Michael Gove’s ‘leaked’ plans for reinventing GCE ‘O’ levels (and ‘CSE’ alternatives for those students not able to pass them) should not be any real surprise; coming in the same week as his proposals for restoring traditional A-levels – and abolishing AS levels and course work – have been unveiled by Ofqual (www.ofqual.gov.uk/news-and-announcements/130-news-and-announcements-press-releases/914-ofqual-launches-a-level-consultation) and where reports of major disagreements between the Education Secretary and his curriculum ‘experts’ hit the press. (www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jun/17/michael-gove-national-curriculum)
While considerable attention has been focussed on government plans for Academies and Free Schools, Gove has also been launching a full-scale attack on the curriculum, most evident at secondary level and centring round an English Baccalaureate of traditional subjects. Officially promoted as a way of raising standards and bringing education in this country closer in line with ’successful’ economies, Gove’s proposals are nothing of the sort. On the contrary they are about imposing the inequities of grammar school education on an already divided school system – Gove may want to reintroduce grammars, but in many respects he doesn’t need to! Different tiers in education already exist, bringing back ‘O’ levels will reinforce these.
This type of examination system where fewer will now pass and more will fail isn’t just the whim of a lunatic Tory education minister; it also brings education more in line with the increasingly polarised labour market faced by young people and a society in which social mobility has effectively ended. Rather than addressing the ‘dumbing down’ of standards its prime objective is the ‘pushing down’ of many of those now having to work harder and harder to try and maintain them.
Teachers and their organisations, already under the cosh from assaults on pensions, working conditions and job security have an excellent opportunity to link these immediate concerns to much wider attacks on education and young people.