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The end of GCSEs...?

Plans to shake up education in England have been leaked to the Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2162369/Michael-Gove-plans-scrap-dumbed-GCSEs-bring-O-Levels.html (And I think anyone who has ever watched 'The Thick of IT' will be pretty sure that the Education Secretary knew perfectly well about the leak and quite probably ordered it.)

A summary of the plans, as reported:
Scrap GCSEs
Bring back O-levels
Exams will be "explicitly harder"
Scrap the National Curriculum
Less academic pupils would take something else, maybe like the old CSEs
The new exams will "meet or exceed the highest standards in the world for that age group"
A single exam board will set each O-level
2015 GCSEs will be the last
The "five GCSEs A-C" statistic to be scrapped

The LibDems don't like it, but it's not clear if this is for sensible reasons or if Mr Clegg is just pissed off that the Daily Mail knew before he did. The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph both love the idea and the Guardian and the unions both hate the idea. (Since GCSEs were introduced by Kenneth Baker, when was the last time you can remember trade unions defending a Thatcher policy so passionately...?)


So what does everyone think?


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 21st, 2012 06:40 pm (UTC)
The system does need to be fixed, but care has to be taken that things aren't made worse. GCSEs and ALevels are now so easy that Universities simply can't differentiate between the brightest pupils, and employers don't take them as seriously as they used to.

I wonder if simply introducing the Scottish system across the UK would work- at least it would ensure that pupils continue to study a wider range of subjects to 18, and the system already seems to work.
Jun. 21st, 2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
GCSEs and A levels certainly need to be made harder, as they are signally failing to distinguish between those who are extremely able* and those who are not. But this could be achieved by just raising the mark needed for each grade.

*In an academic sense.
Jun. 21st, 2012 07:26 pm (UTC)
The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph both love the idea

Which is why Gove is coming out with it. He's making a play to the anti-Cameron Tories, in the hope of building up his chances of becoming next Tory leader. If Clegg does block it, all the better as far as Gove's concerned.

There are serious problems with secondary education, but this kind of thoughtless atavism is hardly the answer. A pity Labour ducked the opportunity to do something serious about it when it had the chance.
Jun. 21st, 2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
It seems clear that something needs to be done about "Quality Control" of school exams - as far as I can see all the rewards at present exert pressure to make exams easier (broadly speaking there are carrots for more pupils passing but no sticks for dropping standards). Some of the above may be about addressing that - e.g. the single exam board will reduce the "competition" to offer an exam to schools which is "easier" to pass, though you would have thought that that might be handled better by offering some sort of independent "difficultly" measure of the exams which employers and universities could then use to differentiate between the boards and then there would be an opposing pressure to offer a qualification that would get you a good job/university place - though, of course, that would mean admitting that not all GCSEs were equivalent.

What I'm not at all convinced about is that splitting the qualification back up into a "hard" exam and an "easy" exam actually addresses the quality problem, and I'd want to know that the "easy" exam wasn't going to translate into a "useless" qualification which is clearly how a lot of people viewed the old CSEs.

Err... in short... if I were in charge of education policy I would be looking for ways to increase the incentives for exam boards to maintain standards in their qualifications rather than fiddling with the name and format of the actual exams.
Jun. 21st, 2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
I'd question why we need to rebrand back thirty years rather than fixing them under the current name (or choosing a new name).

And I'd want to know what research has been done on how to improve the education system, which other countries' systems have been looked at to see what gives the best outcome, etc. Basically, I want evidence-led legislation, and this sounds like reactionary-legislation.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 05:14 am (UTC)
Sounds like a good plan for me. I agree is clearly a blatant bid to be next leader of the Tories, but that doesn't stop it being a sensible idea, esp the "single exam board" idea. Re a two-tier system, my knowledge/interest/experience is all at the top end, where I'd very much like to see more demanding exams. It's not about raising the marks for grade boundaries, but about having exams that require thought. At the lower end, not my area but I suspect we probably need meaningful vocational training, apprenticeships etc rather than either CSE or GCSE. NVQs could have been this but I'm not sure how useful they are to employers.

At the moment it's embarrassing how little respected the UK's education system is. E.g. when recruiting PhD students, I find myself thinking, "Oh good, an Iranian graduate", or asking my Irish colleague for calibration and being told, "A 2:1 from an Irish university is actually quite good, not like here". We used to lead the world I tell you!

