Understandably, much of the attention given to Michael Gove’s White Paper The Importance of Teaching has centred on plans for expanding Academies and Free Schools. One of Michael Gove’s longer term objectives however, is to make radical changes to the relationship between young people and qualifications. The White Paper reaffirms Coalition plans for a return to a more traditional ‘subject’ approach to the curriculum.
Gove wants exams to be linear rather than ‘modular’ and limit the number of ‘re sits’ each student can take. Despite the contradictions and limitations of New Labour reforms, participation rates have increased and qualifications like the A-level have become more accessible. Gove’s problem is that too many students are doing well! Gove also wants to re emphasise the difference between academic and vocational learning with the latter becoming more practical and work based – though we will have to wait for the publication of Professor Wolf’s report to find out the details. Gove is particularly nauseated by the way schools have been allowed to use BTEC style qualifications as academic equivalents in league tables.
The White Paper needs to be read in the context of the Coalition’s decision to raise university tuition fees effectively pricing out large numbers of young people from attending university. If the Coalition seeks to redirect significant numbers of students from university into apprenticeships, the collapse of skilled manual work and astronomical levels of youth unemployment means that rather than providing a “challenging and rewarding option from age 16 onwards” (WP 4.53) these may be little more than ‘apprenticeships without jobs’ -delivered in FE or by private training providers and resembling the failed youth training schemes of the 1980s. The success of any state education policy should be judged by the extent to which it is able to win legitimacy with both students and teachers.
New Labour’s education programme encouraged young people to stay in full-time education for as long as possible so as to take advantage of the (illusionary) opportunities provided by the globalised economy of the 21st century. It could be seen as the last episode of the post-war social democratic attempt to reform society through education. If Labour promised much but delivered little, Gove offers even less.
see https://radicaled.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/back-to-the-grammar-school/ for a more detailed critique