Opinion: There is much for the Lib Dems to support in Gove’s embryonic exam proposals

The leak to the Daily Mail of the education secretary’s proposals for replacing the current GCSE system has set off a predictable storm of fury from many quarters.

These proposals are – as Nick Clegg has laid out in forthright terms – not coalition policy, haven’t been discussed in cabinet, and haven’t been seen by the Lib Dem in the Department of Education, Sarah Teather.

Many – both within the Liberal Democrats and without – have accused Mr Gove of wanting to return to a two-tier system where educational potential is determined two years before the exams take place. This, coupled with the target-driven culture which is a legacy of the previous government, will inevitably lead to borderline pupils being streamed into the lower stream to manipulate the statistics for the benefit of the school, not the pupil.

Labour will not, of course, recognise their part in creating the mess by their Blairite imposition of statistics-driven targets, and last week in the house focused solely on rhetoric of a “two-tier” system.

Mr Gove immediately responded as follows:

He invited us to consider that what the Government are reported to be putting forward would lead to a two-tier system. The sad truth is that we already have a two-tier system in education in this country. Some of our most impressive schools have already left the GCSE behind and opted for the IGCSE or other more rigorous examinations.

This is not really a justification, as it shifts the focus – quite deftly – from the issue of educational tiers and streaming to the quality of the examinations, where Mr Gove obviously (and rightly) feels himself to be on firmer ground. The fact that there is a de facto two tier system is not a justification for continuing or exacerbating that situation.

Liberal Democrat Policy – from Policy Paper 89 ‘Equity & Excellence’ is to create “a new General Diploma for all children in state funded schools and colleges to create a 14-19 qualifications framework that gives real choice to young people and meets the needs of employers and universities”. The document further notes that “We would maximize choice, by allowing students to take both academic and vocational courses within a single General Diploma”, thus explicitly opposing the creation of an approach which would lead to differential qualifications based on streaming years before the examinations. Mr Gove’s point on the de facto situation should not not strike the party as a reason to continue with it – quite the opposite.

However, not everything in the leaked proposals is terrible, from the point of view of Liberal Democrat Policy. Although overshadowed by the “Top Line” of a return to O-Levels & CSEs, the proposals for scrapping of the overly complex and burdensome National Curriculum are in line with our previously stated policy. As stated by the then Shadow Education Spokesman, David Laws, “The 635 pages of the nationalised curriculum should go in the shredder… Let’s replace it with something closer to the 21 pages that seem to do the job in places like Sweden.”

Likewise, Liberal Democrat Policy is fully in tune with improving the standards of overall education and opposed to the ‘teaching to the test’ approach which the Labour party approach to targets and statistics has pushed upon education. This was described in the above mentioned policy paper, and made explicit in the motion passed at the September 2009 conference which commits us to “Ensuring there are incentives to meet the needs of all pupils by replacing the Government’s present GCSE target which places too much emphasis on C/D borderline pupils.”

Thus, while there are obvious parts of Mr Gove’s policy which we could, should and rightly must oppose, there are also parts which we should own, claim and champion.

In my opinion, our four point approach to the education proposals must be:

  • Oppose Mr Gove’s plans for an official two-tier examination structure
  • Propose instead our own policy of a single General Diploma
  • Support the return of educational initiative to the school and the teachers
  • Push for an independent body with oversight, separate from the minister of state

* Alisdair Calder McGregor was Candidate for Calder Valley in 2015 and is a member of the party's Federal Policy Committee

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

14 Comments

  • The trouble is our ‘minimum entitlement’ policy is nonsense [though I did not know it at the time] as the National Curriculum is really thin, non-restrictive and lightweight but mis-interpreted by teachers: I can only assume that the “635 pages of the nationalised curriculum” are non-statutory guidance, which is not the same thing at all… But yes, there are some good bits from Gove.

  • Helen Tedcastle 25th Jun '12 - 12:36pm

    I was alarmed when I read the headline for this piece but reassured upon reading it!

