Schools should expect parents and students in years 8, 9 and 11 to be asking questions from the start of next year - if not sooner. And while some in education may see these changes as negative, schools need to use them positively to attract and retain students. This can be done by taking the opportunity to reflect on and possibly change the school curriculum to meet the needs of students and by being proactive in communicating changes to parents and students. School marketers need to be aware of the changes and to be working with parents and academic staff now on a suitable response.
1) Changes at GCSE
In England new GCSEs will be taught from 2015 (for examination in 2016) in Maths and English (Language and Literature). These will have a new grading system (1-9, where 9 is the best). In English there will be one paper for students of all abilities and while there will be a speaking assessment, it will be reported separately to the main GCSE grade. Maths will keep the current 2 tiers but there will be a significant increase in content and time required to teach. As a result of these changes the GCSEs are being heavily spun as being 'tougher', which may concern some parents. Sciences, History and Geography will follow in 2016 (exams in 2017).
What can schools do in response? Many school will choose these new exams - and should communicate early to parents what preparation is being made, and the differences students will see in coursework or exam style. Other schools might explore other options - 'international' GCSEs offered by CIE and Edexcel are available to all state schools, and private schools can even go further and implement the IB Middle Years programme or even set their own alternatives - such as the Bedales Assessed Courses offered by the eponymous school.
(For more information on specific changes to GCSEs see Examchange.org.uk.)
2) Changes at A-level
The concept introduced in 2000 of AS levels as a 'stepping stone' to A2 is being dropped in England and Wales from 2015. Students will not be able to carry forward marks from AS exams and will have to take all exams at the end of an A-level course.
What can schools do in reponse? Schools who stay with A-levels will have to make decisions as to whether they enter students for AS exams - or use the extra summer time for teaching. In this case, students will not be able to use the AS results (as many do) to choose which of 4 AS-levels to drop for Y13. As with GCSE, there are alternatives. For state schools, the alternatives are the IB Diploma, offered by 147 UK schools including many state schools and the Cambridge Pre-U. Independent schools have the tempting and additional choice of the Cambridge International AS and A levels, which will still work on the principle of AS levels as a stepping stone and allow resits.
What should marketers do to best help schools through these changes?
- Ensure that that wider marketing considerations are taken into account when curriculum change is discussed.
- Use internal and external research to support decisions - making sure that the views and needs of current and prospective parents and students are taken into consideration. Marketers should also research what competitors are doing and look for opportunities to create competitive differentiation.
- Work with academic staff to clearly set out the reasons for any choices made, clarify the benefits of the proposed curriculum and identify any concerns that parents and students may have.
- Make sure that all staff are aware of the wider changes and your response and are well briefed before talking to parents at Open Days and Parent Evenings.
- Allocate time to talk to parents and students and use the process to show your school is progressive and listening.
- Talk positively about your decisions in other marketing material.
- Follow up changes and highlight positive case studies.
* Changes in Wales
Wales is set to see more limited changes at GCSE - the current A*-G structure will be maintained, as will tiered GCSES. A-levels will follow the English changes.
Please add any innovative solutions your school has come up with in the comments!