BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Education
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Hot Topics 
UK Systems 
League Tables 
Features 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 
Wednesday, 3 May, 2000, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Unfinished courses bring exam panic
exam room
Horror moment: Question not covered by course
Some teenagers are complaining that with only a few weeks to go before their GCSE exams - when most are busy revising - their teachers still have not finished their courses.

In some cases the problem is that their course teachers have left and the lessons have been covered - or not - by a series of temporary supply teachers.

Students are posting messages on internet bulletin boards saying it is unfair and something should be done.

HAVE YOUR SAY

"Suicide is becoming a very attractive alternative," writes one girl.

"Fight for your rights," says another.

But ultimately the only redress of sorts that individual pupils have is to complain to the local education authority - exam boards say they cannot review test papers on the basis of inadequate teaching.

Read your views and experiences

'Should be sacked'

On BBC Education's Bitesize revision service message boards, one GCSE student writes: "I know my teacher can't teach either she hasn't even finished the syllabus and the exam is three weeks away she hasn't helped with the non-calculator paper either she should be sacked I only know what I know because of my maths tutor."

Another replies: "I know exactly how ya feel. Our English teacher hasn't finished our syllabus yet!!!!! That's why I'm here trying 2 do it my self on this programme!!!! How do they expect you 2 pass ya exams when they don't even teach you!!!"

The messages have struck a chord with others.

"Both my physics teacher and my chemistry teacher STILL haven't finished teaching the syllabus and it's not long till the GCSE's start! I tried a revision 'test bite' and I was crap!

"I need a C grade or above in science for what I want to be in the future! But I really don't want to re-sit my exams because of these two hopeless teachers!! People have complained but they are still 'teaching' - it's not fair on us!"

'Nervous breakdown'

Another writer who is in a much happier position adds: "I think u betta get ya parents to in to school cause this is your future your teachers r playin with en its not fair.

"Most of my teachers have finished the syllabus. & r going over the complicated parts that people don't quite understand. GOOD LUCK & FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS."

This is followed by a despairing note from a girl whose information technology teacher left at Christmas "cos he had a nerv. breakdown and whateva" and who has since had "3 dappy supply teachers".

"This really isn't right and sommat should be done, with now 12 dayz to go till my IT exam, suicide is becomin a very attractive alternative and no teenz should feel like we do ..." she writes.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which oversees the curriculum and the assessment system, sympathises but says there is nothing it can do.

A spokesman said complaints would go initially to a school's head teacher. In exceptional circumstances they could approach the exam boards.

This happens every year when major mistakes are made, such as the wrong books being taught in English.

Major illness

Exam boards say they try to ensure that students are not penalised when that sort of thing happens.

But a school's failure to get through the work for a course is a different matter.

At the AQA board, spokesman George Turnbull said: "It's a case of whether you have got a good teacher or a bad teacher."

Special consideration would usually only be given where, say, a student was suffering from a major illness.

A syllabus typically covers far more than will form the subject of exam questions, and a risky strategy adopted by some teachers is to concentrate in more detail on aspects they think are most likely to come up, rather than try to cover everything in less depth.

But with exams only weeks away teachers would typically by now be getting their students doing practice papers and going over previous work - not continuing to teach new work.

Tell us your experiences.

Send us your comments:
Name:

Your E-mail Address:


Country:

Comments:

Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.


Your views and experiences



Teachers are organising lessons at the weekend to finish the courses.

Dan, UK
Just to say that it happens in every school. I'm an A level student attending an unnamed independent school that regularly comes in the top ten...and even this year, teachers are organising lessons at the weekend to finish the courses. Perhaps the problem is the exam boards trying to put too much into one exam? An irrational bias towards quantity above quality, seems to matter to the exams boards at GCSE, mores than A-level.
Dan, UK

I can not agree more, I took my GCSE's a few years ago and exactly the same happened to me, not only did our science teacher not finish as syllabus, we lost 20% of the paper because one major section in our exam had not been covered.
Adrian Smith, Devon, UK



Raising standards is imperative, just don't expect the staff to follow suit if they remain poorly paid and motivated.

