Last week we received the lists of our GCSE cohort for next year. Those lovely Year 9’s who have opted to take possibly one of the most challenging GCSE in the current school curriculum – history. Its always a delight when you see the names on the list of those from the top few sets. The nice, engaged, naturally bright, skilled thinkers and writers that will make your life so easy when delivering the units of work. They’re always welcome because they make your day-to-day life in the classroom so much easier (teaching as opposed to crowd control) and come results-day, its a joy for all. You also can’t help noticing the few names that make you think “why?” The one’s who have spent their Key Stage 3 time causing you pain and despair make and all you can wonder is if your GCSE class will be more of the same, or that they might actually mature-up, raise their game and offer you a few positive surprises on the course.
Then after noticing a few names on the list, the ethical dilemmas started to kick in. These names are the students from my SEND group. Amazing, lovely students whom I have nurtured and taught history with for the past three years. The ethical issues kick in because, knowing these kids inside and out for the past three years leaves me no doubt that they would never pass a GCSE in history if they did the course for the next ten years. With the learning difficulties that they experience, simply accessing the material would prove too much, as their reading ages would mean that even the most basic sources would be almost impossible to understand. Sadly, this drew up a number of issues, especially after having a difficult conversation with one of those students at the end of the day, trying desperately to steer her away from taking the subject while at the same time trying to offer support to her in making the right choice.
The issues are not straight forward. This particular student told me that she loves the subject and has enjoyed learning history with me for the last three years. Of course, this is very flattering, and I have cherished the relationship that I have built with that group of students throughout their time at school. I have no doubt that she would give me 100% as she has done in KS3. However, I also have no doubt that she would struggle to get anything above a U grade because her SEND issues make it very difficult for her to read and write to a level which would help her achieve anything higher.
I find this a sad situation because I feel that whatever advice I could give would always have a negative pay-off. To allow this student to take the GCSE in History is potentially setting her up for two years of hell, which could dent her confidence to no end, because she would be so far behind the rest of the group. This “every child matters” culture that we have adopted can work in different ways. Allowing her to make the choice could have a huge negative impact on her general happiness in school. In saying that, telling her she cannot do a subject because it would be too difficult for her could have the same results. Irrespective of the negative result this would give the department, this choice has to be about the pupil and what is best for her, and to set her up to fail just simply doesn’t sit right with me. It seemed like a no-win situation.
I still don’t know if I’ve done the right thing. I have a policy of being as honest as possible with my students. I told her how hard history was at GCSE and that it is really different from KS3. I showed her a GCSE textbook and asked her if she thought she could remember most of the stuff in it after reading it. Her response was worrying because she quite simply cannot forsee what she is letting herself in for. So I left it with her by saying that I would support any decision she might make and help her with anything she needs. It still feels wrong though, because I know that all the help in the world won’t get her the grade she would want, which makes any choice a difficult one.