Gove’s plans to scrap certain GCSEs in return for the English Baccalaureate was apparently lacking in quality last week as he announced his failure in the House of Commons. Calling them a “bridge too far”, we saw another U-turn in Government policy and a fortunate concession to Labour and teaching unions who rightfully expressed concerns and fears at the proposals. Unfortunately, however, this is just one change of many that were being pushed through the Houses of Parliament. Alongside this, there are plans to make GCSEs and A-Levels much more rigorous and demanding whilst changing the curriculum dramatically. Schools are being told that the current system for exams are too easy and that students need to be pushed harder and harder; even more stress is being put on the outcome of exams.
At a recent lecture at the University of Birmingham, Anthony Seldon, author of famous biographies of Blair, argued that the Government (and schools) focus far too much on the measurable factor of qualifications gained, rather than the personal development of the individual who spends up to seven years in their institution. Tested solely on their ability to soak up knowledge and regurgitate it on a piece of paper (perhaps in a certain style), schools seem lacking in building up confidence skills, creativity and that flair of determination that you would hope to see in every student. Instead, like battery hens, students are pushed through a system of education where their sole purpose is to gain good grades so their school can demonstrate its “excellence”, whilst the student is then pushed along on the factory line to the next institution.
Ironically, it would seem, this kind of approach to pushing children through education is one that causes demotivation, dissatisfaction and, in some cases, anti-establishmentarianism. As a result of being pushed by their “superiors” to achieve A-grades in the core subjects, it is often heard that a lack of A-grades simply translates to a lack of success. Hence, if you don’t achieve A-grades, you are a failure and will get nowhere in your life. Yet, this could just end up as a self-fulfilling prophecy; being told you will achieve nothing means you will achieve nothing. You might be putting your all into it, but being told that there’s no point because you’ll get nowhere – why not just give up?
Meanwhile, the different learning styles of individuals are overlooked; alternative qualifications such as BTECs and apprenticeships are deemed inferior, “for stupid people”. Apprenticeships are not accepted on UCAS, and many universities and employers overlook or do not display the criteria in any other form than A-Levels. Despite being more specialised in their area, those with BTEC or similar qualifications are told their qualifications are not of equal worth to A-Levels. This is quite simply outrageous.
Of course, this article does not reflect every educational institution. There are many across the country that do realise the full potential of individuals and do accept the qualifications that others are too elitist to do so; those whom do give people a chance without judgement. These are the places we should be drawing inspiration from. It is argued that those who are given the chance to strive for a meaningful goal and work at their own rate learn better and faster than those are forced into a strict schedule and discipline. Surely, these children would become passionate about a certain field, develop for that field and become better workers.
In the current British system of education, there are many flaws that do need fixing. You can argue that exams may be too easy and that different exam boards are competing for schools by offering lower boundaries for grades, but the truth is that full potential can be realised through the self-development of individuals. Rather than focusing on exam grades, we should be focussing on young peoples’ passions, their skills and their needs.
By James Phillips