Nik, UK
Anyone who was doing the very first GCSE exams back in 1987 will remember that our learning curves were badly effected by teachers strikes (Baker Days). This issue is sadly not some great revelation it seems to be inherent in education and will continue to be until there is an some kind of overhaul of the system. Raising standards is imperative, just don't expect the staff to follow suit if they remain poorly paid and motivated.
Nik, UK

I can sympathise, the same thing happened to us at GCSE with some subjects But, in others, especially at A level we finished the syllabus in March, having rushed through, and then were forced through revision, by the exams we were totally stale and sick to death of the whole subject.
Katie, England.



Find the syllabus, work through it on your own if you have to.

CB, Spain
This certainly isn't a new problem. There should be some form of redress for these pupils. However once you have completed one set of qualifications, previous ones no longer matter. I am 26 and have already stopped putting my A level qualifications on my CV, concentrating instead on other qualifications and experience. All is not lost. Find the syllabus, work through it on your own if you have to, and remember that the next qualification is much more important.
CB, Spain

Who cares whether people spell correctly in e-mails or not? The fact that they are using "short-hand" does not mean that they are stupid, unruly, or unnecessarily spiteful towards teachers. Maybe teachers that cannot understand the language used by today's youth should not be doing a job where it is necessary to be able to communicate and interact with the students.
Tim, UK



I have tried to use my syllabus, revision guides and text books to teach myself but surely that's what the teacher is for!!!

Sarah, England
I can totally sympathise!!!!! Our biology and physics teachers have both nowhere near reached the end of the syllabus and have missed out great chunks of what we have done!!! I have tried to use my syllabus, revision guides and text books to teach myself but surely that's what the teacher is for!!! Especially as all the stuff that we have to go through is the "higher" stuff.
Sarah, England

Many correspondents flag up the issue of temporary and supply teachers covering their lessons, and one person writes of sudden departures of staff being "badly handled". Students and their parents are painfully unaware of the severe recruitment crisis affecting schools, which makes sudden departures very difficult to fill at short notice.
Furthermore, do students realise that teachers are obliged to give at least half a term's notice? Therefore, if your maths teacher leaves in mid-year, it may be a whole term before he/she can be properly replaced. It's pointless complaining about it - schools can't do anything about the situation.
Helen, UK

I am in 11th grade and have an AP History test to take next week. Our teacher hasn't taught us how to properly write the document based question or the free response essays. Despite the fact the exam is next week, we did not begin a review of nearly two years worth of information that we should have been taught until this week.
John, US



Modularisation is one solution.

C Mistry, UK
In my opinion, modularisation is one solution. Most degrees and A-Levels are becoming modular, and I believe that GCSE's should do the same. It would resolve a lot of the problems that have been mentioned.
I did a modular A-level course, and the degree I am reading is modular-based. The last time I experienced the "too-much-work-in-too-little-time" scenario was when I did my GCSE's (which weren't modular). The only drawback to this is that students as young as 14 may need to take exams.
C Mistry, UK

Can those students say, with their hands on their hearts, that they have allowed the teachers to get on with teaching the subject for the past two years. Unfortunately they often don't realise, until it's too late, that it's not clever to disrupt lessons and waste valuable teaching time. Do they ever wonder why they have so many substitute teachers?
Elizabeth, Malaysia



There are so many superb professionals who shouldn't have their reputations tarnished because of the short-comings of others.

Greg, Scotland
I had two contrasting experiences when I sat my A-levels in England. My Geography teacher was vastly inexperienced and taught us lots of irrelevant material hence I under-performed in my exam although I still achieved and acceptable grade.
In stark contrast my Russian teachers were brilliant. Our class worked through the syllabus at a steady rate, finishing it in time to re-cover any aspects of the course we wanted to. On top of this we were encouraged to seek them out after class if necessary, and they were prepared to give up their spare time to help us.
Although I can empathise with those who are frustrated, we must forget that there are so many superb professionals who shouldn't have their reputations tarnished because of the short-comings of others. I firmly believe teachers should gain a certain amount of experience before teaching classes for important exams such as GCSE and A-level.
Greg, Scotland

Degree students experience this situation every year, as part of their course. The time between finishing a year long course and taking the exam at my university can be as short as one week. Coursework deadlines are also structured to coincide with this date. So one week of revision really is in some cases one week of available time.
Chris Homewood, UK

It's not a new problem. When I took English for A level in 1963 we discovered that the master had given us the wrong books to study for two years. Needless to say we all failed!!
Bob, England



It doesn't help when our electronics teacher is never here and never sets us any work to do.

