1. The move to AS/A2 - this has put much more pressure on teachers to teach 'to the exam' - much of this pressure comes from the students themselves who naturally prioritise their grades over a more 'fulfilling' experience of studying the subject. What I mean by this is that, with the straight two year A-level, there was time to experiment and encourage a real passion for the subject amongst the students. In fact the whole move towards more rigorous formal assessment in recent years has changed the way many students approach learning - they are much more inclined to learn for the exam than for enjoyment. (This is fuelled by teaching to get the students through SATs and GCSEs - the teaching in turn is as a result of school targets and government league tables.) This perversely can have a negative impact on achievement in the sense that I have always found that those students who are really passionate about their subject are those who will be more likely to be open to different teaching methods and think 'outside the box' (although I detest that expression!)
2. Jobs - it may seem strange but I've seen a massive increase in sixth formers with part time jobs. This has coincided with the introduction of EMAs (- you would have thought it would mean students would have to work less.) This has been a real problem for many students who come from an area where there isn't great parental support for post-16 study. The hours that some students put in each week horrifies me. This has had a real negative impact on their studies. They have very little time outside of lessons to read or produce good homework and this leads to a desire to be spoonfed with content rather than think for themselves (which requires more time and effort.)
3. Teaching time - in my school we only have 4 hours per week - this puts a lot of pressure to get through the content of the course.
4. How are we judged? There is a pressure on teachers to stick to tried and tested methods of delivering A-Level. we will be ultimately judged on our results, not on whether we deliver exciting lessons. Of course, the two often come hand in hand, but there is a fear of trying something new.
5. The jump between GCSE and AS level. Better teaching means that pupils today are more likely top get a C grade than say ten years ago, however, it is often teaching 'to the exam' which has achieved this. This doesn't do the students any favours and i've found several students who gained a C at GCSE are competely out of their depth in year 12. Consequently, I've been pushing Year 10s and 11s with essay writing skills and much more independant learning than they might get in other subjects. This has really paid off as the quality of essay writing has improved massively at A level in recent years. If bright students have been debating, presenting, researching, and reading around the subject from year 10, onwards, this can only help them in the sixth form.
6. Sixth form numbers. Many sixth forms are under financial pressure to increase numbers. This has led to allocating students to courses who would not have been in past years. I've found that Connexions are pretty effective in encouraging students to stay on even if it is not in their best interests. So class sizes have gone up but we now have more students who aren't prepared to go the extra mile for their studies.
Right I've got to number six, my eyelids are closing (hard school trip today) and everything has been a bit negative so far. Tomorrow I'll post my positive thoughts on how I try to get round these problems.
edited to correct typing errors and to add this: (attempting to address above points)
1. Try to get classlists of those taking your subject at A-level and give them something to do over the summer. e.g. a (non-text)book to read and write a review on, a glossary to find out, maybe even a couple of films to watch. The aim being to generate an interest in the subject before you begin teaching and to make them realise at the earliest stage that A-levels involve independent learning. Those who are put off at this stage wouldn't have made it to the end of the course anyway.
2. There isn't too much you can do here except nag at them and give them examples of students who have underachieved in previous years. One area I have had some success in is talking to parents and persuading them to offer more moral (and even financial) support - (but be careful how you phrase this) - I was surprised at how many students are expected to contribute to the household or at least be 'self-sufficient' once they finish GCSEs
3. Keep raising the issue of teaching time in HODs meetings, even put it into your department reviews and development plans. e.g. 'aim: to push for more teaching time' 'considering our limited teaching time, the results this year were particularly pleasing'
4. Take risks and try different teaching methods but plan them well, deliver them with enthusiasm and have a 'plan b'
5. (see also 1 above) and insist on having an input on those opting for your subject next year.
6. Not much can be done about this - its a result of New Labour and market forces in post 16 education.
I'll have another think and try to offer some examples of lesson activities and strategies I have used which have been successful.
Edited by gav, 08 June 2006 - 02:57 PM.