GCSE REFORM IN CRISIS by Trevor Fisher

Janet Downs's picture
 3
This was published of behalf of Trevor Fisher who had problems posting.

The exam reform programme hit serious problems in mid January, with proposed changes to Performance changes to disable the IGCSE programme only the tip of the iceberg (already discussed on LSN). A Level andAS have dominated attention, with the UCAS report issued 16th January, UNPACKING QUALIFICATIONS REFORM showing teachers uncertain and confused about what they have to do for September. With 8 months togo, no one is telling teachers what the rules are . However while the problems are mounting at A Level, they are resolvable if Labour wins the election and sticks to policy to recouple AS and A Level exams.

The wider problem of GCSE is escalating. The attempt to eliminate IGCSE via Performance Table tactics
intensifies the credibility crisis which led ASCL and other organisations to set up their own league tables in the autumn. With the annual Peformance Tables distorted by political decisions, their case is strong but they will be ignored. The Performance tables, due out this week, have long been gamed and the politics need to be understood. Inevitably the media will parrot the government statistics and ignore the ASCL table.

However it is GCSE which is now critical. The issue of IGCSE being removed from the Performance Tables is important, as IGCSEs are international and cannot be manipulated for national political purposes. The current issue is however that OFQUAL claims the IGCSE is not compatible with the new systems – but the new systems are not working, and the key failure to pilot or pre-trial the new exams is now undermining the new exams. This was shown by the maths problem which emerged at the turn of the year. On January 21st the regulator OFQUAL responded to claims that the AQA maths approach was too easy by announcing a research programme. But as this is being done AFTER the AQA approach was accredited and its specifications are in schools, this raises the deeper question – how valid are its procedures?

Piloting and Pre- testing.

OFQUAL under CEO Glenys Stacey has claimed piloting and pre-testing is not possible, but Warwick Mansell in the Guardian of 1st October 2012 found that the objections were not valid. Indeed, OFQUAL had itself piloted the linked pair of GCSEs in Mathematics proposals in 2012. (27th September 2012). SOSS (Symposium on Sustainable Schools) joined those calling for all exams to be piloted – trialled – or pre-tested to show they work. At a conference on exam reform on October 21st 2013 at NASUWT HQ I directly asked Glenys Stacey to pre test the new exams. She responded that this was impossible, a position later confirmed in writing. In the Times Ed Supp of August 8th last Professor Richard Pring and I wrote calling for piloting of all exams. There was no response.

The testing plans announced on 21st January focus on the issues around the AQA maths GCSE, though their proposals had been accredited by OFQUAL. AQA said “our maths GCSE was... tested by our research centre with real GCSE students to ensure that it is sufficiently demanding”. Which raises the question, why did OFQUAL not do this? OFQUAL has now written to schools asking for volunteers to sit reformed mock GCSE papers. Is this a valid response? Can OFQUAL judge how it has handled an already accredited qualification?

Is the Reform Process credible?

The issues are not confined to maths, they raise questions about the whole regulatory reform process. Sue Pope of the Association of Maths Teachers (ATM) suggested the accreditation of the examination had happened too fast. Is this also true of other reformed exam courses due to start in September? Have they been driven by an election timetable, as Laura McInerney suggested in the Guardian of November 18th last? And is this decision to pilot – belatedly and inadequately – objective? Only a genuinely independent inquiry into the Maths specifications divorced from the regulator can restore confidence. OFQUAL's credibility is now at stake.

Trevor Fisher January 25th 2015
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Comments

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 26/01/2015 - 16:33

Trevor - you're right that exam reforms are likely to implode. They've been hastily introduced, influenced by political whims and prejudice, not properly trialled or evaluated, and foisted on teachers with little time to devise schemes of work etc.

When I prepared pupils for exams I would tell them to remember the 6 Ps:

Proper Preparation and Planning Prevents Poor Performance (there's an extra P before Poor if you use army slang).

Gove, Ofqual etc have ignored this maxim. But then Gove was in a hurry to make his mark and Ofqual didn't resist. But the ones who will suffer are pupils and their teachers.

The only rational response is to opt for IGCSEs and ignore the effect on league table position.

John Mountford's picture
Mon, 26/01/2015 - 20:10

Trevor, we have been here before. It just ensures more of the same - more suffering for pupils and teachers, a further waste of public money and a perpetuation of the deluded idea that politicians are the best ones to reform education. The sad truth is that we know will be here again, and again until we put an end to the disastrous way we let political parties tinker with education every few years. It isn't working. It demands action to establish a National Commission for Education to ensure that short-term, inappropriate reforms no longer blight our nation.

The campaign at ordinaryvoices.org.uk needs your support and that of your associates. It is the one change that will make a more hopeful future, free from political interference possible.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Tue, 27/01/2015 - 09:50

dear john

If you have read the pamphlet that I edited for SOSS (symposium on sustainable schools) on exam reform, Richard Pring wrote an article calling for a Royal Commission on exams. National Commission, Royal Commission, or something similar to the drugs oversight used in the NHS - its time to take politicians out of educational reform.

If colleagues would like to send me their postal addresses I will send a copy of the pamphlet. Alas It only exists in hard copy form.

The wheels are coming off the political wagon, and this is now the moment to counter attack. Cromwell at Nasby comes to mind. But it won't happen without a consistent approach, so lets put our heads together.

My email address is trevor.fisher2@gmail.com

lets start a strategic dialogue

trevor fisher.

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