    Yes, Liberal Democrat policy in Education is excellent and a far cry from the elitist, divisive and pessimistic view of society that Gove champions.

    The General Diploma is very similar to the Tomlinson report which Blair ditched in 2004, because he was terrified the Tories and the Murdoch press would criticise him over scrapping A levels.

    The parity of esteem a Tomlinson-style diploma would give the educational route a child takes to achieve their potential, is clearly the right aim and purpose of a liberal and balanced education.

    It is important I think, to take Gove on and argue against his overt restructuring of the curriculum into hierarchies of the essential subjects and non-essential subjects.

    Who is Gove to decide that Ancient Greek is essential for a particular child’s education but Engineering is not; that Geography is an essential Humanity but Religious Studies is not? he spends his time obsessing about History, (‘Our Island story), and Latin in his so-called Baccalaureate, while at the same time, he states he wants to scrap the national curriculum altogether!

    Surely, the aim of education is to allow a child to flourish and to achieve well. That is done by giving them the chance to choose a balanced scorecard of subjects, ie: a scientifically-minded child will no doubt study three sciences but also achieve balanced by taking Music – both areas are part of a equal, not hierarchical, balanced, rounded education.

    For Gove, Music is very much a down-graded, second tier subject. he omitted from the EBacc because he believed it to be sufficiently rigorous.. Clearly, he never studied Music Theory at Robert Gordon College.

    However, this is the wrong way to see subjects and the wrong approach to learning – and to achieve human potential.

    But this is wholly different from stating that subject A is intrinsically rigorous and of itself superior to subject B.

    Clearly, there is a concern that some GCSE papers don’t provide enough stretch. Of course, it is right to revise the syllabus and tweak the examinations – certainly, we all want high standards .

    It is vital the Liberal Democrat voice is heard in the education debate within the coalition and out in the country – if only an an antidote to hard-right Govian ideology.

  • Helen Tedcastle 25th Jun '12 - 12:41pm

    Apologies for typos in my previous post!

    ‘For Gove, Music is very much a down-graded, second tier subject. he omitted from the EBacc because he believed it to be sufficiently rigorous.. ‘

    For ‘sufficiently rigorous’ in the above quotation , please read as ‘insufficiently rigorous.’

    To the Moderators: Please could we have a preview button for the comment box on this website?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '12 - 1:26pm

    Helen Tedcastle

    Who is Gove to decide that Ancient Greek is essential for a particular child’s education but Engineering is not;

    Helen, I think you know I have made this point before, but I think it needs to be made again.

    A big problem with a lot of the “vocational” qualifications promoted by the last government were not particularly useful for the vocations they were supposedly oriented towards. Judging a qualification merely by its name is often not a good idea, but it’s commonly done. I know more about Information Technology than Engineering, but I know for sure that much that went under the name “Information Technology” at school-level education was not just of little user for actual careers in Information Technology, it was actually damaging. Yet still one keeps reading articles about the decline in the number of school students taking A-level ICT and the shortage of people with necessary skills for IT jobs as if they are linked. In actual fact a big CAUSE of the shortage of people with necessary skills for IT jobs is that A-level ICT did NOT develop or assess these skills. Instead it gave a misleading impression about what “IT” involved, putting off the most able students from considering it.

    Similar applies to Engineering. Just because a school qualification is called “Engineering” do not suppose it is particularly useful for a career in Engineering. There is no escaping the fact that the most important subject for a career in Engineering is Mathematics. The Mathematics A-level grade is the first thing any university admissions tutor for any Engineering degree will look at.

    There was a huge problem under the last government of school students, particularly those who lacked the professional contacts to know better, to take on supposed “vocational” qualifications and drop A-level Maths, even though they would have been perfectly capable of doing A-level Maths, only to find when they applied to university that in doing so they had actually cut themselves off from the chances of a degree place in the subject they thought the “vocational” qualification was leading them to.

