Mr. Gove’s oral statement on the reform of Key Stage 4 exams and qualifications will need careful consideration before a response to the consultation on it is submitted by the December 10th deadline. Whether you are a parent of a child who will be impacted, a prospective parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a school governor or just a concerned member of the community I would suggest that you also study the proposals and make a response to the consultation.
What follows is my initial response.
My first main concern relates to the ending of modular exams. Whilst I acknowledge that some of the ways of testing have not been ideal as technology and the ability to plagiarise has moved forward the principal itself makes sense for a range of reasons:
Firstly, it teaches what universities and businesses need. People who have the skill to work on specific projects and then move on to something else which is related but differs, building on the skills previously built up. Universities also work on the basis of a variety of assessments throughout the course, not one final exam, although finals often, rightly, have more weight.
Secondly, some good students who have issues such as anxiety would never be able to cope with the one final exam.
Thirdly, this will tilt the bias in the exam system back towards boys rather than trying to find a solution which works for both genders. The GCSE system of coursework has been shown to have given girls and unfair advantage over boys…..but this is swinging back to the other extreme which has been shown to disadvantage girls.
My final point on this is that Gove himself has said that it means that many of our 16 year olds are likely to fail and are going to have to resit. Is this re-sitting going to take place in schools or FE colleges? I suspect the latter. This is problematic for a range of reasons not least because the lack of investment into FE colleges and the push to basically turn them back into technical colleges has seen the cutting of many of the GCSE courses which would be transferred. This seems like a cynical ploy to deal with the problem that raising the school leaving age is going to lead to….what do we do with people who have to stay on but aren’t really up to the standard required for / interested in the post-16 courses offered. The reality is that it is likely to lead on to an increased number of NEETS that is young people who are not in education, work or training and who effectively truant during those extra two years.
Another big worry for me is the subjects being talked about. Beyond the initial year where English, Science and Maths would be introduced the only other specifically mentioned subjects are languages, History and Geography. The scope of the humanities is being cut with Religious Studies no longer being judged as an appropriate humanities subject to offer. This narrow focus of subjects does not take into account the broad range of learning styles that people have and the wide range of skills that are needed within our economy that need to be developed before the age of 16, the most glaring omissions for mind are IT and business studies. Telling students they have to wait until 16 to do what may suit them best and then they can only do it if they have achieved the right grades in the other subjects seems like a recipe for disengagement.
In terms of the timescale for implementation. I welcome this and would hope that the transfer to the eventual new qualification whatever it ends up looking like takes this time and money is put in place to train and resource teachers ready for the change. As somebody who was part of the first GCSE cohort I understand the impact it can have if new qualifications are rushed in….some of our syllabuses weren’t finalised until part way through the 4th year – as it was then.
The proposal that only one exam board offer each subject is one which I think is ill judged. Whilst there have been some cases in the press of exam board problems where too much help has been given in staff trainings for example the truth is that there are a variety of reasons that teachers choose to change exam boards. These include the syllabus detail and breadth, the administration associated with that exam board and the availability of resources linked to that exam board. So whilst there is an element of truth in what Gove is saying there are also good reasons for keeping the variety.