Sunday, 23 September 2012

Michael Gove- the man who shot GCSE’s just to watch them die.

The GCSE is no more, killed off by endlessly busy Education Secretary Michael Gove, it will be replaced in 2015 by the English Baccalaureate, or EBacc to its friends.

The new qualification will do away with modules, most re-sits and see grades decided by a single exam at the end of two years study. There will be one exam board covering each subject, ending, it is claimed, the ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of assessment standards caused by multiple boards competing for business.

In a joint statement made with deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg Mr Gove said ‘We believe that if we remove modules and reduce coursework, get rid of the factors that encourage teaching to the test and, above all, ensure there is just one exam board for each subject, we can restore faith in our exams and equip children for the challenges of the twenty first century.’ Phew! Even for the hyperactive Mr Gove that sounds like a tall order.

Even though more students will fail the new exams there will be, so Nick Clegg seems to believe, no return to the two tier system that operated in the days of O Levels and CSE’s. Speaking this week he said ‘You can raise standards, increase rigour and confidence in our exam system, but still do so in a way that is single tier.’ Really? Good luck with that, personally I think you’ve got more chance of winning the Grand National riding a unicorn.

Criticism of the new EBacc has come from the teaching unions and the opposition. Labour shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said they risked a ‘return to a two tier system which left thousands of children on the scrap heap.’

Chris Keates of the NASUWT accused the Education Secretary of ‘embarking from the outset on a cynical and wholly unjustifiable attempt to discredit the quality and rigour of the GCSE qualification.’ He added that instead of ‘celebrating’ improvements in teaching methods and pass rates he had ‘sought to claim, aided and abetted by commentators, that these improvements are merely the result of a ‘dumbed down’ GCSE that has become increasingly easy to pass.’

That GCSE’s have been killed off or that it is Michael Gove standing over their corpse holding a smoking gun is hardly a surprise; years of fiddling by Labour and Conservative governments had put them on the critical list long ago. What should cause worry to anyone with an interest in education is the way the opportunity to bring about helpful change has been swamped by personal prejudice and ambition.

The sadly inevitable truth about the shiny new EBacc is that it will do more harm than good; every one of the problems it claims to end will in fact be made much worse. For example far from discouraging ‘teaching to the test’ having the success of a whole year depend on the outcome of a single exam will make the practice more not less prevalent.

The focus of the new qualifications is too narrowly specific to meet the needs of further education or employers and totally ignores new subjects such as design and technology and performing arts that are economically important, but don’t fit easily into the confines of a traditional examination. As for vocational education, that has, yet again, been ignored completely by an education secretary who thinks the only measure of intelligence is being able to prattle eruditely in a dead language.

Most worryingly of all the thinking behind the EBacc is that because students all have to learn the same things it follows that they all learn them in the same way; this is nonsense. As a result more students will fail, not because they have been poorly taught or aren’t up to the mark, but because the way they have been tested is too narrowly prescriptive, this is a shocking waste of effort and potential that will coat Britain dear in the long run.

About the only thing the EBacc is good for, it seems, is promoting Michael Gove as the curled darling of the Daily Mail and the sillier sort of Tory traditionalist. Despite loud protestations to the contrary he clearly believes himself to be destined for a higher office than Education Secretary, maybe even, with a following wind, the greatest office of all. That he is willing to squander the chance to do good in order to pursue his own ambition shows that Michael Gove is unfit to hold his present position, let alone climb any higher.


Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell threw a hissy fit when refused permission to ride his bicycle through the security gates into Downing Street by the police. He, allegedly called the officers in question ‘plebs’ and used the sort of language nice people don’t in mixed company. Probably nothing worse that they hear on an average Saturday night, but pretty much beyond the pale in the refined cloisters of Westminster.

Such behaviour is even more unpalatable when acted out by a senior official of a party that spends so much of its time an effort railing against the belligerence and unwarranted sense of entitlement of what Mr Mitchell probably thinks of as the ‘lower orders.’

Since he clearly believes himself to belong to a much higher order of beings his resignation, which has been called for by the Police Federation, isn’t nearly enough. The bounder should be despatched to the library with a loaded revolver to do the decent thing; after all it’s the only way out for a gentleman Mitchell.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg this week made a cringe worthy television apology for getting his party into such a mess over university tuition fees, within hours this had spawned dozens of internet parodies.

Poor numpty Nick, he just doesn’t get it does he? Saying sorry is the easiest thing in the world, everyone from bank CEO’s to ten year olds caught with their hand in the cookie jar do it on a daily basis. Its meaning it that is hard.

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