Really cheered up my week that did – Gove having to do a U-turn on the introduction of the EBC to replace GCSEs. The rights or wrongs of it didn’t come into it – just seeing that man having to climb down was brilliant! I was particularly taken with Steve Bell’s cartoon on the subject.
Though once I started reading the details (eg here) I actually started getting more worried. The idea of putting in places most of the proposed changes, but not even changing the name of the exam (and hence presumably not the grading system either) is really unfair. The first year to do the new version are likely (or should I say “almost certain to”) get lower grades, both because it’s intended to be tougher, and also because political pressure will ensure they do. If it’s still called a GCSE, then a few years down the line, if those people are competing with someone a year older for a job, who’ll remember that they were the first year of the “tough GCSEs”? The people who did GCSEs before there was an A* grade suffer from that now, as will those whose A-levels predated the A*. If you’re going to change the assessment, there needs to be a clear dividing line so it’s clear they’re not comparable.
My biggest concern is the abolition of tiering. This is ridiculous. You cannot set a maths paper of a sensible length that both allows a Grade G candidate to demonstrate positive achievement, and discriminates fairly between an A candidate and an A* candidate. I predict he will fall flat on his face on this – I just hope it happens before the lives of some kids are messed up by his idiocy.
I’m also alarmed by his modelling the new National Curriculum on heavily fact-based systems. Yes, kids should know some things, and I often complain that they don’t. But being able to regurgitate the names of cities and rivers, or recite quotes from the “classics”, are not higher-level skills, or indeed particularly praiseworthy ones in themselves.
Speaking personally, I always had a marked dislike for subjects that required me to rote-learn facts – not because I couldn’t do it (I actually have a pretty good memory for such things), but because requiring it seemed to be an insult to the intelligence, and in some cases an exercise of power for its own sake (“you learn this because I say so…”). One of the reasons I always loved maths was that you worked stuff out, you didn’t learn it by heart. For my first few years at school, I was actually put off my other current favourite subject, chemistry, because it seemed to be a matter of learning random facts – it wasn’t until I saw the wonderful logic that underpinned it all that I fell in love with it! I think it’s all going to be very “retro” – the geography that Gove wants to reintroduce sounds like what I was taught, not the interesting subject the kids study now, too – I wonder if he’ll bring back those maps that were rolled into your book (and shading the sea blue round them, and marking on the principal cities…).
The plan to reform the league tables – dare I say it – sounds vaguely sensible. I’m certainly pleased that the emphasis on the C/D boundary is to be removed, as that definitely disadvantaged both the more and less able (most schools put their best teachers consistently on the C/D boundary sets, and many even ran sessions after school just aimed at kids who could potentially be pushed over that boundary).
It’ll be interesting to see how the pushing of “computer science” pans out. It really isn’t taught much at all – ICT is what’s commonly delivered – and they are very different things. I cannot imagine that many ICT teachers would be able to start teaching computing just like that. That’s not to say introducing computer science is a bad thing – on the contrary, I think teaching kids to code is good for encouraging accuracy and logical thinking, and I’ve done simple programming within maths lessons. But a touch of realism is called for – and as ever, that seems in short supply with politicians.