GCSE reform

You know, I’d made a resolution not to say anything about Gove or Wilshaw on here for a good long while – it’s bad enough that they exist, without writing about them too!  But – well, what alternative do I have now?  It’s just a choice of which to pick.

So – Gove it is!  GCSE reforms – or perhaps one should say “GCSE demolition”.

I’ve read the whole consultation document (that’s the third consultation document I’ve read this year – do I get a prize?)   As ever, there’s lots of rhetoric about “world class” qualifications, and denigration of the “race to the bottom”. There’s lots of apparently highly laudable aims about not having teaching to the test, and the lower grades still meaning something worthwhile.  There’s very little actual detail about exactly how these would be achieved in this brave new world, of course.   But some of the specifics – few though there are – are pretty hair-raising, as are a number of the assumptions.

So – where to start? What about the first page?

Government speak: “Raising our expectations of attainment for all students will drive up standards as teaching and learning improve to meet that challenge” and later on in the document: “The current structure of GCSEs fails lower attaining students.” together with “we need to make sure that our qualifications…, provide a greater and more honest level of challenge” and just for good measure, to make it clear:”… EBCs … would demand that a candidate was performing beyond the minimum levels which are currently required to achieve a C grade at GCSE – but it would still be something we believe all children with a good education should be able to achieve

And in English: “If we set harder exams, the kids will become cleverer, and all kids would be able to pass them. If we say we expect everyone to be an Einstein, then provided those lazy teachers get off their backsides, they all will be”

So – let’s look at the proposals (no – not all of them – I don’t want to send everyone to sleep):

Here’s one: “No tiering”   Yup, so they are suggesting that all kids, from those who can barely string a couple of sentences together and read slowly and painfully to those ready to write their first novel should sit the same English paper. And likewise, whether you are struggling with adding two digit numbers or manipulating complex algebraic expressions in your head, you do the same maths paper.  So – either the lower achievers are going to find the paper really tough (= damn near impossible to demonstrate positive achievement), or the top end are going to waste a lot of time doing work that’s way below their capacity. That’s really helpful then.  Oh, silly me, I forgot – they’ll all become clever if we tell them to!

Here’s another ” Currently, students are permitted to take examination aids into some examinations, including calculators for mathematics and science papers, periodic tables in chemistry and source materials in history and geography. We believe that the use of such examination aids should be restricted”  Excuse me? You are planning to take us back to the days of log tables? You want kids to learn the periodic table rather then understanding the chemistry?  You don’t think analysing sources – rather then remembering lists of dates – is useful?  YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!

And a third: “We need to ensure that any support provided does not encourage ‘teaching to the test’, which may mean limiting materials such as past papers, mark schemes and examiner reports, which are currently widely available”   I remember the days before such things were available. They were like gold-dust! I became an assistant examiner just so I could get my hands on markschemes!

What would happen if you removed them from public availability? I’ll tell you what would happen. Some teachers would move heaven and earth to get copies (and past papers, for example, would always be possible to get just by entering and withdrawing candidates).  Others wouldn’t. The pupils of the former would be massively advantaged. That’s assuming, of course, that once one person got hold of this amazing contraband, they didn’t immediately stick it on the internet…

Anyone interested – if you would like to read the whole lot (well, you probably wouldn’t like to, but you might feel you should), or even more importantly, respond to the document, here’s the link

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