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Opinion: Catherine Ross, @QcattQ

The government is doing away with GCSEs because they represent a “race to the bottom” and don’t reflect Michael Gove’s draconian attitudes towards learning and testing.

Modular GCSE courses will be replaced by two years of learning followed by a three-hour exam for each subject. Great. Except it’s not. It’s a terrible idea. The kind of idea popular with those who bemoan slipping standards, who think children should be seen and not heard and who can’t stop harking back to the good old days when exams “really meant something”.

What Michael Gove and his supporters fail to realise is that one final exam is not a good measure of someone’s aptitude in a given subject. It doesn’t allow for those who get overwhelmed by stress or anxiety, who aren’t feeling well on the day, who get stage fright, who have an excellent grasp of the subject, but whose minds go blank in the face of pressure.

“Diddums,” I hear you say. “That’s how it was in my day.” I know, I know, you just had to get on with it. In the same way that Victorian children just had to “get on with” cleaning chimneys and working in factories instead of going to school. I suppose this is a similar point to the one Nik Butler made a couple of weeks ago in his column about Sunday trading. Yes, we managed in the past, but that doesn’t mean that things shouldn’t change for the better.

We should be talking about maximising the chances of success for our children. We should be talking about how we can best teach them and nurture them to become people who love learning and information, are curious about the world and who believe they can achieve anything if they put their minds to it.

We shouldn’t be teaching children that they are failures if they aren’t good at exams. It’s too common a problem and leads to people being cast aside. If a 16-year-old fails their Ebacc (English Baccalaureate) in five years’ time, it has a direct impact on what they are able to do next.

Michael Gove admitted that many children will “leave school without qualifications”. So where does that leave them? Left behind, that’s where.

2 comments on “Opinion: Catherine Ross, @QcattQ

  1. You’re absolutely right I remember suffering from hayfever for the only time in my life during O’level exams and therefore didn’t get the predicted grades I then had to spend the next year doing retakes whilst also studying for A’levels.
    There might be room for making adjustments with the mixture of coursework a final exam marks within the GCSE system and it could also benefit from evening this up across all subjects. Some currently seem to rely much more on coursework than others.
    At least with the current GCSE there is the option for those that are less able to take the foundation paper which is an easier exam where the top mark possible is a C. I don’t see problem with the current system in general terms and the expense and upheaval for both students and teaching staff would seem unnecessary to me.

  2. We need to take our time with this and talk more to employers, schools,Uni’s, teachers, parents and students. We cannot afford to jump in and take the ‘gut reaction’ way of doing things – it’s people’s futures that we are dealing with for goodness sake! Successive governments have tried to change things in education in the last 30 years and all seem to take the swinging pendulum approach i.e. let’s do the opposite to what the last govt. did. There has been so much chopping and changing about. This puts real stress on children, parents and teachers because goal posts and goals keep moving.
    I speak as a parent and a retired primary school teacher. There have been some good educational reforms in recent years but I believe that it is time to look at what and how we want our children and young adults to learn, and I’m talking about life skills here not just passing exams. I went to a grammar school in the 60’s/70’s and you could get by in some subjects by doing very little work all year if you were good at revising and did well on the exam day. My son attended the Weald school and achieved excellent results, but I feel had a much more holistic and well rounded education than I did. Isn’t there an argument for teaching children that steady work throughout the year is just as important as passing exams?
    I can see the argument against doing modules where one is able to resubmit pieces of work time and time again, this does strike many of us as a little absurd. However I feel that a return to only taking the exam into account is going from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous. Surely efforts through the year ought to be rewarded? I am most certainly in favour of more rigour in the curriculum, but surely that is possible whilst keeping it broad and balanced.
    I have really felt for students in recent years who, after working their hearts out and achieving excellent results, have been told that everything has been dumbed down and their efforts are not as worthy as those of students in previous times.
    A continued raising of standards in teaching and learning is obviously what most of us want. But please lets put politics and vote seeking aside when it comes to educational reform. Our country needs a well-educated population if we are ever to get out of this economic mess we are in. But let’s not jump into reforms with both feet and too quickly – ‘Rome was not built in a day’.
    We need to take a broader view and look at technical education, apprenticeships too – an area where we seem to have lost our way latterly, unlike many of our friends and business competitors in Europe. Perhaps it is time that we took a more lateral view and looked at whether the ‘one size fits all’ type of education is the best way forward, especially at secondary level.
    Some reforms are needed but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. We owe it to our children and our country to get it right and then to provide a period of stability, where we all have confidence in, and give our support to, our educational system.

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