Reprieved GCSEs

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.

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5 Responses to Reprieved GCSEs

  1. Jesse Owen says:

    Interesting post – I was glad to hear that GCSEs are staying but I didn’t realise how they were changing, it doesn’t sound like all good news after all. I know someone who teaches History who isn’t pleased with the changes and I guess this has something to do with it.

    I’m interested in following what will happen with computer science – all we had at my school was ICT, which was taught in lets just say not a very organised fashion! I took an A Level in the subject (and to be honest I’ve no idea how I lasted a full two years!)

    ICT and computer science are like you say two very different subjects – in my mind I compare ICT to admin – learning how to create spreadsheets, databases … and sometimes office based software. Though to be fair my old school now offers I think it’s called applied ICT which also includes websites and some more interesting things.

    Where as computer science is more logic based – and actually creating the programs that run on computers. Like you I’m concerned as to how long it would take ICT teachers to move to computer science – as an example when I was doing the ICT A Level I was also just starting to learn how to code websites – in a break time I was tweaking a little bit of PHP code on a membership system I had written and my teacher came over. He recognised that the code was to do with websites but when I told him it was PHP he said “looks scary” – all that simple piece of code was doing was checking some form fields for validation! “If this field is empty show an error” kind of stuff.

    And that’s not even programming – it’s scripting, though the same logic structures – iteration, conditional (can’t remember the name of the last one – want to call it procedural but not sure if that’s right lol) apply to almost all (if not all) programming languages.

    I know they’ve massively increased the incentives for top computing graduates to enter teaching to accommodate this change (for those with a 2:1 or higher) but like you worry about how existing ICT teachers would cope with the change.

    I seem to have left a rather long comment (again) – sorrryyyy!!!!

  2. teacherposts says:

    I like the long comments!
    It’s interesting to hear your experience on the ICT front, and I wish I could say it surprised me, but it didn’t. I’ve met a number of ICT teachers who can’t cope with my rather mickey-mouse little Excel macros!
    At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes – I’m wondering whether all those top computing graduates are necessarily going to be at home communicating with a load of kids – the CompSci students I met at uni were in many cases even odder than the mathematicians 😉

    • Jesse Owen says:

      hehe, I completely agree – I know I would be terrible at communicating with a load of kids (and my course was only vaguely computer science-y – Multimedia Computing – I say vaguely as it’s now changed to Digital Media) – I’m not so good with adults either. That said the majority of the students on my course weren’t anywhere near as bad as me).

      And no excel macros are mickey-mouse 😉 We only use very basic ones in work and they cut down the amount of repetitive work we have to do considerably. 🙂

  3. Joy says:

    On the ICT theme, my little Y1s enjoyed using Infant Video Toolkit 2Go to program in a series of instructions to draw a shape on screen. Some of the results were – er – interesting!!!
    Just saying! 🙂

  4. teacherposts says:

    Sounds good fun, Joy! I’ve seen some pretty “interesting” results with kids using Logo – and even more amusing were the ones who tried to convince themselves and me that it really was a square…

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