GCSE Whizz Kids

Last year, eight of our Year Five children studied for a GCSE in ICT (alongside their parents and three members of staff). During their ICT lessons in Year Four, I soon became aware that these children were exceptionally gifted at ICT. Whatever challenge I threw at them, they were able to do it and do it well! I was able to provide lots of enrichment activities, but felt that the children had a right to a more rigorous learning experience.

I first had the notion of primary school children studying for GCSE ICT seven years ago when I was an NQT in Wales. Bizarrely, back then I also had a group of children who I was convinced would be able to access ICT at GCSE level. I researched the possibility, but met huge resistance from the entire staff at my one-form-entry village school. The Examination Boards were not interested either. Seven years on and being somewhat wiser and a lot pushier, I was able to sell the idea to Mr Brownsword – my Head Teacher – as well as other staff. This time, before approaching the Examination Boards, I researched them thoroughly in order to identify the most appropriate for our requirements. I decided on the WJEC Board as I really liked their syllabus. Also, as someone who had no experience of marking coursework, I reasoned that the WJEC’s method for awarding marks left no room for ambiguity – the children had either achieved the mark, or they hadn’t.

I contacted the WJEC and was delighted to speak to Ian Carey, the Subject Officer for ICT, who, after describing the children’s ability to him, was also convinced that the children would be able to access ICT at this level. Ian visited me a few weeks later to run through the various elements of the GCSE, as well as spending some time looking at the administrative tasks that I would need to complete throughout the year. Not only would I be teaching the GCSE, but I would be the Examinations Officer as well!

After speaking to the children’s parents and gaining permission from them, I invited the parents themselves to study the GCSE. All eight children were represented by seven parents (two of the children are twins) and one, by one, three members of staff attached themselves to the project. After offering various timeslots, parents reached the consensus that we should study the GCSE on a Friday after school for two hours. I didn’t expect this time slot to work, but it did. Even when parents had other commitments, such as work, children attended and were supported by another adult. Missed sessions were generally made up at various slots during the week. Two of the parents in particular appeared to be living in the ICT Suite when the coursework deadline was approaching!

I am absolutely delighted with the children’s maintained enthusiasm for the GCSE project over the year and incredibly proud of the results that they achieved. In case you are wondering what grades the children got, here they are: 1A*, 4As and 3Cs (the seven parents and three staff members collected another 5As, 3Bs and 2Cs between them).

A high point of the project was the comradery that developed among the group. Parents, in particular, were a huge source of inspiration – often dashing in on a Friday afternoon straight from work and diving straight on to a computer to complete the next part of their coursework. My hunch that the children would be better at the practical elements of the GCSE, whilst the adults would be better at the revision part of the GCSE, became reality and this created a fantastically collaborative environment with each group scaffolding each others’ learning.

Coursework was another high point. As the deadline approached, it became clear that some of the candidates were doing extremely well. When marking the coursework, there was a fantastic ‘heart in my mouth’ moment when the A* grade pupil appeared to have scored the maximum 63 marks. At just ten years old, this was impressive! After an internal argument, I was able to convince myself that the full 63 marks should be awarded – “the children had either achieved the mark, or they hadn’t” and, in this instance, Cameron had achieved them all!

The low points of the project for me revolve mainly around the Examinations Officer role. This was so time consuming as I had to set up everything from scratch. For example, I had to apply for my school to be come an Examinations Centre, write policies, make the necessary security arrangements, meet JCQ regulations, learn how to access and use the WJEC’s Walled Garden, create UCIs (Unique Candidate Identifiers), send off the required paperwork at the correct timeslots over the year, and ensure that all candidates had the correct information recorded in the correct places at the correct times.

Another low point was receiving a phone call from WJEC to say that our Coursework Moderator had not received our coursework sample. This left a particularly nasty taste in my mouth as we had struggled to meet the deadline, but managed it with three days to spare. With the time remaining, I managed to mark and moderate all the coursework and then phoned WJEC to double check the procedure for sending coursework. I wanted to use a courier, but the WJEC preferred First Class Royal Mail delivery as many of their moderators do not want the inconvenience of collecting parcels from the Sorting office. Apparently, our moderator moved house during the window for coursework collection and, despite having a redirection in place, did not receive our coursework. Unfortunately, it was not a simple case of printing out the coursework again, as each section had several hand drawn drafts which would also be awarded marks.

