Gove is the real enemy of promise

Fiona Millar's picture
I have written my own piece on the subject of Gove's O level plans in the Guardian today, explaining why he is the real "enemy of promise". The Secretary of State likes use this term to  damn his opponents but he is the one who yearns for a system from yesteryear that will entrench failure and cap aspirations. The international evidence he uses so selectively points in a completely different direction to the one he is now embracing and it is hard not to avoid the conclusion that he is motivated as much by his longer term political positioning than by what is best for most children. The possibility that David Cameron will fail to win an outright majority at the next election must be plaguing the Tory Party and the jostling for succession is now starting in earnest ( see Boris Johnson's plans to take over 'running' London schools in this week's Standard.)

Tragically he faces little real opposition to plans which often seem to be drawn up on the back on an envelope and were apparently leaked over a lunch with the Daily Mail. Labour needs to develop some big bold arguments in this policy area - one of which maybe that the future of our curriculum and qualifications system is too important to be left up to  one individual politician and another that there is probably no longer a need for a 'terminal' exam at 16 since the majority of young people must now stay in education and training until they are 18.

Maybe this is time for Labour and the Liberal Democrats to make common cause to take on such reckless behaviour. Anyone who would use the last week of public exams, when thousands of pupils are still sweating over  GCSE and A levels, to brazenly talk down the qualifications for which they are striving can't really have the long term interests of our young people at heart.

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Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 22/06/2012 - 10:55

The Guardian has today reported that Nick Clegg was NOT consulted on the plans (but then we know Gove doesn't like consultations with anyone who might ask questions he doesn't want to hear) and was so furious when he heard of the leak that he took time out of the Rio+20 summit to instruct senior party officials to condemn the plans and to denounce Gove in highly personal terms. He has made it clear that he will reject Gove's plans out of hand

A Lib Dem source is quoted at saying that "This is not cleared government policy. I doubt if these plans were known outside Michael Gove's private office. This looks like an attempt to bounce us – and that is not going to happen. Changes like this have to go through proper government procedures. We were left scrabbling around in the dark."

Gove, however, despite being summoned by John Bercow to explain himself, is continuing to be reckless with his experimenting of children. Sources in Gove's department say he is determined to press ahead with the reforms, which could be done without Lib Dem support because there was no need for parliamentary legislation.

Even Senior Tories are sceptical about this. Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the Commons education select committee, suggested that the plans were designed just to help the elite, adding that "This has come out of the blue. Just a year ago the government was ramping up its new GCSE target and now a year on we are having this change – back to the future, back to O-levels." He has announced that his committee will be summoning Gove to explain himself as well.

It is difficult not see to in Gove's bullish, headline grabbing behaviour a man building the foundations to further his own political ambitions. At the cost of our young people. I hope there may be enough anger within the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems parties to challenge him.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/06/2012 - 11:46

It's as if Gove is deciding education policy by throwing a dice which contains such things as "introduce EBacc (retrospectively)", "increase GCSE benchmark", "make exams more rigorous", "compete internationally", "sift through evidence," "ignore evidence", "ignore OECD warning re 2000 results" and now "scrap GCSEs: re-introduce O levels for bright, CSEs for dim".

Throw it in the air - see where it lands - leak a paper to the Mail - make a speech with high-sounding phrases like "bigoted, bankrupt, backward, b.... b.... b... shhhh..." - education policy sorted - destination Downing Street. While the rest of the world rolls about laughing - the Joker's in control.

I have no evidence for the above, of course, it's just my opinion.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 22/06/2012 - 12:01

It's all beginning to sound more like gibberish than considered policies. 6 months ago we were told about rigorous GCSEs and schools having to demonstrate raising attainment for low achievers otherwise Michael Wilshaw was going to come and close you down so that Gove can hand you over to an Academy run by Harris Carpets. Now, he wants to make sure that the undeserving are kept in their place, palmed off with certificates that brand them forevermore as failures and third class citizens. I wonder if power has corrupted him to so much that he has become ever so slightly bonkers? Shakespeare would have a field day although "Gove" doesn't quite have the tragic grandeur of "Macbeth" or "Hamlet".

