AS the World Cup tournament picks up pace, GCSE students are rejoicing as they finish their exams; some may well have already shredded their revision notes, study guides and past papers – and for all of them I hope that they will enjoy a long hot summer, a well-deserved break and a World Cup triumph for England. Well, maybe the last hope is a bit of a stretch.

A great deal has been made of the change from the well-established GCSE grading system, which we all understood, to the numbers from 9 down to 1 – although, just to confuse things further, there remains a smattering of A*–Gs in certain subjects this year.

As a maths teacher, this was a change with which I had to wrestle in 2017. But we survived. It has to be said, however, that whilst we prepared the students as thoroughly as ever, there was an element of not knowing quite how the exams would actually look – and every maths teacher I spoke to was unclear as to what constituted the difference between grades 4 and 5, both of which were previously grade C, or what merited a grade 6.

Understandably, teachers are nervous about the new grading system. But what hasn’t been made explicit in the national media is the massively increased content now covered in all GCSE qualifications: staff in English and Welsh schools have had to deliver programmes half as big again, without half as much additional time, as well as getting their heads around new grades.

As teachers, our job is to impart our love of our subject to the young people in front of us, to give them a thirst for learning and, yes, teach them so that they leave us with the best qualifications possible.

At Sheldon, we have robustly stuck to our principles of a broad, balanced curriculum and still offer the choice of four GCSE options in addition to compulsory subjects. Two years ago we offered a choice of five. Many schools have dropped to three.

This, in effect, means that traditionally strong subjects including PE, performing arts and DT have fewer takers for this summer’s examinations. We still have healthy numbers: DT at 56 per cent of the cohort has about 30 per cent higher take-up than is seen nationally, but once upon a time, more than 80 per cent opted to do DT at GCSE. Can this enforced narrowing of the curriculum be right – even if it means greater knowledge acquisition in chosen subjects?

The Government says this knowledge must be tested by ‘more rigorous examinations’. But what does this mean in practice? I am in the unusual position of running a school containing 280 Year 11s as well as being the parent of a boy doing his GCSEs. Having seen him swot up for his examinations, I am struck by how he has revised in those subjects for which he has less of a ‘feel’. Rote learning and recall of endless facts is what seems to have been tested – and as a good rote learner, he is relatively pleased with his performance. Others, however, find this type of learning tricky and dull. My son may do very well – but is this type of testing right?

In the same way that 1988 is not remembered as the year when ‘new’ GCSEs were introduced, 30 years on I don’t suppose that 2018 will be recalled as having had any great significance. The class of 2018 has been labelled by many (but not me) as a ‘guinea pig cohort’ and we have worked hard to ensure that teachers’ apprehension has not been transmitted to students. We have operated on the premise that if we prepare them well and they work hard, they will succeed. That would be fair wouldn’t it? Time will tell.

Back to the World Cup, 1988 was not a good year for England, eliminated after three defeats in the finals of a major football championship; it’s something that I remember vividly. When we look back in 2048, let’s hope we remember it for a better showing by our national football team and not a year in which Year 11 students were let down by a flawed examination system.

Neil Spurdell

Headteacher of Sheldon School