You will probably already know that I’m not a big fan of Michael Gove (or the coalition government in general). Not content with introducing a bizarre Phonics Check whose pilot showed its huge flaws (by the way, I’m planning a follow-up post to that before the end of the month and would love to hear views from Year 1 parents or teachers who have been through it), he’s now wanting to institute a wholesale reform of the exam system and the national curriculum without actually taking on board the conclusions of the experts he’s asked to look at it. It seems to me that Gove has a bunch of ideas about how things should be – most of which involve doing things the way they were done in the good old days – and then he does whatever he can to try to get it to look like that is what the evidence suggests should be done. Except he seems to ignore the evidence.
The good old days weren’t actually that good. GCSEs, while far from perfect, were a huge improvement on O Levels and even more so on CSEs, providing much more opportunity, much more aspiration and a much fairer exam system that allows people with different learning styles to succeed. Coursework and modular exams open up qualifications to more people, rather than limiting them to the ‘academic’ people who can cram facts and regurgitate them in a three-hour exam. GCSEs these days teach more real-world skills, while still including academic tasks and questions. They are still not perfect, of course, and a review could be a useful thing. For example, they still let a lot a lot of children down who have special educational needs – but… a lot less than the old system did.
A review that aims to improve the existing system, perhaps looking to add some things to the syllabi, or to change some of the emphasis. But the system is not broken. Our children do not need a wholescale ripping apart of the exam system and replacing it with something new. But even less do they need it ripped apart and replaced with something old. Something old that let down a huge proportion of the country. Something old that had a tendency to pigeon-hole poor children into the unacademic and take away any chances of further and higher education. If it’s going to be changed, it needs to be changed to give those children more chances and more aspirations, because the current system is still letting them down.
There are many other things wrong with these leaked proposal and I’m not going to go into huge detail, but I sincerely hope that these proposals do not get through and that Michael Gove listens to the full range of experts who he has tasked with reviewing the system. Otherwise, we may well be looking at houses and schools in Wales or Scotland.