Exam Boardroom: The gloves are off!


The all-you-can-eat buffet of exam boards is over (I’ve just returned from Oxford for the Academy Conferences R.S exam boards meeting) and the verdicts are in. OCR offers a content challenging course with clean lines and a seemingly manageable overlap over the two years. AQA appears to offer more questions than answers, with complex layering of exam questions with minimal choices but more manageable content to cover. Newbies Eduqas present a very open, honest ‘we are here to help you’ approach but how transparent is the exam questions and content is unclear over the two years. Edexcel offers a tempting Anthology of original texts to co-teach alongside the main theories, which wets my degree appetite but maybe not my students. And finally Pre – U Cambridge International Examinations (never heard of them – neither had I) offers text based study with Pass/Merit/ Distinction grading but seems to be blissfully unaware of the actual abilities of most 16 year old R.S students (pitching more for public school rigidity and work ethic rather than the reality of the classroom.)

Here is a more in-depth exploration of what is on offer:

OCR (presented by Hugh Campbell)

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  • Current OCR textbooks can be used – still relevant for new spec changes
  • Old DCT text book by Michael Wilcockson provides relevant support
  • A2 writing style prepares students for higher level degree writing.
  • OCR aims for a holistic approach with overlap between topics over two years
  • Text book is currently underway by Hodder
  • Inset training starts hopefully in June
  • Currently awaiting accreditation
  • For a more in-depth exploration of OCR please see my earlier blog on: Out with the Old and in with the New: OCR Spec Changes

AQA (presented by Dr John Frye)

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  • AS approved, A2 finishing touches
  • Synoptic Dialogue section contains no new material but is a combination of the two years. Recommended themes are provided for support. Contains questions focusing on applying philosophy and ethics vs religion.
  • Text book is currently underway.So at this stage choosing between OCR and AQA is like picking between CadburScreen Shot 2016-04-25 at 20.03.00.pngy and Galaxy chocolate.1. OCR on closer analysis seems to provide more manageable content (with fewer units than AQA) even though AQA provides fewer philosophers to focus on.2. OCR also have narrowed down the application field pitching Kant and Util vs Business and NL and Situation Ethics vs euthanasia. Whereas AQA has three topics (NL, SE and Virtue) against two application (human life after death and animal life after death). This suggests that whilst AQA has fewer topics to apply, there are many more possible questions (linking each topic area to a different element of Life after Death). OCR on the other hand narrows the question gap, as there are only so many ways to word a question on Kant’s approach to business for example.

    3. AQA advocates teaching the religious elements alongside the philosophy and ethics sections. At the end of the day the students will still have to sit a separate religion exam paper so this co-teaching might confuse things further.

    4. AQA also seems to over complicate the amount of questions/ marks/ differences between AO1 and Ao2 over the two years. This might not seem a lot but students might become confused over timings/ technique and which questions to answer etc.

    Hence the dilemma!

For a fair fight I will quickly outline the main pointers on offer from the other exam boards.

Eduqas (or more commonly known as WLC/ Welsh Board) (presented by Chris Owens) 

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  • Already approved
  • Amazing resources available to support teachers through the transition including: digital and regional reps, text books, face to face CPD, online exam reviews and paper analysis of results and teachers are only a phone call away from all the help you could need.
  • As you can see from the above table I am missing A2 topics. This is where it became slightly more confusing. Whilst Eduqas appears to only cover four themes at A level this is not the case. They seem to combine AS topics, put the AS topics under new headings and add extras in. The number of units to cover is not even close to the ones added by OCR and AQA but I fear that fewer units means much more depth/ bullet points and potentially more focused questions in the exam.

Edexcel (presented by James Holt)

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  • Only three sections are taught
  • Teachers cannot select New Testament and Christianity as the religion but could teach New Testament and Buddhism for example.
  • Suggested scholars are given for each area (note each area has specific topics within them, which have often been counted separately in the above  exam board tables).
  • Equal time should not be given between the different sections and should be allotted time according to the content to cover.
  • An Anthology of original text sections is provided to be taught alongside the topics and is Sec B – source question in the A level exam paper (students are given a text extract which they have to answer two essay questions on).
  • Sec C at A level is very similar to AQA’s synoptic dialogue section. No new material just a combination of knowledge.
  • As you can see in the above table I have not separated sections into Ao1 and Ao2. Why? Because it is so confusing with Edexcel. Some questions are split into 1)2) others a)b) with marks varying from 8 – 30 so A01 and Ao2 differ throughout the exam.

Conclusions…Edexcel looks thrilling, engaging and a creative display of philosophy, ethics and religion. It just looks too complicated. Not the content itself but the structure, layout and overall expectations of students to read the questions, sections and marking properly in the exam= too challenging. Eduqas sound very good but without closer examination of their actual results, exam questions, rigour in marking etc I am not willing to jump onto the newest ship yet. My battle is between OCR and AQA (and has been from the start of this decision making process). Do I leave my comfy slippers of OCR behind for the gamble of more units but fewer names or more exam questions but a variety of marks given for all ability students with AQA? Or stick with what I know?

At some point we will have to get off the fence and make a decision (just like we tell our students when they are writing their essays). I’ve made my decision.

Please note all comments and tables are my own interpretation of the talks given and may be subject to change and/ or interpretational errors.

Also many thanks to Academy Conferences for arranging the event. To see more Academy Conference events go to: http://www.academyconferences.com

5 thoughts on “Exam Boardroom: The gloves are off!

  1. Thanks Aimee. This is particularly helpful especially since due to unforeseen circumstances I wasn’t able to attend the Academy Conference. Was there any idea of when the specs would be approved and/or textbooks published?

    1. Frustratingly only Eduqas has been fully accredited. The other exam boards could not say for definite when they will have the go ahead. Text books are all in the pipeline with publishers but again no specifics given. Whilst they hope they will be available before the start of teaching in Sept this cannot be guaranteed. Fortunately if you are currently teaching OCR there is a lot of overlap between old and new spec. I’m not sure about the overlap between AQA materials.

  2. Richard Smith

    I thought that the presentation from CiE tried to make it clear that students who could take an A Level could also take a Pre U course. I accept that the introduction of texts looks like a huge new area to tackle, but the amount of content in the new A Levels potentially balances this out? CiE also have examiners’ reports and mark schemes for previous exams, which will be pretty useful in comparison to untested A Level courses. It also struck me that the overlap between the current OCR course and Pre U is really quite substantial.

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