Jun. 22nd, 2012 05:58 am (UTC)
(in deference to the Oxbridge-educated people on the thread, I should point out that by "here" he meant the Russell-group uni we work at; am sure an Oxbridge 2:1 still holds up).
Jun. 22nd, 2012 06:09 am (UTC)
but about having exams that require thought

Good point, N.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 10:17 am (UTC)
Ah but setting up good vocational qualifications would mean WORK. I can't see us ever ending up with vonactional qualifications which are anywhere near as good as the German system for example. When a Master Craftsman gets the same respect a graduate in the UK then we will have a decent system and I can't see that happening any time soon.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 02:28 pm (UTC)
Oops sorry. My reply beginning "I sooo agree with you" was intended for you, Helflaed.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 02:27 pm (UTC)
I sooo agree with you. Nick Clegg perfectly exemplified the problem when he said he would veto Gove's plan on the grounds that O-levels would consign non-academic children to "the scrapheap". Yeah riiight, because clearly if you don't go the academic route it's the scrapheap for you; nothing else you do can have any value.... N
Jun. 22nd, 2012 04:43 pm (UTC)
In fairness given the lack of a manufacturing industry in the UK are there any vocational courses that produce jobs beyond child-minding/nursery, plumbing, gas-fitting, electrics, carpentry, and hairdressing?

Edited at 2012-06-22 04:44 pm (UTC)
Jun. 22nd, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
Gardening, cooking, arts and crafts, the leisure industry.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 06:44 pm (UTC)
That's interesting given a colleague who wanted to set up in gardening couldn't find anyone to take them on, maybe that's a young = cheap problem though.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 08:10 pm (UTC)
I believe that the UK does still have quite a big manufacturing industry. Not as big as it was, certainly; and many manufacturing jobs are for foreign companies; but manufacturing is still a reasonable part of the UK economy.

According to Wikipedia, manufacturing accounts for 8% of the UK workforce - so some 2.5 million people - and 12% of the national output - or £200 billion.

In the industrial sector as a whole, according to Whitaker's Almanack for 2012, the UK has 22% of the workforce, compared to France's 24%, Germany's 28%, Italy's 25%, Japan's 23% and the USA's 22%. So we are behind Germany, but broadly on a par with Japan and the US.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 08:31 pm (UTC)
Numbers are all well and good, 22% to 28% though? And what did the UK have in the 60's? Come to Wolves and Brum and see all the empty factories, print works, workshops, or former sites up for redevelopment.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 12:01 pm (UTC)
What's wrong with those? They all seem like excellent and necessary jobs, which could be performed to a very high standard with suitable training? I have met some carpenters, in particular, who do very well : there seem to be a lot of fields where that's a really useful high end skill.

I don't know what the figures are, but speaking from my own experience, I have a number of UK-based manufacturing customers, from small businesses to quite large organisations. They pay well and some of them seem to be quite interesting in terms of innovation in their fields.

I have some academic qualifications, and they have been useful in the sense of opening doors and understanding broad concepts, but probably more vocational IT or programming training would have been much more directly useful in the field that I've ended up in.

I mean, I love Anglo-Saxons, don't get me wrong, but there is relatively little about Penda of Mercia that helps me work out how spammers are getting into a system I control and bung them out of it. Not that the blood eagle wouldn't be an entertaining thing to do to spammers, if only it were possible.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 02:14 pm (UTC)
Ooh defensive much!

All I'm asking is if there are any jobs for people taking vocational courses to go into beyond a select few which keep being reported as either in great demand because you can never get one, or that the only plumbers these days are 'Polish'.

And given how the economy seems to be going I wonder if there are jobs for them to go into. I like the idea of academic streaming by ability with no one stream given more kudos than the others because we're all individuals and we're all different; so I'd be happy to see a mix of schools grammar, secondary, comprehensive and then a mix of things that people could do after the basics like uni degrees, practical and/or vocational courses, etc.

I think the problem with British over the last 60 years has been a mix of common sense which has been fucked over by snobbishness, and anti-snobbishness, so you had a bunch of good intentions which ended up messing a working system that was broadly similar to Germany's (if you equate Grammar & Gymnasium, Fachhochschule etc) in favour of the 'level playing field that isn't' that we have today whereby grammars are seen as elitist and to be done away with and so on. Try and bring all the kids to a certain level of learning for sure, but after that let them do what their talents suit them for academically.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
Sorry, I have no idea what you mean about 'defensive'? You seemed to be suggesting that certain jobs were not worth having, and I am genuinely baffled as to why.

I'm also a bit baffled by why you think there are no other jobs, or market opportunities for self-employment, other than in those areas except for those created by academic education?

I mean is a degree or an A level really that useful in terms of getting a job, compared to, say, a couple years learning a trade as a tech support operative, accounts clerk, plumber's assistant?
Jun. 23rd, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
I'll simplify.

I am not anti vocational training courses.

I am not saying one type of job is better than the other (although I've done a goodly range of things in my time).

I am not saying only academic degrees are good (although folk can quibble regarding the awarding universities).

I am asking - do all vocational training courses result in 100% of the course cohort going into hired employment?

I am suggesting that I don't think they do.

I'm not saying that this means some courses are better than others.

But I am saying that some vocational courses seem likely to result in people getting employed because of the nature of the training & work compared to other vocational courses.

Also I know that not all degree courses result in 100% of cohort going into hired employment, there can be a long gap for some folk where others do get hired straight away, and ignoring those who go onto further degrees.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )