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In part one of this two-part blog post, I’ll take a look back on my first two years of being lead monitor for the Practical Endorsement in A Level sciences. This is my take on what I do, and what I’m looking for, when I’m on a visit and I’m pleased to be able to share my experience with you.
One of the first things I say on a visit is that I am not an inspector – this isn’t OFSTED – and I am here to support. The key thing is that as a monitor, we are looking at the centre’s implementation of the Practical Endorsement. If things aren’t quite right we give as much advice and support as possible to get things in line with the set of standards agreed across all exam boards. Of course with anything new and unknown, it is only natural to find some teachers a little worried about the visit, because let’s face it – we teachers just want to get it right for our students.
On arrival, I look forward to meeting the science team.
The next big thing is all about coffee. Over coffee we have a chat about how it’s been going with the Practical Endorsement, and during this conversation I usually hear the same things each time:
I’ve also often heard how much better skilled the first cohort of year 12s were compared to the year 13s at the time (who were on the old courses). The idea of the Practical Endorsement is about improving students’ skills. This has to be done over a minimum of twelve activities and cover all of the apparatus as detailed by the Department for Education (DfE). It’s not about ‘passing’ twelve activities, which has been a common misconception amongst teachers. This has often meant that some teachers were looking for perfection before recording their assessments of students.
Teachers who have accessed the OCR standardisation training before doing the assessments have had a better idea of what to look for from students. Due to the pressures of time, some teachers have left the training until a quite a way into the course; after doing it, they have become enlightened and immediately ‘get it’, explaining how they misunderstood things in the earlier tasks they did and have changed things recently. I often find teachers have printed out the certificate and pinned it to their notice board! I haven’t yet found one framed, so if anyone wants to do that I’d be quite impressed! We check the completion of the training electronically anyway – it is a mandatory requirement – so don’t worry about printing it out!
The assessment of students’ competence is based on teachers’ observations and we trust your professional judgement. We know a teacher is the best placed person to assess their students on the skills they display during a practical activity – after all they see them daily, and it can’t be evidenced in any other way. As monitor all I do is check the teacher’s record of their assessment of skills. The student work can only corroborate a handful of strands and does not need to contain marked or annotated evidence. It is of course useful to feed back to students as the Practical Endorsement lends itself very well to assessment for learning, but I advise this takes place in whatever form suits the teachers and students.
This has led to a variety of approaches. The fundamental thing to stress is that there is no ‘right’ way of doing it – it depends on your teaching style, personality and cohort of students. Some teachers update their tracker live during the lesson, others at the end. Others make notes, or just jot down who hasn’t achieved a particular strand. Some teachers have gone to great lengths making grids and sheets to tick off each skill. The main thing is to remember that you keep a record of assessment in a form that works for you.
In part two of this blog I’ll talk about observing practical lessons and checking teachers’ and students’ records.
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Lead monitor for the Practical Endorsement