Archive | March, 2013

The Shambles of CPE: a bit of a rant

2 Mar

I am not impressed.  For whatever reason, it simply seems as though both Cambridge ESOL and most of the major publishers seem to have shown and complete and utter disregard towards the students and prospective candidates studying at CPE level.

I published my analysis of the changes to CPE sixteen months ago and it’s proved to be one of the most popular posts I’ve written.  I simply do not understand why the corporate stakeholders in the process couldn’t achieve more in those sixteen months than they have done.

I appreciate that it takes a long time to put a book together and that some publishers were doubtless taking advantage of the exam changes to give some familiar titles a much needed overhaul, but I was shocked and frankly unimpressed when, at the start of the school year in September 2012, there were no titles available to prepare classes with.

What went wrong?  Is CPE really such a small market segment that you can ignore the needs of the students and teachers like this?  Are publishers unaware of when the school years of their target markets start?  Again, this is a euro-centric view and school years in other regions start at other times, but I think the first book that arrived on our school doorstep for the revised exam did so in January.  In our case, our preferred supplier also consistently lied to us about the imminent availability of our preferred coursebook, which meant that our students were essentially working with whatever adaptations our increasingly skillful proficiency teacher could come up with.

The first session of the revised CPE exam runs here next weekend.  The only practice tests for proficiency our students have seen are the two different versions that are available from the Cambridge ESOL website.  There is no task specific writing mark scheme available either for the free download materials or for the writing tasks in the handbooks, only a description of how the writing is assessed and some sample answers.

This is not good enough.

If you are an exam body you have not only a duty and responsibility to provide a secure, valid and reliable exam but you also have a duty of care to those other stakeholders who are involved in the exam process.  In other words, you have a clear and current responsibility to provide complete information about your exam, examples of the content and a full description of the assessment process.  Every coursebook and test book for the revised CPE I have seen gives equal weighting to the four parts of the exam.  It is only tucked away in a small corner somewhere in the handbook that Cambridge ESOL say otherwise and give the weighting as 40 / 20 / 20 / 20.  It is my view that Cambridge ESOL has let slip some of their responsibilities and it’s reputation as a full and fair provider of exams has been tarnished.

Neither are publishers free of criticism.  Why was it not possible to get the materials ready sooner?  The first revision bulletin published by Cambridge ESOL was released in October 2010 – was this not enough time to start getting projects ready and writers keyed up?  What about April 2011, when the “at a glance” changes to the specifications were published?  Let me think, that’s almost an 18 month lead in?  Is that really not enough time?  I don’t know what the full process of creating a coursebook is, from start to finish, though I am aware that there are a number of stages in the process, drafts and revisions and trialling.  I also appreciate that the reticence of Cambridge ESOL to share specifics probably doesn’t help.

Nonetheless – if you are in a materials business, if your core activity is the design, creation and publication of coursebooks, then I would hope that you also would take into account the needs of the people who buy your products and provide them in a timely manner.

Rant Over.  Normal service to be resumed shortly.