The publication last week of the All-Party Parliamentary Select Committee’s damning report into changes in qualifications at 16, signals a step-change in attitudes towards Michael Gove’s so-called ‘Education Revolution.’
The report makes for unsettling reading from a Liberal Democrat point of view. And even Tory MP Graham Stuart, Chair of the Education Committee warns:
We have serious concerns about the Government’s proposed timetable for change. Ministers want to introduce a new qualification, require a step-change in standards, and alter the way exams are administered, all at the same time. We believe this is trying to do too much, too quickly and we call on the Government to balance the pace of reform with the need to get it right.
The Government of which we’re part, far from ‘letting teachers teach’, has plunged schools and colleges into accelerating chaos. Why the rush? Introducing several fundamental changes at the same time, to a tight timetable, by 2015, jeopardises the quality of any reform and threatens the stability of the wider exam system.
I don’t want my nephew, currently in Year 7, used as a guinea pig for a botched ‘revolution’ – his future is too important.
Certainly, GCSEs need “significant improvements” to restore public confidence, for example, putting an end to re-sits and competition between the exam boards, which, combined with accountability pressure on schools, has an adverse effect on standards over time.
But has Michael Gove made the case that the GCSE brand is so discredited that it is beyond repair?
What about the enormous impact of Gove’s new English Baccalaureate Certificates? If rigour is so important to ‘restore’ confidence why are some subjects being excluded from the ‘improvements?’
Why are arts subjects, some humanities and technology subjects being forced by Gove to remain as GCSEs? This makes no sense except if aiming to create a two-tier subject system.
In a recent open letter to David Cameron, 22 Professors of Education warned that the focus on a small number of English Baccalaureate Certificates will “grievously affect the contribution that our education system makes to both the cultural life of the country and to the creative and innovatory development of our economy.” The Education Select Committee report concludes:
We are…very concerned about the potential impact of the English Baccalaureate Certificates on subjects outside the English Baccalaureate, which will be left with “discredited” GCSE qualifications for some time. We question the extent to which it is possible to “upgrade” some subjects without implicitly “downgrading” others. The proposed reforms may undermine parity of esteem between different subjects, and between academic and vocational education, rather than do anything to reinforce it.
Gove wants to divide and rule: to split the most academic from the rest through a return to a narrowly configured core curriculum, with few choices on offer in humanities and no arts.
In an extraordinary comment related to the abolition of GCSEs in ‘core’ subjects before the National Curriculum Review is completed, Gove told the Select Committee that,
Coherence comes at the end of the process.
This breath-taking assertion doesn’t inspire confidence in the life-changing plans for children Gove is ramming through. After all is coherence achieved by accident or design?
Perhaps most damning of all is the impact of the Government’s plans on disadvantaged and lower ability pupils.
The committee found “no evidence” that the proposed EBCs/GCSE split in the curriculum will tackle under-achievement or narrow the attainment gap between the richest and poorest students – at least, no more effectively than the current system.
What is Gove going to do about the 40% or more of children who do not go to university?
Why is he unclear on how ‘harder’ exams are going to help these children achieve?
It’s time the Liberal Democrats came clean on Education – are we going to continue supporting a set of incoherent plans, which create a two-tier system of examinations, with a set of unclear outcomes for pupils, particularly the socially disadvantaged?
Gove’s plans are a blueprint for disaster. Liberal Democrats must call a halt to this experiment with our children’s futures.
* Helen Tedcastle is a member of the Shrewsbury and Atcham local party