So Gove has made his plans known. He’s going to inject “rigour” into a “failing” system and make the English exam system one of the best in the world. So how does he plan to do it?
1 Scrap modules. Gove’s forgotten that modules are already on their way out. The changes
, announced in June 2011, are explained on the Department for Education’s website.
2 Have a single exam with graded questions which will allow pupils to show what they know and understand. The original GCSE exam was just such an exam. But questions designed for lower ability pupils were seized by the media as a sign that exam standards overall had been “dumbed-down”. How long would it be before this happened with the new exam?
3 “Lower grades should give students an accurate assessment of their performance, and should have real value for their future progression ...” That’s what GCSE was meant to do but was damned by pundits saying that the lower grades showed what pupils couldn’t do rather than what they could. The consultation dismisses lower grades despite saying they accurately measure attainment. It makes it clear that all pupils “with a good education” should achieve a Grade C.
4 Scrap coursework. Out will go geography field work, the in-depth historical investigation using primary sources, the extended English essay, the analysis of a local business, or the production of an advertising campaign in a foreign language to attract tourists to the UK. These will be replaced by a do-or-die written exam in which candidates spit out gobbets of facts which have been poured into their heads. It’s unclear how practical subjects or those outside the core (English, maths, the sciences, history or geography and a language) would be examined. There’s no mention of these in the consultation except a request to Ofqual to use “these new higher standards” as a guide for evaluating and accrediting replacements for GCSE in non-core subjects.
5 The exam will be based on evidence of what is working well in the highest performing jurisdictions around the world. Only it isn’t. Most of the rest of the world offers graduation for school leavers at age 18. And many of these high-performing countries rely heavily on teacher assessment – something that will be scrapped for the new exam.
6 The exam is going to be called the English Baccalaureate Certificates or EBCs. Unfortunately, EBC sounds like a particularly uncomfortable medical procedure. Nevertheless, pupils who gain six EBCs in the core subjects will be awarded the English Baccalaureate. But the English Baccalaureate already exists as EBacc – a performance measure for English schools. And Gove’s EBCs presuppose that Wales and Northern Ireland will go their own way and either stick with GCSEs or devise their own exams (Scotland already has its own examination system).
7 Schools will be required to provide a “Statement of Achievement” for those low-attaining pupils who don’t take EBCs. This could be extended to all pupils to show their strengths, weaknesses and levels of attainment. This sounds very like the 1990’s National Records of Achievement
. What happened to those?
This initiative has been hailed as a “radical” overhaul of exams. But it isn’t. It presupposes that some pupils won’t be able to take it despite the rhetoric about “lower grades” which are, in any case, levels which the Government expects no child “with a good education” to attain. It implies that there is a hierarchy of subjects. Yes, the core is essential but it should be complemented by other subjects which are equally valued.
Finally, it doesn’t match the best in the world. External examinations at 16 should be scrapped – they’ve just done that in Hong Kong. There should be graduation at 18 with multiple pathways – academic, vocational, work experience, extra-curricular activities, sporting achievement, Young Enterprise, Duke of Edinburgh Award and so on. That would be truly radical. Gove’s proposals are narrow, unimaginative and lacking in vision.
Our young people deserve better.