As a probably soon to-be Primary trainee teacher come this September and as Things Can Only Get Better’s resident Education ‘expert’, I suppose it’s almost unavoidable that I write a post on Mr Gove’s new proposals to GCSEs (le sigh).
I suppose I’d best analyse each of the four major changes in turn:
1. Scrapping grading A*-G and replacing it with a scale of 1-8, with 8 as the top.
Not much to say on this one, I know prior to the mid 1970s this is the marking scheme that was used, but ultimately it’s a bit pointless as the old system was fine enough. Overall though, no biggie really.
2. Abolishing modules and having exams at the end of the two-year course.
If anyone wants to know, when I completed my GCSE’s way back in 2007, I was the last year group to have the ‘shove all the exams at the end of two years’ GCSEs. Ultimately, this is a bad idea, it moves all the pressure and stress onto a period of around a month. There is the argument that ‘Oh but Max, students will just re-sit everything’. Yeah, it’s not ideal, but if people are able to pass their exam second time round I honestly couldn’t care less if that’s how it’s done. If anything it shows a willingness to redouble efforts.
3. Axing coursework for almost all subjects.
This is probably where I have the biggest ‘beef’ with the reforms. Myself and Nash heavily benefited from exams, it’s both our preferred method of assessment (Nash famously describing exams as “like a pub quiz with more drinking”). But there’s more to life and more skills to be learnt than memorising how to jump through hoops for the sake of an exam markers. I hate to quote the Confederation of British Industry, but Neil Carberry, CBI Director of Employment and Skills has a point when he says:
“Tougher GCSEs, although necessary, are not an end in themselves. There is a broader debate to be had about how relevant high-stakes exams at 16 will become over the next few decades, as the demand for higher skills from business increases.”
He’s right as we very much need a Finnish model of education where exams are shunned and teacher assessment is the primary method to analyse how students are progressing with a rich focus on personal development and team work.
4. Cutting the number of subjects with “tiered” exams aimed at different abilities.
This is the one area of the reforms I can sympathise with Mr Gove. Under the current system, Maths exams are split up unto three tiers, upper, middle and lower. ‘Uppers’ can receive the full A* mark, ‘middles’ can receive a maximum of a B and ‘lowers’ can only receive a maximum of a C. If you’re stuck at the upper end of a lower or middle group you’re now barred from receiving a higher grade than you were expected to. But a standard exam for everyone will fail to push the ‘uppers’ and the ‘lowers’ may struggle. In true fashion of the scientific method this is one area I will fail to come to a definite conclusion. I await more information.
Ultimately Mr Gove, I’m going to give you a D on this one. Not an absolute failure, but a lot of work needed to be done.