    Funnily enough, the sort of abstract consideration of knowledge representation which comes from studying the classical language actually turns out to be highly useful for serious Information Technology work. Much better than the mindless memorisation of definitions that, unfortunately, was too big a part of A-level ICT. That is why when I was a university admissions tutor for Computer Science I would snap up anyone with a good A-level in Latin, but reject anyone whose A-levels were ICT and two similar subjects. Not through any sort of prejudice, but from experience of who did well on the degree when correlated with entrance qualification.

  • Helen Tedcastle 25th Jun '12 - 2:06pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach: ‘In actual fact a big CAUSE of the shortage of people with necessary skills for IT jobs is that A-level ICT did NOT develop or assess these skills. Instead it gave a misleading impression about what “IT” involved, putting off the most able students from considering it.
    Similar applies to Engineering. Just because a school qualification is called “Engineering” do not suppose it is particularly useful for a career in Engineering. There is no escaping the fact that the most important subject for a career in Engineering is Mathematics.’

    Hi Matthew. Yes, I know that you are particularly concerned, from experience, about the standards in ICT at GCSE and A level. Also, I agree with you that for Engineering as well as ICT, a good sound grasp of Mathematics is essential for degree level study of those subjects.

    I am absolutely clear that the 1988 core curriculum of Maths, Science, English are the basic generic subjects which hold up access to the rest of the curriculum. In this day and age, a good case can be made for compulsory study of a modern language but we are looking here at Gove’s EBacc.

    Not only has he added to the core by including selected Humanities (the ones he values) but he has elevated ancient languages from useful to essential core subjects.

    I would also agree with you, that Labour inflated the number of vocational subjects and failed to communicate to young people that they could not be used to transfer to an academic degree.

    However, it does not follow that under Gove, we should go to the other extreme –arbitrarily downgrading Engineering (specifically the qualification offered by the JCB Academy – they do Maths too) and an academic Humanity of equivalent academic challenge at least to Geography (so say Durham University), Religious Studies.

    Actually, I don’t think our views are that far apart. I am for high standards, rigour and excellence in Education.

    I am in favour of the revamp to ICT (overdue) and in a tiny core of generic – access subjects.

    I am against the Secretary of State deciding which subjects according to his own obsessions become part of the elite suite, (note: he wants to have O level-type exams in the EBacc alone, whereas the other subjects have another exam), while other subjects – The Arts, Religious Studies and incidentally the new Computer Science course, are down-graded to second-class – in funding, resources, staffing and status.

  • Matthew, you are right to an extent on the details, but Helen is also right to maintain: ‘Who is Gove to pick and choose.’ This is particularly the case in the example of music, which *is* valued as both rigorous and academic and creative. The problem we have is that the selection of the EBac is not based on rigour or even a wider consultation (because there was none) – it is based on Gove’s personal prejudices. The question of standards overall can probably be dealt with by Ofqual, single examining boards and better working with universities and employers, not a Secretary of State picking and choosing one set of values at the national level.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 25th Jun '12 - 4:03pm

    Have any LibDems cottoned that all this kite flying by the Tories re exam proposals, housing benefit cuts to the under 25s, regional benefit rates are all preparation to your being dumped by your partners??

  • Tony Greaves 25th Jun '12 - 10:07pm

    Of course the Tories will dump us. And we will dump the Tories. The question is when. At the moment that is three years away. The question is not will the Tories dump us before then but when and how can we get free?

    As for Gove, he is the biggest centralist in the government. All his reforms are based on All Power to the Goviets.

    Tony Greaves

  • This discussion ignores the existence of the third tier in education, from which our top judges, politicians, journalists, civil servants and other professionals continue to be disproportionately drawn. Interesting timing after Matthew Parris’s recent point about the tax benefits public schools as registered charities enjoy. Do I detect a smokescreen? It all seems to have been done rather on the hoof. Be that as it may, if we’re going to discuss education let’s discuss all of it if we’re serious about increasing social mobility and greater access to the professions.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jun '12 - 10:49am

    Henry

    Matthew, you are right to an extent on the details, but Helen is also right to maintain: ‘Who is Gove to pick and choose.’

