Reforming Key Stage 4 Qualifications: Michael Gove Moderniser or Reactionary? Greenwich University Seminar.

Martin Allen  08/11/12

Michael Gove’s schools revolution continues. The Secretary of State has used the debacle over this summer’s exam grades to announce proposals to abolish GCSE, an examination which he considers ‘no longer fit for purpose’; but also to reaffirm the importance of English Baccalaureate subjects in the secondary school curriculum.  Having already ended modular assessment for GCSE courses beginning in 2012 Gove is proposing GCSEs be replaced by new ‘more rigorous’ exams in the E-bacc subjects. This presentation will address the following questions:

  • Have exams become ‘too easy’ and standards ‘dumbed down’ – in the way Gove argues?
  • Is there an alternative explanation for increased performance levels and ‘grade inflation’?
  • Are Gove’s proposals really about  bringing secondary education in this country more in line with that in ‘high performing’ countries – particularly those in East Asia?
  • Rather than ‘modernising’ the qualifications system is Gove promoting a ‘reactionary’ and elitist agenda aimed at restoring the role of traditional academic education at the expense of other types of learning?
  • What are the alternatives to the E-bacc?  Are Ed Miliband’s proposals for a new ‘Tech-bacc’ a challenge to the Gove agenda or an accommodation to it?

                                                                                              Download  Greenwich seminar

3 thoughts on “Reforming Key Stage 4 Qualifications: Michael Gove Moderniser or Reactionary? Greenwich University Seminar.

  1. Patrick Ainley writes:

    Keith’s formulation ‘Working harder to work smarter’ is a good answer to your first question Martin: “Have exams become ‘too easy’ and standards ‘dumbed down’ – in the way Gove argues?”

    When teachers/ educationalists are put on the spot and asked by John Humphreys or whoever, ‘Surely you’re not against raising standards – so you won’t mind having more tests to make sure this is achieved?’ we have to throw this back into their court by admitting that yes, standards of test-taking have risen (as Keith said, teachers and students are ‘working harder to work smarter’) but they are working to less purpose since standards of reading, spelling and punctuation, along with problem solving – as opposed to computation – in maths, have all fallen partly as a result of the type of tests students have been taking for so long.

    This is a feature of the system from the top – when Oxbridge tutors have to go through paragraphing and punctuation with undergraduate tutees while all universities consider 4 year degrees are now necessary for nearly all students with a foundation year of preparation in year 1 – to the bottom when how many as a percentage – of young men especially – now leave school unable to read and write? (A more or less constant 20% of males since the army tested all recruits to National Service but likely to be rising, not only because of the tests but also because of wider cultural changes including the domination of the mass media and entertainments industry by Murdochlike corporations, the loss of an oppositional working-class culture based on the trades unions and the way new technology has been applied in and out of work to simplify and deskill etc etc.)

    All teachers recognise this if they honest and Gove also recognizes it (re. the question perhaps asked in the discussion in a mistaken commitment perhaps to academic ‘balance’ or ‘fairness’/ ‘presenting both sides of the argument’ that ‘Surely there must be something good about Gove?’ [Would he ask the same question about Hitler?!]). Just as Gove also recognizes – unlike many of his critics – that the idea of a correspondence with modernised industry won’t work so that we can’t ‘educate our way out of recession’. In fact, the two must be connected in his mind – depending how deeply devious he is (about which there is little point in speculating since, as Lenin said, ‘In politics we do not need a “sincereometer”‘) – because his answer to the one which involves introducing harder exams and failing more school students is also the answer to the other which turns education from supposedly ‘meeting the demands of industry’ to the prime means of social control over young people in the absence of employment.

    Gove may hide this under the pretence that restoring de facto grammar schools will restart the limited absolute upward social mobility that there was post-war and mistakenly blame comprehensive schools for bringing this short period to an end so that now ‘the real trend in social mobility’ is, as Ken Roberts argues, ‘from upwards to downwards’, or he may be deluded and ignorant enough to genuinely believe it (in which case as Groucho said of Chico, ‘He not only looks stoopid. He also sounds stoopid. But don’t let that fool you – he really is stoopid!’). Just as he may believe that teaching funny fonics will improve reading, whereas indications are that it won’t and so this is a way of sabotaging the ability of children to read.

    Either way, experience in the USA shows that as Diane Ravitch writes: ‘we have obtained a paradoxical and terrible outcome: higher test scores and worse education.’ (230) ‘ [so that] Efforts to reform public education are, ironically, diminishing its quality and endangering its very survival.’ (242) Ravitch, D. (2010) The Death and Life of the Great American School System, How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books. notes on attached with apologies if you have already read.

    This is what we now have to explain to ourselves, other teachers and academics and students + parents and the wider public

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