GCSE issues … again …

Ok once again Michael Gove MP has entered the news with his plans on GCSEs. This time it’s issues with the brand that has made the headlines.

Questions are being raised about how it should be distinguished from the current GCSE system. There are speculative reports saying that it might be rebranded as ‘l-levels’, assuming the ‘l’ means lower to match A-levels being Advanced Levels. I guess that makes sense, but this hasn’t been decided according to Ofqual.

All this is happening because the exams are breaking up from Wales and Northern Ireland, where these changes are not happening. This has been made clear by Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews, who states that there is no intention of changing the name in Wales.

As well as distinguishing the English GCSE from versions in Wales and Northern Ireland, there is also the issue of how the reformed GCSEs should be labelled to show the difference from the existing GCSEs.

Not all GCSE subjects will be changed initially, which will mean that there will be old and new versions of GCSEs being studied in England at the same time.

The changes already revealed for GCSEs indicate that they will be graded numerically rather than by letter. Rather than grading as A, B or C, there will be grades of 1,2,3 and so on. Mr Gove has told a select committee that he strongly backs this change, but as I mentioned before in a previous blog about this, I really don’t see the point of this.

The final change is that there will be a shift away from coursework and assessment of individual units to taking an exam at the end of a two-year course. This for me is worse than what we have already. I am a personal hater of exams for personal experience reasons, but also because exams don’t really test what you know. Instead, they test what you can remember. I can certainly vouch for that as I took a French and German GCSE 5 years ago, along with all my other GCSEs, and I can hardly remember anything of either of them as I’ve barely spoken or written a word of it since. For me coursework should be the answer. Having one monumental exam at the end of the course means that the exams would have to be very long to accommodate every individual unit, which is going to put even more pressure on kids. We, as teachers, already put too much pressure on kids in my opinion, so this will further compound the issue.

This is not the first time Mr Gove has tried to get rid of GCSEs as they are. In fact, according to shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg, this is the third time. Twigg claims that Mr Gove keeps failing because he hasn’t got a thought through plan to improve exams. Changing letters to numbers and the name of the exams is hardly the key to higher standards. We need serious proposals that learn from the best countries in the world. This needs a rigorous focus on English and Maths and testing both academic knowledge and the skills that young people will need in the workplace. It has to be said he has a point. Not long ago, I had a friend phone me up and ask me what was cheaper, 3 for 2 or half price. These are things that should be obvious to people.

My opinion hasn’t changed much on this matter, I still believe the proposed changes are quite frankly worse than the current system we have got, and thus implementing it would be disastrous for education in this country. But I guess you can expect that when we have an Education Minister who has no experience in education, only experience in journalism. This is a classic example of why we don’t want incompetent people running our country.

Comment your thoughts 🙂

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3 thoughts on “GCSE issues … again …

  1. Nice blog/report! Definitely agree that one big exam certainly isn’t the way to go. Coming from someone who can only revise last minute, I often learn the majority of the subject the night or week before the exam. Although it seems to work for a reasonable grade, it’s terrible practice for the long term, as I often forget soon after the exam as you say with your languages. I prefer doing coursework and subsequently learn a lot more from doing it, with the knowledge really installed in my brain. I’ve always thought practical work is more beneficial but other opinions may differ. Interesting article though and I wonder if it will go ahead. Let’s hope not.

    1. Hi Jonny, nice to see you reading my blog

      You’re actually a good example of why this wouldn’t work for another reason. If you think about the revision you do last minute, you were only revising certain units at that time. With Mr Gove’s proposal, you would end up revising two years worth of work in that same amount of time, which would be impossible to remember all of that, so your grades would be tumbling.

      Another thing to think about here is moving on to higher education. For example, my degree is almost entirely coursework based, with a couple of audits and the QTS skills test being the only real ‘exams’ we have. With this in mind, is doing a 4 hour exam going to help me learn the skills that I will need for my degree? No of course not. Another nice thing about coursework is you can look back on it, which you can’t really do with an exam which is an ‘on the day with pressure’ type of situation.

      Hopefully this will be abandoned like the two other previous attempts to change the GCSEs, otherwise I would feel like a shepherd sending lambs to slaughter instead of a teacher sending kids into a secondary school to build their careers.

      Mr M

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