Exam Day was probably the most stressful part of the project for everyone concerned and I attempted to keep things as light-hearted as possible by placing snacks and drinks on the tables set up in the hall (the correct distance apart, of course!). We had completed several mock exams in the hall, so everyone knew what to expect. Mr Brownsword introduced the exam (as the main teacher, I was not allowed to lead invigilation, although I could be present) and everyone opened their papers and gave the exam their very best shot. There was a moment of light relief when a JCQ Officer appeared to conduct a monitoring visit and he tripped over in the hall!

So that’s the story of our GCSE project! My next post will also involve the GCSE Whizz Kids. Please visit if you can.

14 Comments

  1. Lulu says:

    Well done Miss Hill. That’s 100% A*-C. We struggle to get our 95% A*-C from 16year olds, and we know exactly how much hard work is involved. Of course, we have an exams officer – so I’m even more impressed by your achievement.

    If you want a job in my ICT department in an East London secondary school, get in touch!
    : )

  2. @creativeedu says:

    This is just incredible!

    I have included your post in my Daily Digest of educational blog posts as I thought it would be of interest to other teachers. (in fact, I created the category of Post of the Day just for you!) You can see it here: http://bit.ly/a345eQ

  3. Dughall McCormick says:

    A heart-lifting post Michelle! I can’t add to all that others have already said except to offer my own congratulations on a phenomenal achievement for you, parents, staff but especially those amazing children.

  4. @mathsatschool says:

    Wow! A fantastic achievement, for you, and for your students (children AND adults)! Well done.

  5. jackie schneider says:

    Wow!

    Was initially rather cynical it was ploy for publicity for school but the fact you took parents and staff with you soon persuaded me it was attempt to meet the needs of your learners.

    I am very impressed. It reminds me how much we constantly under estimate our children.

    I am glad we still have teachers like you.

  6. Phil McLear says:

    Well, this is fantastic. It was brave enough to have the idea but I am very impressed that you went through with it – especially all the hoops I know you have jumped through. Give my congratulations to all those who partook.

    Well done.

    Phil

  7. Fantastic! A huge achievement for you, the students, their parents, and I’m sure a great experience for staff to sit a GCSE too. Absolutely love that the parents got so involved, we struggle so often in Secondary to get parents to understand the sheer quantity of work that their children do. Inspirational story, thank you.

  8. ebd35 says:

    I too agree with all David…and the others have said. What a fabulous accomplishment you have succeeded in doing and what lucky children to have such a determined person as an inspirational role model!

    I have instantly emailed this to our ICT teacher as just today we had been talking about how some children in primary are soooo advanced in their ICT skills, knowledge and application.

  9. A really interesting story, and a great start to your blog. I love the way that you have described the shared experience the group had. This really broke through my initial skepticism as to how valuable doing a qualification like this would be at this age. It sounds like a great experience for all participants, and one I’m sure that will influence their approach to qualifications for many years.

    A great achievement for both the learners and yourself. =)

  10. Dave Stacey says:

    Wow!

    A fantastic achievement, a great idea – especially involving the parents. Something that could (and should) really catch on.

    Huge congratulations to all involved

  11. DianneSpencer says:

    Wow indeed! What a fantastic result! Keep up the great work!

  12. Simon Haughton says:

    I agree with David – the ambition and dedication you had to deliver the course is amazing.

    You should be extremely proud of what you’ve achieved and the high grades your candidates got!

    Wow!!!!

  13. John Sutton says:

    I know that the children and their parents will, rightly, be getting all the plaudits for this project, but in my view you’ve demonstrated just as much grit and determination as they have to see the project through. A fantastic achievement all round.

    I’d have loved to seen the look of the year 7 leader at their secondary schools when they found out that they had students who had passed their GCSE arriving! 🙂

  14. WOW!!
    Honestly, that is SUCH an achievement! I don’t even know where to begin in leaving this comment. I think I need to go away, think about all that you must have done and come back and finish my comment! I have never read anything that has left me so impressed!

    Well done!

    I’ll be back! Well, I’ll definitely be back to see how you next blog posts beats that!! lol

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