None of us would have wished for our Year 11 to have had the opportunity to sit GCSE exams removed from them, but given that it has happened, there is a wonderful opportunity to be exploited.
There is a well-documented academic gap between GCSE and A level courses, and a significant factor in this is the gap in the required learning style and level of independence – A levels demand an entirely different and far more rigorous attitude and approach.
The content heavy specifications necessitate a more teacher led approach at GCSE – the teacher setting the pace and dictating tasks to be completed. At A level, there is greater time to explore, discover and for students to engage independently and collaboratively with the material at hand; indeed the content of lessons is just the starting point for real academic success. It is often the student’s own interests which dictate the topic (as in History coursework at A level) and their own motivation to develop lines of enquiry which drives progress. Hard work is necessary for the highest grades at A level, but is not by itself sufficient.
The teacher student relationship is entirely different at A level – teachers are not so much rattling through specifications as coaching students to higher levels of thinking, ensuring they develop the study and other skills which will see them through their A levels and beyond.
At the Dixie we have made the most of the opportunity of cancelled exams and have started all Year 11 students on the journey between GCSE and A level – we are walking them across the chasm rather than expecting them to jump it in September. A solid foundation now ensures the successful structure on to which they can build their A level success.
Each A level subject has its own 8-week programme this term that is combination of remote live lessons and further work outside these meeting times. They have been set tasks with purpose: RS students are being introduced to the Divine Command theory; French students are already developing the skills we normally look to establish in September, exploiting French news online to build banks of vocabulary, cultural knowledge and the pleasure of uncovering for themselves what makes France tick; Biologists have been engaged in zoom experiments – collaboratively investigating the importance of hydrogen bonds;
Physicists have completed a project on the life and work of Richard Feynman and discussed the Max Planck and chauffeur test on understanding concepts; to help Year 11 Historians transition into thinking like A level historians, we have started a course on heroes which will segue steadily into the A level topics. Wherever I look, from Mandarin to Mathematics, our Year 11 students are being engaged in and exposed to the demands of A level learning early.
Hermione Grainger needed a time turner to attend multiple classes at once, but students can take part in the full suite of A level subjects should they wish. This will be invaluable in September, ensuring they start courses with a greater sense of purpose, with skills already in place and with real knowledge of the demands of each course. Ultimately, this period will allow them to make better choices.
I am very proud of our A level bridging courses: it is unlike any other school’s provision in the area and further evidence of the Dixie Difference. Given all that is written above, Year 10 students might well ask if this programme will be repeated next year. We very much hope that current Year 10 students will have their understanding tested under the glare of the exam hall lights, but following the exam period, yes, I do hope that these A level bridging courses become part of Dixie Grammar’s new normal.