Outstanding: The Most Excellent Drama GCSE

It is often remarked upon that examining the arts can only be subjective. I thought I would explore that by looking at the assessment criteria for Edexcel GCSE Drama.

The GCSE is split into three units. Units one and two involve ‘practical exploration’ lessons and written coursework, unit three is a performance that is marked entirely in most cases by one visiting examiner. Units one and two are marked by the teacher and overseen by the exam board who moderate the teachers marking by looking at her schemes of work, her justifications for the marks she has awarded, a couple of videos of some of the work covered and a sample of the pieces of ‘documentary evidence’. Unit three counts as 40% and is ‘the exam’ and unit one and two add up to 60%.

The teacher decides on what themes and texts to study and also what is covered in the lessons. There is not a universal standard of difficulty. Some candidates will be challenged more than others depending on their teacher. The teacher teaches the lesson at the same time as marking it. Video evidence though called for is often difficult to use for assessment purposes, if you can imagine thirty children all ‘responding’ in different ways some very close to the camera, some out of shot and some very far away. Inevitably there will be moments when one pupils torso obscures the camera’a view of the rest of the cohort and as for picking up what is being said all the time, forget it. The practical exploration for unit one and two will take place over twelve hours and most teachers will video all of this and send off the ‘best’ two one hour videos that they can. This then is entirely subjective, it depends so much on what the teacher does and how good she is at teaching and marking at the same time. The moderation process looks at the teacher’s written evidence of what went on and uses spurious video evidence on which to judge the teacher’s marks. The teacher also comments on what is seen on the video. The moderator is therefore looking at what the teacher says in light of the video. The teacher will be using the mark scheme in order to inform what she writes.

The mark scheme at the ‘top’ end, in other words depending on how the grades fall each year this can be anything from an A* to a C is this:

Unit One:

33-40 Practical Exploration

There is an outstanding understanding of the dramatic potential of the theme/topic/issue. There is an in-depth response to the use of strategies, elements and medium and a creative and collaborative involvement in all practical tasks which are committed and focused. Communication of ideas demonstrates an outstanding creative and imaginative facility that clearly benefits both the student and the work of others.

25-32 

There is an excellent understanding of the dramatic potential of the theme/topic/issue. There is an assured use of strategies, elements and medium and a creative and collaborative involvement in all practical tasks which are committed and focused. Communication of ideas demonstrates an excellent creative and imaginative facility that benefits the student’s work and has some effect on the work of others.

The teacher has to decide whether a piece of work is ‘outstanding’ or ‘excellent’. In the Oxford English Dictionary the word outstanding is defined as: Exceptionally good and the first synonym mentioned is: Excellent. In the same publication ‘excellent’ is defined as: ‘Extremely good; outstanding’ with the first three synonyms being: very good, superb, outstanding…  It is clear that these adjectives are extraordinarily difficult to pin down in anything like an objective way.

The teacher also has to work out the following differences: ‘In depth’ means ‘comprehensive and thorough’ whereas ‘assured’ means ‘confident’. The creative and imaginative facility that: ‘clearly benefits’ the student seems to be therapeutic whereas the excellent creative and imaginative facility benefits the student’s work. Bear in mind the teacher is looking for this at the same time as teaching a class of, maybe, thirty children… Can the teacher be assured, comprehensive and thorough, and be confident in her in-depth assessments?

Does the written work marking shed any light?

Documentary response

17-20

There is an outstanding evaluation of the student’s understanding of the explored theme, topic or issue. The use of strategies and medium shows an outstanding knowledge of how they contribute to the creation of dramatic form. There is an outstanding response to the work of others demonstrating a highly perceptive appreciation of the collaborative involvement required.

13-16

There is an excellent evaluation of the student’s understanding of the explored theme, topic or issue. The use of strategies and medium shows an excellent knowledge of how they contribute to the creation of dramatic form. There is an excellent response to the work of others demonstrating a considerable appreciation of the collaborative involvement required.

The range of marks then for the written again comes down to the teacher’s understanding of the difference between ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’ and then some idea of where the line between ‘highly perceptive’ and ‘considerable’ is drawn especially as this reflects a pupil’s ‘appreciation’ which is, in itself, highly subjective a term and very difficult to judge.

Unit two is not much help either:

Unit two:

Practical Exploration:

25-30

Student’s practical exploration shows an outstanding understanding of the text. There is a fluent use of strategies, elements and medium and a creative and collaborative involvement in all practical tasks which are committed and focused. Communication of ideas shows an outstanding knowledge and understanding of plot, character, form and structure.

19-24

Student’s practical exploration and understanding of text is excellent showing imaginative use of strategies, elements and medium and sustained, collaborative involvement in all practical tasks. Communication reveals an excellent knowledge and understanding of plot, character, form and structure effectively in all practical activities.

Again we have the problems of where to draw the line between excellent and outstanding. Then we have the difficulty in deciding what is fluent and what is imaginative. Is imaginative one step below fluent? Your child is very fluent in drama or your child is very imaginative in drama… personally i’d prefer to hear the latter. ‘Sustained’  now rears its head as being lesser than ‘committed  and focused’ whilst ‘all practical tasks’ is preferred to ‘all practical activities’. ‘Showing’ is also better than ‘revealing’…

The written evidence continues in much the same way:

Documentary Evidence:

9-10

Students’ analysis and evaluation of their own work and that of others is outstanding. They show considerable understanding and appreciation of the way the medium and elements of drama are used to interpret a play.

7-8

Students’ analysis and evaluation of their own work and that of others is excellent. They show clear understanding and appreciation of the way the medium and elements of drama are used to interpret a play.

‘Clear’ means: ‘Leaving no doubt; obvious or unambiguous’ I wonder if that could be said of this exam? If a child leaves you in no doubt that they understand and appreciate the work is that not the same as ‘having considerable’ understanding?

As for the Exam itself here is the assessment criteria by which the teacher tries to guide a pupil towards achieving top marks:

EXAM:

Voice and Gesture:

17-20

Vocal skills demonstrate an outstanding use of pace, pitch, pause and tone. Movement demonstrates an outstanding use of gesture, stillness, fluency and expression.

13-16

Vocal skills demonstrate an excellent use of pace, pitch, pause and tone. Movement demonstrates an excellent use of gesture, stillness, fluency and expression.

Roles and Characterisation:

17-20

There is an outstanding demonstration of the creation of role/character showing complete commitment and imagination.

13-16

There is an excellent demonstration of the creation of role/ character showing significant commitment and imagination.

Communication:

17-20

There is outstanding communication with other performers, audience members and the visiting examiner. The sense of rapport with all members of the ensemble is outstanding.

13-16

There is excellent communication with other performers, audience members and the visiting examiner. The sense of rapport with all members of the ensemble is excellent.

Content, Style and form:

17-20

There is outstanding control over the appreciation of the chosen style and form. There is an outstanding understanding of the content of the performance.

13-16

There is excellent control over the appreciation of the chosen style and form. There is an excellent understanding of the content of the performance.

Apart from knowing the difference between the words ‘complete’ and ‘significant’ the teacher has to guide her pupils by trying to discern the difference between outstanding and excellent. And the pupils have to know too…

The examination is assessed by one person with his own ideas as to what is excellent and what is outstanding and with his own biases and tastes…

Can an Arts exam be objective? Surely they can be a bit less subjective than this?

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3 thoughts on “Outstanding: The Most Excellent Drama GCSE

  1. Pingback: drama gcse

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