Ben Coates, England
We have a similar problem at our school. I am doing coursework at the moment but it doesn't help when our electronics teacher is never here and never sets us any work to do. We normally spend lessons doing worksheets which the supply teacher cannot help us with, which we don't understand and that no other teachers in the school no about.
In the worst case we didn't get set any work at all and spent a whole double lesson talking instead, with no supply teacher either. He has been away constantly either for long periods of time or intermittently, and he moans at us when he comes back for not doing work which we were not set.
I think schools and teachers should get their act together and instead of debating whether to go on strike they should think more about our future and have adequate systems in place to prevent such problems from happening.
Ben Coates, England

Pupils are being treated as numbers (again) - and not very significant numbers, at that! Why doesn't someone stand up for them? Where are the headmasters? The teachers? The LEAs? Are the media ignoring them, or is the profession silent?
AJ, UK

Many of the people complaining about their poor teachers are writing in a ludicrous (or is it supposed to be "cool") manner. By writing in this way, people give the impression of being slack and unprepared to buckle down and work.
If these students want to achieve high grades in their exams, they should be setting themselves into the right frame of mind. Around exam time, you should start to take every opportunity to practice essay and writing skills, and to "elevate your mind".
You should start to take things seriously. It is the first step to overcoming these "dappy" and "naff" teachers. This way you ARE doing a little "sommat" about it yourself.
John, Holland

Unfortunately this is nothing new, my education started when I entered college. The teaching profession has a problem but rather than concentrating their energies on a solution to the "under pay, over work" problem they perceive, they seem content on passing the buck to politicians who know little about their industry.
When I took my GCSE's it was the first year of the new exams so we expected, and actually did, enter exams with little or no knowledge of the questions on the paper. I find the fact this is still happening very sad indeed.
David Sansom, USA



The students have to do a little of the groundwork as well, and not just expect everything to be brought to them on a silver platter.

Claire, UK
People have to realise that it is not all down to the teachers. The students have to do a little of the groundwork as well, and not just expect everything to be brought to them on a silver platter.
If the course is not complete, get a syllabus outline and study up on it yourself. Although in some subjects this is not possible (i.e., practical chemistry), in others it is. If people really want to succeed, they can overcome poor teaching and time-management!!
Claire, Southampton, UK

I ploughed my A-levels as a direct result of desperately poor advice at the time (namely, never do Further Maths as part of a set of only three A-levels). All the students should bear in mind that

a) There are lots, and lots, and lots of very underqualified staff out there. Your qualifications might not eventually be what you want, but they're probably a lot more useful than you imagine.

b) You can do what you want with your career. Seriously. Poorer qualifications might affect how soon and for how much money you can do your desired job, but there's always a way in that doesn't involve big fat qualifications.

Take heart, all GCSE and A-level students. I ploughed my A-levels, but at the age of 24 I now earn more than any teacher can *possibly* earn without being a Head of Department. You can - and will - do the same. Poor old Mr ****... still stuck on 22,000... badly paid for a job he can't do!

And for any teachers reading: this is why people are so keen for your profession to be inspected - because everyone who ever went to school knows that there's a heck of a lot of dangerously ruinous teachers out there.
Max, England

When most school kids use 80% of their energy to be unruly and teaching process is largely degraded to zoo keeping plus some teaching and learning, if at all possible, what do you expect?
I do accept that some schoolteachers are not performing properly and should be removed from teaching, but only if all other factors are dealt with first. When at last you see failure looking at you in the eye, all of a sudden it is teacher's fault, after all when all fails an escape goat is very handy.
Alan, UK

There are many factors at play here, and to blame the teachers is unfair and simplistic. Red tape and form-filling is on the increase, in some classes the most a teacher can do is to hope to maintain order (I wonder how many of the critics would be able to control 30 teenagers intent on causing disruption?), understaffing and so on. The situation is unfortunate, but it is not new and it is not surprising.
Patrick, UK



If they have a real problem with the teaching staff they should address it to the head teacher.

