Parliament and classrooms alike have erupted in anger after Michael Gove, the much maligned Education Secretary, announced plans to scrap the current GCSE system in favour of the new “English Baccalaureate”, a system which he says will place less emphasis on competitive exam and reduce the “dumbing down” of qualifications awarded to 14-16 year olds. Although the new proposals have been scheduled to come into force in 2017, there is no doubt that the argument for and against the radical upheaval will reign supreme until then.
Under the innovative scheme, a core element of the EBacc will include the compulsory study of English, Maths and Science coupled with other subjects offered via external examination boards in the Humanities and Languages department. But unlike the GCSEs of today, no two exam boards will be allowed to facilitate the same subject, meaning an end to the competitive nature of the qualifications system. This in theory will make the exam process more stringent and rewarding for the pupil whilst allowing the standardisation of education. Fairness and equality, not the words usually associated with the Conservative party, seem to be the driving force behind the new scheme.
During my time at secondary school, I vividly remember having discussions with peers regarding examination techniques from other local schools and it didn’t take long to figure out that certain exam boards made it easier to achieve a grade C or above. Edexcel was avoided in Mathematics in favour of the OCR board, but AQA was preferred in English Language over any other board. Schools simply picked and mixed different organisations in order to achieve higher in the local rankings tables. This is exactly the sort of exam-politics that the EBacc will seek to eradicate from the current education system.
Once the GCSE system has been scrapped, no more modular exams will be permitted, meaning an end to the spoon fed bitesize and “forget the course the day after the exam” policy that currently exists in Key Stage 4 school corridors. An exam at the end of the course will increase rigour and allow for a more holistic approach to marking rather than breaking subjects down into meaningless chunks. Less coursework and fewer resits will demand more from pupils’ individual ability and help improve the standard of education across the board. Much like the International Baccalaureate, the grade awarded will be via an overall mark, meaning students will be encouraged to achieve in a more rounded fashion rather than neglecting one subject as is often the case in GCSE examinations.
The system does seem to be a better alternative to the current examination process, on paper at least. What then of the “less able academically” or “more able creatively” pupils that are left in the mire after this new system has been established? Well Gove simply states that they must bite the bullet and accept that they may fail the first time round and in order to leave school with qualifications must redo the EBacc at Further Education institutes such as a local college until they succeed. Currently, the EBacc offers no solace to those students who are successful in creative subjects, such as drama, art or textiles. Although the current proposals seem draconian and scarily Orwellian, one does hope that the EBacc itself will incorporate practical studies in order to cater for artistic pupils as it grows and evolves as the standard qualification awarded to 16 year olds within England.
This has led to many MP’s arguing against the move, labelling it as a return to the “two-tiered” system of the O-levels, which will leave behind the less able or creative minded students that would have been successful if GCSEs were not to be phased out. Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, said the reforms risked a return to the pre-1988 era of the O-levels. “We need to face the challenges of the 21st century,” he said. “We on this side will not support changes that only work for some children.” Critics have voiced their fears that a genuine two-tier system may be created, endangering a large proportion of the population and returning to an elitist culture.
As a former pupil of a school that offered the International Baccalaureate, I can vouch that the system is much more rewarding and stringent albeit being a more difficult alternative to the A-Level system. If the EBacc is any reflection of the IB, then I have no doubt that despite initial concern, the population will warm to this idea that will put us on a par with education giants such as Sweden, Norway and Japan. The key issue here is that subjects which are more favourable towards practical students have not been included in the current EBacc subjects list, meaning only those who are academically bright in traditional subjects will fully reap the benefits of the new proposals. Questions are being asked-Are the government on a mission to suffocate all creative talent within our secondary schools? What will happen to subjects like design and technology? Will we see a rise in education standards, or will the public suffer?
As ever, politicians, much like clowns, have to learn how to juggle dozens of balls without dropping any of them. It’ll be interesting to see how the current government get on showcasing this new initiative to the judging audience.
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