    Much though I dislike Gove, on the whole I find the subjects he has “picked” coincide with those I found best predicted future success when I was my university department’s admissions tutor.

    Too much lazy discussion on these topics does just look at subject titles and make assumptions on that basis. For example, I have seen so much media commentary which picks out Gove’s downgrading of school ICT and links it to the skills shortage in the IT industry and supposes that means downgrading school ICT was bad. This coverage never gets the point that school ICT was a big CAUSE of that shortage of skills, because it didn’t teach those necessary skills, in fact it gave the wrong impression of what IT was like, and taught approaches (like ones based too much on memorisation) which make it harder to teach students those skills.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th Jun '12 - 1:24pm

    Matthew Huntbach:
    Henry: ‘You are right to an extent on the details, but Helen is also right to maintain: ‘Who is Gove to pick and choose.’

    Matthew: ‘ Much though I dislike Gove, on the whole I find the subjects he has “picked” coincide with those I found best predicted future success when I was my university department’s admissions tutor.’

    Matthew, as I have pointed out in previous posts, and I think you know, there is a national curriculum review ongoing and ICT is being revamped to become, in effect, Computer Science. This has been welcomed across the IT world as far I have learned.

    However, there is the big issue of unnecessary subject casualties in Gove’s crusade to return us to a system of a ‘traditional’ subject-led education ie: the 1950s model.

    I cannot accept the deliberate omission of subjects from the proposed Gove gold standard, like Music and Fine Art for no substantial reason.

    Bothare be made more ‘rigorous ‘ under the curriculum review to dampen down fears of dumbing down, and by what criteria can it be proven that in and of themselves, these subjects do not help to produce appropriate students at degree level for many subjects?

    What is clear to me is we must not lose from our system the idea that people should be able to pursue to a high standard, those subjects which suit their aptitudes and potential – and be rewarded for that!

    It is surely illiberal to restrict all the prizes academically to a few subjects like Geography and Hebrew but NOT the others, aforementioned!

    I understand that in Computer Science and perhaps in other degree subjects, there has gradually been a blurring between academic subjects and those vocational subjects which do not prepare someone for an academic degree.

    But I’m afraid that your fears will not be met by Gove. He will use concerns to drive through a draconian, narrow two-tier subject system which as far as I can see, downgrades and devalues subjects which have not been responsible for ‘dumbing down’ and have not been invented recently!

    Another example: Religious Studies was deliberately omitted from the English Baccalaureate even though according to Gove’s own benchmark of ‘rigour’, the subject has been proven to be of exactly the same difficulty as Geography.

    How can this be seen as anything other than an exercising of Gove’s own personal foibles?

    The poor selection by pupils of the A levels needed to apply for particular degrees, is a failure of information and communication to young people of the disciplines required for degree study. Of course, the right balance must be made at A level for a chosen degree.

    This does not mean however, a throwing out of the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

    In my view, Gove must be stopped from creating new hierarchies and divisions in the curriculum, which further divides pupils and restricts their choices. Only the Liberal Democrats can do this. Labour has shown little resistance and great weakness on Education under this Secretary of State..

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Simon R
    @Phil Beesley - as I understand it, the ICO are stepping in to investigate whether data security laws are being complied with - and that seems to me a reasonabl...
  • William Francis
    @Michael BG As a matter of fact, I have: https://www.justliberals.org.uk/ownership-for-all/ I am currently writing one going into far greater detail thou...
  • FS People
    Peter Martin "What would be your choice of a term to replace ‘neoliberal’?" You have skipped a question. The first question that needs to be asked is:...
  • James
    I’m a member of the Labour Party, so maybe it’s none of my business commenting here, but I didn’t view the decision by your party to stand candidates as i...
  • Lorenzo Cherin
    For james Fowler https://www.libdemvoice.org/boris-booster-63751.html...