New Spec Reflections: What’s the Verdict?

I have never hidden the fact that I am loyal to OCR, teaching nearly a thousand students over eight years. But entering my ninth year with a looming new spec, I spent many weeks weighing up the pros and cons of remaining with OCR. My decision: Better the devil you know! (See: Out with the Old and in with the New: OCR Spec Changes) Was this the right decision though?

Interestingly I started writing this post about five weeks ago, with the first round of new spec exams dauntingly close but still two topics to cover in class. So I waited. Not because I didn’t have the time (because whoever has any of that!) but because I wanted to see the exam questions. Were OCR going to let me down at the last hurdle, setting ridiculously hard questions and be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back of a grueling year? Or were they going to be fair and manageable to those students who had put in the work and revision? At that stage I just had no clue – my crystal ball of predictions was on the blink and I just prayed for the best outcome.

So writing now, the day after the first Philosophy exam, I am relieved by the exam questions which seem fair. Questions 1 & 2 were worded short and simple (not the usually long winded wording of OCR – as seen in Q3), also 1 and 2 were left pretty open with no one philosopher specified. This means, in my opinion, that anything relevant to the question will be awarded marks. So I am content with the questions so far but is this blissful ignorance as we approach the second round: new spec ethics? We will see in a week!

So my overall reflections of the year…

Happy with:

  • I surprisingly like most of the new elements of Christian Thought – exploring the foundations of Augustine’s arguments or Bonheoffer’s moral actions were really enjoyable.
  • Kant just being in ethics (where he should be in my view)
  • Linking two ethics topics to one application (I personally really like business ethics, even though others might disagree with me)

Unhappy with:

  • The exam is too short. The timing of 1.15 just seems illogical, going from 45 minutes old spec to 37.5 minutes. This just adds excessive pressure onto students, who will not write better or quicker but just fall back into old habits of describing everything they know.
  • Christian thought topics seem repetitive. Maybe it is because this was the whole new section, so a lot of new lesson plans and power points but so often I just felt that I was either repeating myself or some sections (e.g. in the text book) just seemed unnecessarily dragged out e.g Knowledge of God and Christian Moral Principles could have been merged. I recognise that this was designed originally with the view that some institutions will overlap topics if teaching two units side by side e.g Problem of Evil and Augustine’s Teachings.
  • Too many topics in philosophy – move religious experience to DCT and cut down on repetitive nature of this unit.

However what do my students think? Well I asked them. The results were very mixed which is to be expected as not all students will like the same thing, hence why the course can be seen as so rewarding as it has something for everyone.

Ethics topics were most popular, with some students specifically identifying the application topics as their favourite. However other students hated business, with one student writing “Hate business ethics – if I wanted to study that I would have taken business.”

Mixed reviews on Philosophy, some students liking the variety of topics whereas other students found the content coverage far too much.

Verdict on Christian Thought: like marmite = some students hated it, some students loved it! One student raised a really good point about Christian Thought topics by saying that: “My favourite section was probably Christian Thought because it’s most like what we did in GCSE RS.” This provides some students with familiarity that Philosophy and Ethics might not.

There are three general waves of thought that can be summarized from my students’ views regarding the New Spec:

  1. Too many topics to remember: “Too many topics to remember so need to cut down or info in the topics made shorter.” This again raises a really good point. If all the topics remain then the other option is to cut down what is covered within each. E.g Cosmolgical is improved from old spec now Copleston has been removed yet RE seems to be so specific and dense.
  2. Exam is too short: “The 1.15 exam is fairly unrealistic in terms of how much students are able to write, especially when stressed out and under time pressure.” “Unrealistic time to write 2 good essays – either longer or only answer one question.” “One cannot write a brilliant essay in just over 30 minutes!…The exams NEED to be longer so one can write a fantastic essay rather than a good one which is rushed.”
  3. Very interesting variety of topics: “Good choice of subjects, very interesting”, “The topics are interesting and highly enjoyable.”

Thank you as always to my students for their comments and views 🙂

Please feel free to post your own reflections and comments on the new spec below.


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