60-second interview: Trevor Aitkenhead

60 second interviewTrevor Aitkenhead is a CIEA Associate. He is a former Head of Mathematics and retired from teaching in 2012 after 35 years. He currently works as a school timetabler and exam admin assistant in Northern Ireland.

What is your role in assessment and how long have you been in this role?

During my teaching career as a classroom teacher I was constantly involved in assessing pupils’ work – homework, classwork, tests, end of term exams, end of year exams. I was also involved in assessing GCSE coursework for both mathematics and computer studies. As a teacher I also had to assess the levels of my pupils at Key Stage 3 based on test results and portfolio tasks.  I have acted as an assistant examiner (marker) for GCSE mathematics and GCSE additional (further) mathematics.

In 1997 I completed a course certified by RSA in relation to Planning and Assessment of units for GNVQ courses – I was involved in assessing student portfolios for Application of Number. I was also involved in assessing student portfolios for Edexcel Key Skills Application of Number Levels 1-3 and was the Quality Nominee for my centre. I have also been involved in the administration of both internal and external examinations in my school – drafting exam timetables, entries for external examinations for the various exam bodies, and invigilation in the exam halls.

What are the rewards and challenges of your job?

The rewards of my job as a teacher was seeing the progress made by my pupils of various abilities. It was particularly rewarding to see pupils who came to my school (most of whom had “failed” the 11-plus or opted out of doing the 11-plus tests) achieving good and in many cases excellent GCSE results in my subject area, and some going on to study the subject at GCE A Level. There have been various challenges over the years – keeping up to date with constantly changing syllabi and programmes of study imposed on teachers, changes in GCSE mathematics courses and of course dealing with some pupils who lacked motivation or who generally disliked school or the subject! I always tried to encourage my pupils to do their best and make the subject as interesting and relevant as possible.

What would you change about the assessment and qualifications system if you could?

There have been so many changes over the years  - when I began teaching in secondary education there were two types of qualifications on offer for students, depending on their ability – CSE or GCE O Levels.  We then progressed to GCSE with grades ranging from A-G; then the A* grade was introduced. In my subject area there were originally 3 levels at GCSE - foundation, intermediate and higher tiers.  Then this was changed to 2 tiers - foundation and higher. Lately the grading system has changed again with grades 9 to 1, and for some exam bodies a C* grade has been introduced.

All these changes are confusing for the general public and, I would imagine, for employers. Change can be good but can also be confusing! I preferred the letter grading (A* to G) because everyone knew that a grade C was regarded as a good pass at GCSE. When I did O Levels back in 1971 the grades were 1 – 9 with 1 being the top grade and 9 the lowest grade and grades 1-6 were regarded as passes – equivalent to C or above today! Now 9 is the top grade and 1 the bottom grade. I would like to see a simpler grading system for GCSE and have it standardised between all exam bodies.

Why are you a member of the CIEA?

I read about the CIEA and at that time I was so involved in assessment in my school that I felt it would be good to be a member of a body which was primarily interested in a professional approach to assessment at all levels. I applied to be an associate member and was accepted and have found the various publications from the CIEA both informative and interesting. It is good to keep abreast of developments!