Today in parliament, Michael Gove announced changes to the National Curriculum and to the 16+ examination system. Mr Gove admitted that he was wrong. He accepted the views of others and backed down on his proposals to replace GCSEs with EBCs, and to have a single examination board per subject. Not that he did it with true humility – since by saying that he’d had to admit that his ideas had been going “too far and too fast” and that he didn’t want “the best” (ie his ideas) to be the enemy of “the good” (ie everybody else’s ideas) he was hardly apologising.
Neither did he go as far as to admit that he was wrong on a number of other issues.
Let’s start with the positives.
3Di Associates welcomes the Secretary of State’s announcement that the National Curriculum will be streamlined. In the past it has been far too prescriptive and the urgency to cover all aspects of the curriculum has led to poor pedagogy, and very little sustainable and enjoyable teaching and learning. We also welcome the statement that head teachers, governors and schools will be given greater autonomy to choose what pupils learn and the manner in which they learn, reflecting the needs of individual school communities and their learners. We are also in favour of the widening of the Value Added system to include other creative curriculum areas, though continue to have significant reservations about how this will operate and for what purpose – especially relating to the type of baseline assessment that is going to be carried out at the end of KS2. 3Di Associates also welcomes the Secretary of State’s reiteration of the need for all pupils to receive a broad and balanced curriculum.
However, there were negatives too.
- There was no sense of remorse for the two wasted years and the damage that has been inflicted upon young people by the perpetual denouncements and denigration of the qualifications that they are currently studying. (“Dumbing down” etc)
- There was no sense of remorse about the fact that a two tiered system of education and a regressive examination system was his and still is his basic educational ideology – an anachronistic ideology that was and is clearly unfit for the 21st century.
- The new National Curriculum is going to be heavily focused on knowledge and understanding rather than skills.
- The examination system is going to be returning to a linear process whereby pupils have to sit one exam which is essentially grading the ability to memorise as much as the ability to learn.
- There was no mention of reinvention of the exam system, only reformation. We don’t believe that a 16+ examination system is relevant for an 18+ school leaving age.
- There’s still no real cross-party agreement that would ensure a stop to the changes that emerge with every change in government.
- There’s still no evidence of the teaching profession’s views being reflected in the new proposals or offering any avenue in the future for the teaching profession to guide and direct teaching and learning.
- There’s an insistence on summative assessment being the absolute essential of “meaningful accountability” when this simply is NOT the case. Countries like Finland use formative assessment and only formally “test” young people ONCE throughout their schooling.
- There was barely a mention of primary education in the entire statement or debate.
We shall be writing more about the new Gove proposals in due course. There’s too much to say and clarifications need to be considered before an extensive response to Mr Gove’s suggestions but we do need to be clear that these proposed changes are not radical enough and they don’t appear to be addressing some key issues about learning, about equality, about the equity of vocational compared with academic achievements and the very essence of education policy needing to be returned to educationalists rather than kept in the control of politicians and bureaucrats.
Mr Gove has made a U-turn, but not a very big one. There are still fundamental flaws to the proposals and we need to continue to unite against the potential damage that these policies could inflict on a very large number of our children and young people.
A Footnote: For a debate and an announcement as important as this, on the future of our education, and the future for our children, there were barely 60 MPs present – not even 10% of our elected members in the chamber for the statement.