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Members' Update: What happens on a practical monitoring visit and how to improve practice (Part 2)

6 February 2017

Members' Update: What happens on a practical monitoring visit and how to improve practice (Part 2)

How well are the new arrangements for A-level Common Practical Assessment Criteria (CPAC) and practical monitoring visits working?

Last month, Head of Science and 11-19 committee member, Sarah Longshaw CSciTeach recounted her experience of delivering the new Chemistry A-Level specifications (OCR) in What happens on a practical monitoring visit and how to improve practice?

Today we wanted to feature perspectives from the other exam boards, what they have found was working well and where they have identified areas for improvement.

Thanks to Catherine Witter from AQA and Damian Riddle from Edexcel for providing us with this very useful feedback: 


AQA

Three aspects that we found were working well:

  • Most teachers have now accessed our lead teacher online training modules and taken the short assessment, the certificate for which is presented at the monitoring visit. 
  • The additional resources, signposted through our regular email updates and Practically Speaking blog, have been very well received. During our monitoring visits, we can see evidence of their use, particularly the AQA electronic tracker to help house and track data.
  • Our teacher adviser model – teachers supporting teachers – is extremely well received. The application process is rigorous but the 150 or so teachers who have worked with AQA in the last 12 months have told me how valuable they have found their role.  Face to face work with teachers from different schools has expanded their own repertoire of ideas for planning, assessment and tracking of CPAC. 

Thank you very much for your support during your visit, for putting us at ease over the inspection and for explaining the wider picture to us. It was helpful to know that we are mainly doing things right, but also your sharing good practice from other centres and suggestions about ways to improve our practice here were very feasible and realistic. So we will be able to incorporate these into our teaching.  - Feedback from London Teacher, AQA

Three areas for improvement:

  • If teachers don’t engage with the full specification, our practical handbooks, our training materials and best practice exemplar materials, they have struggled to pass their first visit. This has often meant that there have been difficult conversations between leadership and the lead teacher at the school or college to ensure a second visit runs more smoothly.
  • Moving forward I feel strongly that the awarding bodies can work collectively to support teachers filling a skills gap that has presented itself due to the last 20 years or so of controlled assessments. Teachers in our experience are very keen to re-hone their practical skills so that they can share good practice effectively with their students. Plans for this are in the early stages of development. However, teachers who want to come along and do the 12 required practicals with us and consider how they might assess CPAC through these experiences can book onto one of our established courses this Spring Term.
  • The resources that we sometimes find in schools are not supporting the practical endorsement for students as well as they might. Teachers reported this to us also when we surveyed them in the summer 2016. 

Edexcel

Encouraging the students to take responsibility for their own competence and for their own coverage of the compulsory techniques and apparatus. This will enrich their learning experience. - Damian Riddle, Edexcel

Three aspects that we found were working well:

  • Centres are, by a massive majority, acting with huge professionalism in their desire to get this new assessment right.
  • The training and guidance available has been very beneficial to those who make the most of all that is available.
  • We are seeing students doing practical work and taking it all more seriously than they did when it was not such a central part of the curriculum. They want to do it well, and mostly they are.

Three areas for improvement:

  • Centres need to work to standardise what is meant by a ‘Pass’ for the CPAC, standardise across teachers in the same subject and across the three subjects. Bigger centres will find this more difficult and more important.
  • Centres will likely develop their own way of delivering the Practical Endorsement, so far they are understandably following the board’s advice. Using the CPAC with practicals that suit them will enrich the students’ experience of the practical work.
  • Encouraging the students to take responsibility for their own competence and for their own coverage of the compulsory techniques and apparatus. This will enrich their learning experience.