Friday 22 June 2012

GCSEs to be Scrapped? The Latest Episode in the Education Revolution of Michael Gove

So, what are we to make of the week's news, that the GCSE is to be revamped. According to the Daily Mail's scoop on Thursday, for key subjects such as maths, English and science, there will be two separate qualifications, similar to the previous structure of GCE O-Levels and CSE exams.

The Mail's story appears to be a leak from somewhere within government, this time one that the government really didn't seem to want out in the open.

The plans appear to be set out with a very rapid timetable. First teaching of the new syllabus would be in September 2014, with the first exams taking place in 2016.

The changes would only affect England in the first instance, with Wales and Northern Ireland having a choice whether or not to follow suit.

There were a few other bombshells in the story. Firstly, the six exam boards of the UK would be amalgamated, or abolished and replaced with a single body. The thinking behind this is that competition between the boards has led to a general reduction in standards, with boards creating easier exams in a bid to attract more schools. This part of the proposals appears to have received the widest support within teaching and within Westminster.

Secondly, the National Curriculum would be scrapped, and head teachers given the power to decide what should be taught in their schools.

Of course,  Michael Gove's ideas should come as no great surprise. He has shown with his plans for post-16 learning that he is a traditionalist, in that he wants to return to a model more similar to that of the pre-1990s.

The previous system was scrapped (by the Conservative government of the 1980s, it should be remembered) because it was deemed to have failed. The O-Level/CSE split was considered to have created a rift between those studying the two exams, which affects the student for the rest of their lives. This hampered any kind of social mobility.

Critics of the current GCSE system say that it is too challenging for the weaker students and not challenging enough for the more able and that this is the cause of grade inflation.

The GCSE was created as a multi-tier exam, in which less able pupils can study a foundation syllabus, in which they can gain grades C-G. The higher tier provides the opportunity for the more able students to gain the higher grades A*-C.

So, although it has its faults, the GCSE was designed to improve the prospects of a wider range of pupils. Many teachers will tell you that the foundation tier is very appropriate for their less able students and the higher tier is challenging enough for the more able.

But with the clear majority of pupils now continuing to some form of post-16 education, it would be worth asking the question: why examine at 16 at all?

Politically, there is the possibility of serious damage to the coalition government. The Lib Dems are said not to have been informed about the proposals before the leak, even Sarah Teather, Lib Dem minister in the Education Department.

It has even been suggested that Michael Gove is setting out radical ideas with, eventually, a view towards the leadership of his party.

Apparently, no change of law is required to bring this revolution into being, which explains the rapid timetable. So if the secretary of state gets his way, be prepared for further huge upheaval in the classroom.

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