, Shot Angles and Match Cut Edits as though I knew what the heck was being talked about. I had the good fortune to work with some brilliant colleagues from Thespian Studies (or Drama, as they are more commonly known) who got me (and the students) through the basics. Suddenly the Rule of Thirds was being applied not just to images or videos, but to web design, leaflets, presentations and more. I became the media ‘expert’ in the department (for the time being, although I’ve since been superseded in that role).

I still hankered for my programming though, something I had enjoyed since I first realised you could do more than just play cassettes with a Spectrum. I tried a couple of after school clubs over the years, got involved with the AS Computing course and am single handedly manning the new GCSE Computing as of about 3 weeks ago when my first after-school classes started. My Head of Department is more of a coder than I ever was, but I’m up there.

After two and a half years at the school I was looking to move on, until the Head offered my a Second in Department role that was effectively Head of KS3 ICT on paper (although I still maintain that “Assistant to the Head of Department” is essentially what I was doing within the first 12 months) – and so I’ve had the responsibility for managing, preparing and overseeing the KS3 curriculum for some time.

A lot of people have made mention of my love of cross-curricular ICT. The use of Cloud Computing and Web 2.0 to improve access to software and the sharing of ideas. The use of free and open-source software to provide access for students without £3k to drop on a copy of the Adobe Master Suite. The Techy Tips newsletters that I wrote for a while (I’m so far past deadline on the last I’m declaring a hiatus) seemed reasonably popular with a few. My Mukoku resource sharing site is not the central hub for resources just yet but I’m getting a fair bit of traffic and feedback.

Did I also mention that I’m the lead teacher on the AS and A2 ICT courses? And in charge of the school website since a colleague and I redesigned it from scratch 3 years ago?

So I have lots of hats, and it worried me for a long time that I was a master of none of them. What a load of tosh.

OK, I’m no Stanley Kubrick, but not that many people actually know what a Match Cut Edit is. I’m not the best in the school, not even the best in the department, but I can get kids to understand and even apply the rule of thirds, to understand why a low angle shot is menacing and a high angle shot makes the subject look meek. Second best at programming still means I can hack the PHP on the school website well enough, write enough Python and Java to get me up to and including the AS Level Computing standard without having to stay up until 3am. I genuinely think that our KS3 Programme of Study and the resources we have made are pretty sound and while I’m not spending as much time as I have in the past trying to push out ICT ideas to the rest of the staff, I’m still dropping the odd URL in pigeon holes and mentioning particular tools and sites when I get the chance. So yes, I am a “Jack of all trades” – but I think I’m pretty good at most of them. And if I ploughed all my time into programming, or into media, then my life would be a lot less rich and my skills far less useful. So sod being a specialist in one field. Why not just aim to reach the level of “damned good” in all of them?

An Introduction To Python

I’ve been offline for much of the last month, but I’ve not been doing nothing.

Next year (and quite possible for the latter stages of this year) I am likely to be running the new OCR pilot of the first GCSE Computing course in living memory.

The decision was taken to use Python as the language of choice and, not having any experience of Python, I’ve spent the last fortnight learning the language and writing a guide / workbook / printable resource for the students.

My 3rd draft is now available at scribd, and all things being well should also be shown below.

Feedback is, of course, more than welcome. And the document it itself can be printed for your own use should you wish.

Introduction to Python (3rd Draft)