Monday, September 17, 2012

Initial thoughts on the abolition of GCSEs

I'm an outsider so please feel free to correct me but on hearing Gove wants to replace GCSEs a couple of thoughts present themselves immediately:

1) A single exam board. Good idea and uncontroversial up here. The logic of the position - that competition to give the customers what they want doesn't necessarily make for a better product hasn't been followed through, obviously.

2) Getting rid of internal assessment. Good idea. Internal continuous assessment is the work of the devil. The original thinking was that continuous assessment reduces the stress of having everything depending on a final exam. Instead what you have is students being stressed all the time. Plus all the re-assessment nonsense is time taken away from teaching and learning, as some people have already pointed out.

3) The notion of a baccalaureate implies the necessity to pass a core of subjects in order to gain the qualification. If this is what is being suggested then this too strikes me as being a good idea.

4) Making the examination more difficult to pass. Unsure. It really depends on what you want your examination system to do - something which there's been little discussion on both sides of the border.  One could be forgiven for thinking it's a topic that people actively avoid.

I say this in the interests of non-partisanship because this is part of the problem with education, both in England and Scotland. Changes are announced and people adopt positions accordingly before anything one could reasonably describe as evidence has become available. What certainly doesn't seem to make any sense to me is Stephen Twigg's remarks that the changes run the risk of a "return to a two-tier system". I defer to those who know more about this that I do but from an foreigner's perspective, a move to a two-tier educational system in England sounds to me like a radical simplification of a confusing and Balkanised system.

I also don't get this idea of people being left on the scrapheap at 16 - when Mr Twigg is the representative of a party who in government proposed extending the leaving age to 18, something I'm led to understand will be a reality in due course? Given this is so, why do exams at 16 at all?

This from Gove's critics but his fans are also quick to takes sides. The Telegraph announces that something that remains as yet a proposal to be a success already - in much the same way that Toby Young announced in the same paper that his 'free school' is a success, despite having only one cohort that hasn't even come within sniffing distance of an exam system that is now in a state of flux.

The problem is that in this kind of atmosphere the political survival of a project becomes more important than actually measurable educational outcomes.

We shouldn't imagine things are any better in Scotland. One of the interesting things about this whole debate is how frequently people argue that our system is moving in a completely different, 'progressive', direction. I'm struck by the similarities, myself. Won't bore you with them except to point out that this problem of bureaucratic momentum driven by political partisanship is something that is, well, a rather British phenomenon.

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