John, Scotland
I think people should stop complaining. It's as if they are making excuses just in case they fail. If they have a real problem with the teaching staff they should address it to the head teacher. Further, it should have been apparent long before now!
John, Scotland

If the standards of English spelling and grammar are reflected in the above quotes then all English teachers should be sacked. I have never known such appalling spelling and grammar as above, and my GCSE English teacher certainly would have failed me if I had come up with such rubbish. The government needs to tell teachers to start teaching spelling and grammar again if the GSCE exams aren't to be devalued any further.
Paul Buckley, UK



I can't believe that this is happening in one of the most wealthy and influential countries in the world!!

Rich G, UK
I can't believe that this is happening in one of the most wealthy and influential countries in the world!! The UK used to have an education system to be proud of. If you are having a bad time out there, speak up... after all, it is your future at stake. Good luck guys.
Rich G, UK

My GCSE exams were 5 years ago and I can still remember some panic in many subject areas because the syllabus had not been covered. In some subjects it was fair enough you could make up the ground easily, but others it was blind panic - technology for one.
It's not just the teachers who were at fault though, I seem to remember my science teacher complaining that there was too much ground to cover in the time we had left, so some areas were skipped.
Duncan Eames, UK



It has been happening for years and unfortunately it will go on for many more.

Rachael, England
I am 22 and went through exactly the same thing when I did my GCSE's, 'A' Levels and degree. It has been happening for years and unfortunately it will go on for many more.
Take it from someone who has been through it, it is time for you all to stop moaning and get on with it. I know it may seem harsh, but with only a couple of weeks left it is your only option. If you do all fair badly complain OFFICIALLY - your class notes, class work and coursework will demonstrate what areas you were and weren't taught giving grounds for investigation by examination boards.
Rachael, England



In maths we are just starting the last module now, with little over four weeks left!

Glenn, Liverpool, England
Although I'm not doing my GCSEs, I am actually doing A-levels, we finished most of the syllabuses at Christmas. Only in maths we are just starting the last module now, with little over four weeks left!
When I did my GCSEs all our syllabuses were finished before the Easter holiday - I think it depends on the school and on how attentive the classes are - some only realise weeks before how important the work actually is and blame the teachers for not doing the work properly!!!
Glenn, Liverpool, England



I am not sure all teachers should be tarred with the same brush.

Joe, England
Whilst I sympathise with all of the above comments, I am not sure all teachers should be tarred with the same brush. Whilst we need to get rid of bad teachers, we should look at why so many leave... probably in a large way down to the fact that the media enjoy crucifying a profession that many of them would not stand a chance in. Meeting one daily deadline a day is hardly a comparison.
Joe, England

It's a tragedy that the students are left helpless in this situation, but one must look at the root cause of these problems: terrible working conditions for teachers leading to stress and breakdowns, more teachers on contract employment instead of permanent positions, lack of funding for schools in poor areas, etc. It's the same story in Australia.
David Wood, Australia

Looking at the standard of the emails - if they can't spell, they shouldn't be sitting the tests.
Mike, UK



I bet they'd manage to teach properly if they had Performance Related Pay...

R White, London, UK
I bet they'd manage to teach properly if they had Performance Related Pay... it all comes down to whether you have a decent teacher who actually gives a damn about what they are doing and the children in their care, or whether they only care about their 3:30pm finish five days a week.
R White, London, UK



It has been some five years since I completed my own GCSEs, and back then it was commonplace for teachers to leave the syllabus incomplete.

D.A. Hoghton-Carter, England
Though this matter may have been brought into focus recently, this is not a new problem. It has been some five years since I completed my own GCSEs, and back then it was commonplace for teachers to leave the syllabus incomplete.
It was considered a part of proverbial process that particular areas of the syllabus would be focussed upon to a greater extent, and others skimmed over.
Staff departures were also often poorly handled - the sudden departure of a history teacher within the school I attended at the time resulted in the use of a substitute who barely "taught" at all, simply presented us with "fill in the blanks" worksheets and told us to read the most basic of our textbooks.
D.A. Hoghton-Carter, England

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

18 Apr 00 | Unions 2000
'Suicide risk' in pressure on pupils
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Education stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Education stories