Tuesday 11 June 2013

GCSEs: 'Creating aspirations which society cannot match'

"There has to be selection because we are beginning to create aspirations which increasingly society cannot match … When young people cannot find work at all … or work which meets their abilities or expectations … then we are only creating frustrations with perhaps disturbing social consequences … people must be educated once more to know their place” 
Senior civil servant quoted in Thirty Years On, Chitty and Benn
Protesting against the GCSE marking scandal last August
Just as tens of thousands of 16 year-olds sit their GCSE exams, Tory education wrecker Michael Gove has announced a further shake-up to the examination system. In doing so, he is shamefully sending out a signal that these students' achievements will be, in his mind, 'second-rate'. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Gove and the Conservative Government can't accept that, through the hard work of students, teachers and schools, and under emormous pressure to achieve imposed targets, GCSE results have improved year-on-year. In the past, improved examination results would have been a cause to celebrate but widespread achievement no longer matches the needs and wishes of the Government and its big business backers.
As the quote above, rumoured to be from a senior adviser to Sir Keith Joseph, spelt out long before the current economic crisis took hold of the world economy, big business no longer requires a widely educated workforce. Now it's time for Gove and Co. to draw up the ladder so that only a select few youngsters are able to succeed.
It would be wrong to idealise the GCSE examination system, Any exam regime is there, in the final analysis, to decide who is given the opportunity for certain careers and higher education, and who isn't. However, at least the introduction of the GCSE marked an acceptance that all students should have the chance to achieve a qualification of equal worth to their peers. 

Gove has had to abandon his attempts to ditch GCSEs altogether but is insisting that exam boards revert to the old-style method of assessing all learning on the basis of terminal examinations at the end of Year 11. However the various changes to assessment methods, while significant, aren't the fundamental point. No, the key to Gove's agenda is to be found in the short sentence in today's article on the BBC News website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22854908 ): "the pass mark is to be pushed higher". Whatever happens, Gove wants to make sure that far fewer students succeed.
Coursework will be ditched under Gove's proposals even though it has allowed students to show skills that can't be so easily assessed in a brief final examination. However, it also has to be said that, as schools came under increasing pressure to improve results, teachers have been expected to go to increasing lengths to coach and support students to complete the work required. Now the pressure will be on to cram students for the terminal examination instead, rather than being able to spread the work over separate modules and coursework elements as well.
Of course, if teachers, schools and students were consulted properly, it may well be that changes and improvements to the current system could be agreed upon. In an NUT press release, Christine Blower was right to criticise Gove's attempts to rush through changes without proper consultation, saying "We would like the Secretary of State to have a longer consultation period to achieve a consensus on what we all want – the best possible exam system in which the greatest number of young people engage".
Unfortunately, while engagement and success of the many will be what teachers , parents and students want, Michael Gove is working to a very different agenda. As the economy crumbles, the post-war consensus in favour of high quality public services and comprehensive education-for-all is becoming a distant memory. 
It is now the responsibility of trade unions to use their strength, backed up by their communities, to defend the gains of the past against those like Gove who are trying to steal them away from us. 

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