Stories + Views
Comments by source close to Gove become more unhinged as opposition grows to exam reform agenda
There is a “cursed focus on ‘access’ which has poisoned intelligent discussion of [the] real problem, which is too many rubbish schools,” a source close to Secretary of State, Michael Gove, told TES.
The Government constantly attacks state schools for not sending enough pupils to “top” universities. But one of Gove’s sources thinks that concentrating on access is a toxic irritation fouling talk about what s/he describes in impeccable professional language as “too many rubbish schools”.
“Rubbish schools” is an imprecise description. If it means schools judged inadequate, then this applies to 2% of English schools at their last Ofsted inspection. If it means schools judged satisfactory, then the figure rises to 30%. Under the new inspection regime, the satisfactory judgement has been replaced by “requires improvement”. But this description can’t be applied retrospectively to schools judged satisfactory in the past as schools may have improved since their last inspection. And “requires improvement” does not necessarily mean that a school is “rubbish”.
This indiscreet comment by Gove’s intimate informant was in response to questions by TES about the growing dissent surrounding Gove’s exam reform agenda. This is opposed by universities, heads of Ofqual past and present, two of England’s exam boards, the Tory chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, teaching unions, academic experts and two recently-departed Department for Education (DfE) senior officials. One of these, Jon Coles, was DfE director general for education standards until early 2012. Coles, now chief executive of academy and independent school chain, United Learning, has called for a complete overhaul of the exam system with exams at 16 being replaced by graduation at 18. He told TES that the exam system was an education “tectonic plate” which, if moved around too rapidly would cause upheaval. “You risk having serious, serious problems,” he said.
A DfE spokesperson stoutly defended the proposed EBCs (English Baccalaureate Certificates). S/he told TES, “The new EBC will be robust, rigorous and relevant, to match the best education systems in the world.”
But the replacement for GCSEs, dubbed Gove Levels, does not match the graduation systems in most of the rest of the world (see faqs above). They are unimaginative, backward-looking and out-of-touch.
When proposals for an Advanced Baccalaureate (ABac) were leaked, another “source close to Michael Gove” tried to rebut criticisms by saying “ABac discussions are just on the drawing board. No decisions have been made. They would only be a league table thing.”
So a seismic shift in exams at 18+ is not being introduced to bring England in line with most of the rest of the world but in order to produce extra data for the “league table thing”. The extra work which will be required for graduation – an extended essay, voluntary activities – are not being introduced because they are worthy activities in their own right (and a feature of the exam systems in other countries). They are being proposed because they will contribute to the “league table thing”.
Last year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (1) warned that the excessive emphasis of exam grades in England risked having negative consequences on education. Now it appears that major changes to the exam system (EBacc, EBCs, ABac) are being introduced to satisfy the “league table thing”.
But the “league table thing” is not education.
(1) OECD Economic Survey UK 2011, not freely available on the internet but details of how to obtain a copy are here.