GCSE Computing NEA rule changes

The conditions for the NEA for the GCSE Computing qualification have recently changed and the rules relaxed considerably as outlined by Ofqual on the 8th January 2018 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/revised-arrangements-for-gcse-computer-science.

What has been decided?

At the time of writing this post, no specific guidance has come from AQA but OCR have given some guidelines which can be found here (http://www.ocr.org.uk/news/view/ofquals-consultation-on-revised-assessment-arrangements-for-gcse-computer-science-outcome/).

What was previously worth 20% of the students’ overall marks and was the practical part of the course is no longer called an “NEA” Non-examined Assessment and is now referred to as “programming project (NEA)”. It will no longer be formally marked by teachers and no marks will be awarded towards the pupils overall grade which will now be calculated purely from the two paper exams which will be worth 50% each of the overall total.

However, the pupils are still required to attempt one of the official NEA tasks that were released in September 2017 and they must still be given 20 hours on which to work on this task if they have not already completed it.

The largest change for teachers is that they will not have to mark the tasks and they can give assistance and feedback to the pupils during the task. Another big change is the deadline for teachers to submit the samples of student work for monitoring has moved from March to the 15th May. In 2018 only, monitors will visit schools to check enough time has been spent on all stages of a task.

The most significant change from a pupil’s perspective is that the are no longer expected to work under stringent exam conditions and may get help from the teacher, the internet or any other external sources outside of the original resource bank as long as the pupils clearly state what help they have received. OCR is also allowing internet access and the pupils to use their own accounts to complete the work, whereas AQA has always allowed pupils access to the internet within their guidelines.

The work the pupils produce in this 20 hours will not count towards their overall final grade but nevertheless it must still be completed, and schools will have to provide a sample of the work to their exam board, if requested and sign a statement and may have to provide proof that they have given the pupils the 20 hours allocation. This can be done through a spreadsheet, pupils work diaries etc. but the exam boards are not specifying how this will be done and have provided no official document for logging hours.

Many teachers are understandably disappointed that the hard work their pupils have already put into the NEA will not count towards their final grade but I have heard from many teachers who saw pupils blossom as they fought to overcome these difficulties. Pupils they thought would struggle, worked hard and have learnt a deeper understanding of programming from doing an extended project and it will have no doubt helped them when they come to sit their exams.

If your students have completed the NEA use the skills they have learnt as a discussion tool. Their work will no longer be confidential so look at the different methods that could be used to solve the same problem in class, talk about the algorithms and techniques and discuss how they approached it as a revision aid to the exams. Give them feedback; this doesn’t have to be a fully marked assessment, but your pupils have worked hard so some feedback on how they did would be appreciated by them to boost their confidence in uncertain times. Point out what they did well - they have a difficult few months ahead with all subjects upping the pressure, and they need support in knowing that they can do amazing things even if some in your class have less faith in themselves.

For those schools who have not already completed the 20 hours, this now means that you can use this time as more of a teaching opportunity. You are no longer restricted by a limited resource bank and if you spot a pupil is struggling with one area you can now give them help to overcome it. You can show them how to link to a SQL database, help them write a subroutine or even talk to them about how they can overcome a logic error they cannot see. This does not mean you can simply give them an example of a completed task to copy (they still need to produce their own individual work) and they must state the sources of any help they have received including discussions with you or anyone else who helped them overcome the problem.

For those of you who are wondering how you are going to motivate you pupils in completing the 20 hours, use these sessions as practical revision. Help your classes grow their programming skills by allowing them the additional help they need and tell them of the skills they will be developing by taking an expended project like this. You may think it is unfair to those who have already completed the NEA but we are all on as level a playing field as we can be in such circumstances, nobody’s grades will be counted, and the 20 hours still need to be completed.

By performing a programming project (NEA), pupils will learn programming and computational thinking skills that may have otherwise only existed as theory to your pupils. These new skills will help them in the exams and the practical examples they have worked on will be recalled and remembered far more than if they had only given them a cursory glance.

Open up your resource bank by adding new resources, discuss how pupils have tackled the problem and use this project as an opportunity to help build your students’ passion for programming and problem solving to get them excited about computing.

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