Ajay's picture
Thu, 12/07/2012 - 20:39

What were the mechanics of the cootiprurn of science teaching? You are mistaken if you think that the changes in science have been driven by teachers. Science teachers are simply trying their best to impliment the constant flow of changes imposed from above by well meaning politicians and educationalists .The present situation was not planned it is the unforseen side effect of what looked like good ideas and from the interaction of the dozen or so bodies with some stake in science education.There was a report published around 1999 called something like Beyond 2000 . This identified the fact (which most science teachers would agree with) that we were forced to teach a whole lot of abstract stuff to less able pupils which a) they could not get b) demoralised them and c)had no value for them.There was wide agreement that there should be 2 routes through science: a science for scientists route which would lead to A-level and a science for citizens route which would equip young people to participate in our technological society.So far, so good. We were all hopeful. It has not worked out that way. In trying to deal with the crossover area (and prevent pupils being locked into a non-A-level route) QCA decided to tell exam borads to create a joint Core science course for yr 10. This is where the dumbing down started for the scientists .On top of this (read more on the site) exam boards bought publishers and were given freedom to create a diversity of courses. At no point are practicing teachers involved in this process. QCA also instructed exam boards to make a lot of the assessment multiple choice and done as unit tests (not terminal exam). Consequesntly we now see content which seems to be designed simply to give material for multiple choice questions!There are not even checks on the reading age of the material for example the Oxford Press OCR Applied 21st Century science texbook is unreadable by the pupils it is designed for.But.. there is nothing teachers can do. When we approach exam boards they clam up. The OFSTED inspectors put pressure on Head teachers to improve standards (ie exam grades), so science departments are pressured into picking the exam and teaching method which is likely to give the highest score (rather than teaching the science well).The only solution is a professionalisation of teaching to the point where there are established experts and where teachers are involved in the development of the curriculum. (see professionalisation on the wiki).It is almost impossible to get teachers interested they are all heads down and stuck in to trying to run this system, ignored by govenment, ridiculed by the press and all the time trying to do the job they love helping young people.Because it is not an easy, one line, headline explanation, this type of analysis gets little publicity.In a few months another group of well meaning politicians will change the rules again and more chaos will ensue. Teachers will keep their heads down and do their best and then be blamed for the consequesnces.Ho hum

Adrian Elliott's picture
Fri, 22/06/2012 - 11:07

Haven't time to comment on this as much as I would like but apart from the over-arching issues dealt with so well in Fiona's article there are huge practical problems for schools in running a dual system.

I was a deputy head, and briefly a head, under the old O level/CSE arrangement and it created enormous problems for schools which people like Gove,who must have barely left university when GCSE was introduced, would be unaware of .

I'll elaborate if I get chance later.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 22/06/2012 - 13:37

One of the problems with creating coherent opposition to Michael Gove's plans is that they all emerge overnight on the back of envelopes. Nobody expects them so it's really hard to plan to counter them.

In the past the interests of children and society have always been at the heart of the debate so it's been possible to have grounded and constructive analysis of policy. Nobody expected that that would change and that we'd get an SoS for Education who cared only about his own interests and those of the Murdochs.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/06/2012 - 16:41

Gove says he wants the English exam system to match the best in the rest of the world. Most of the high-performing countries in the world have graduation exams/assessment at 18. Only Singapore keeps the system of 'O' and 'A' levels which hangs over from the time when Singapore was part of the British Empire. Even Hong Kong has scrapped its 'O' and 'A' level type exams and replaced them with one examination from this year.

In the FAQ section above is a summary of the examination systems in high-performing countries. You'll find it under "International Comparisons". It should be useful whenever Gove starts spouting about exam systems abroad.

The message from these systems is: scrap formal, external exams at 16 (these can be replaced by internal assessment if required) and have one graduation certification at age 18 which shows what the student knows, understands and can do.

UK school pupils are examined more often and in more subjects than in high-performing countries. It's time it stopped.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 30/06/2012 - 22:34

I think this was a well obfuscated total back down on the O-levels CSE thing:

Ale's picture
Thu, 12/07/2012 - 15:50

I wrote about this myself as I'm relaly not happy about yet another decision potentially being made without consulting the people it affects most; the people who take the exams, and their parents. It won't do our SEN kids any favours. Those in mainstream most likely won't even be given a choice and CSE's will be forced on them even if they are academically capable of O'Levels. Those in special schools, like my daughter, will never know what an O'Level and will therefore be treated, once they leave school, as the lesser individual, not as clever, better suited to the menial jobs. Again, this utterly useless government haven't given a second's thought to special needs and disabled children. They are disgusting. I did receive a number of comments on my post that strongly disagree with my opinion. I don't judge their opinion but I suspect they didn't have to worry about being branded as a thicko for only being able to take CSE's, and I also suspect some don't truly understand the impact this will have on special needs.CJ x

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