Friday, 22 June 2012

The Education Kerfuffle...

I don't normally do political stuff on my blog... but I wanted to get this off my chest.

Michael Gove has, if the leaks are correct, proposed the scrapping of the GCSE exams and the reintroduction of O Levels and something approximating to the old CSE exams. Nick Clegg has apparently protested that this will lead to a two-tier education system.

At the risk of making myself totally unemployable, I'm going to throw in my ha'penny's worth...

First, Nick Clegg needs to wake up and smell the coffee. We already have a two (actually three) tier education system, only it isn't fair because it is supposedly one-tier for everyone.

GCSE Science exams are at either Foundation or Higher tiers. The former papers can get a maximum of a Grade C. That is the case even if the student scores 100%, because the questions are easier and the breadth of subject material is less. Most people count a GCSE pass as A* to C. Anything below C therefore doesn't "count." So, unless a student is definitely going to get a C grade, anyone doing a Foundation Tier paper is being consigned to "fail" even before they get into the exam room.

In addition, students who are not expected to cope with exams are usually streamed into BTEC courses for Science, so all of their work is coursework. The BTEC is supposed to be equivalent to GCSEs. No-one actually believes this, hence the "third" tier I mentioned.

The system as it stands is just totally dishonest.

Oh, and I have yet to meet a single teacher who thinks that we should keep the GCSEs.


Richard Collins said...

Well said Mac. I think that Michael Gove should take over as PM.

The whole secondary school structure is designed to produce low grade students and total failures, only the few naturally talented or well supported ones make it to the top. A
Grammar School plus Technical College type format should be the way ahead.

Dilly said...

Technical/Commercial schools were the great lost opportunity of the 1940s reforms. We had them locally (they are now excellent comps), and they still have them in Germany.

I would extend and rewrite English and Maths exams to have ten levels of competence; focus on Spelling, Grammar, Comprehension, Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry to be taken online - with instant marking. These could be taken at any level when the pupil is ready - but at independent centres. These would be a better measure of skills. More able pupils could take the traditional O'Levels as well. You would need Level 8 or above to get to University. They current do a form of this called "Adult Literacy and Numeracy" but it is not particularly well planned.

All coursework-heavy courses such as BTEC are open to appalling pressure on teachers and pupils to commit fraud - even the "controlled assessment" ones. BTEC should only be for craft subjects - and again should be examined via practicals and knowledge based exams. I prefer a carpenter or electrician to do a job quickly and competently - rather than write a two page evaluation of "what would work better next time".

Cettis Warbler said...

On the other hand the GCSE History I teach has no tiers and is, frankly, much too hard for the weakest kids in my mixed ability classes. The new controlled assessment requires A level type skills and weeds out further candidates from achieving the all-important "C" grade. Since it was introduced grades have gone down across the board. Personally I think it's more demanding than the regurgitate facts O level that I took.

So whether GCSEs are useless is not perhaps such a simple question...

gemoftheocean said...

Gove is an interesting fellow, and I think his ideas are usually good. The only problem with the old O/A levels, as far as I can tell were gold standard -- but they left out the bottom 80% or so! It's what to do with the next 2nd and 3rd quartiles that England really seems to be lagging. It's like you never figured out that you have to heavily stream comprehensives. In the US a kid might not be in the top stream, but if he's in the top 30 percent, he won't be taking 'math for dummies' either.

Most countries do pretty well with their top 20-25% - but it would be interesting to see who does the best with the next 50%. Also who does the best with the bottom 25%.

In secondary school they will encourage as many as possible to take the academic track, knowing that in 4 years time many will not be going on to further schooling, but figuring at least most will have been shoved through algebra, geometry, English (for 4 years), biology, US history, World History and (unless really bad students) they will try and get them through 2 years foreign language (usually Spanish as that's considered easiest.) At that point the ones who are not doing particularly well will be eased off on and they can take the easier course offerings. And the ones doing reasonably well will be encouraged by their counselors to either continue on in the more academic path, or to mix with practical subjects. [I think a US student would be stunned if 'travel and leisure' were an option though!] That bottom 25% might not even be pushed that hard.

I was pretty stunned out how lame some of the foundation GCSE papers I saw were. Things kids 12/13 should know.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...