GCSEs - Gove's Chaotic Shot at Education

9 Nov 2013

During the last couple of weeks or so, Ofqual, the regulator that deals with exams and exam boards, has revealed the structure of new GCSEs, due to be rolled out over the next three to four years. Despite the welcome from government ministers and even those in the Shadow Cabinet, this is likely to send our education back to the dark ages. Yes, the current system needs reform, not least to stop exam boards shifting the goal posts at last minute, but I don’t believe that scrapping the modular system of GCSEs is in anyway a good idea.


Michael Gove may be trying to push thirteen to sixteen year olds to higher achievement, but putting more and more pressure on them isn’t the way to do that. The last few years, for myself and many other students, have been stressful enough, especially with the mess that was the GCSE English exams, so I don’t see the point in taking our education system back forty years. 

The new system, due to be phased in over the next few years, is likely to mean chaos for students and teachers alike, with some pieces of work being marked under the new numerical system, from one to nine, while others will be marked under the old G to A* system. From my perspective, it just looks like a way to get schools up the League tables while not thinking about the kids’ education. Plus, according to ministers, the new system will help kids get jobs after school or college, however, I know for a fact that English and Maths aren’t enough anymore. Vocational qualifications, such as those supplied by BTECs are still important for practical skills. 

Furthermore, you can’t make an overall assumption that every job will need English and Maths specifically. There are now a range of qualifications fit for the jobs that young people will go into, for example, construction or ICT, in which they will be learning such skills anyway. 

Despite all of what I have said, I accept that in some ways, the new system will help the job market and hopefully, in turn, young people’s financial situation and the skills to go with it. Especially once they leave school, I cannot stress enough how much Maths skills come in useful. With this government squeezing every last penny out of students, we need those skills for budgeting. I can see how they do come into practical use, however, I feel sorry for the kids who have to endure such courses, especially with the removal of coursework.

I guess, being a student who has been through the system, I have grown used to it and therefore wouldn’t want it to be harder for others in the future. Furthermore, I do wonder if this is going to push those with learning difficulties too far. With an increased focus on spelling and grammar, it is likely to disadvantage those with learning difficulties such as Dyslexia. I spoke to Stephanie Anderson, Policy Research and Communications Officer for Dyslexia Action and this is what she had to say on the matter: 

1.      What do you think of the changes to GCSEs over the next few years? i.e. Your opinion on the rate of change and how hard it will be for students?

“Dyslexia Action considers that the changes are being made without sufficient attention to the implications for students taking the exams.  The changes do not reflect that students learn differently and are able to demonstrate their talents/knowledge and understanding differently.  For some, an assessment based on a final exam plays to their strengths, for others it doesn’t.  The current system, built over many years of evolution, provides opportunities for students to learn and be assessed differently, reflecting the wide divergence of students in our schools. 

The other principal change is greater attention to spelling and grammar.  While we recognise and support this for those lessons where this is what is being tested we do not however accept this is a sound application of marking where other knowledge and skills are being assessed e.g. a science.  Surely here the marks should reflect the performance demonstrated in the subject, not that which is being assessed elsewhere e.g. in an English assessment.

Both of these areas do not embrace the learning differences of children. It also assumes that the skills are directly relevant to the workplace and ignores that there is IT and reference support available.”

2.      How do you think it will affect young people with learning difficulties such as Dyslexia?

“I think this is implied in my answer above.  Those with dyslexia have varying challenges which are personal to each of them.  These might include difficulties in reading, spelling, memory, and organisation.  The key to great learning for students is enabling them to work to their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.  These changes will do the opposite for students with dyslexia, with each student’s difficulty being compounded by the stress of the assessment.  These changes will inhibit students with dyslexia from demonstrating their knowledge and skills.”

3. If you could ask Mr Gove to change anything in the education system, what would it be and why? 

“That it is compulsory that teachers receive training in how to teach literacy and how to do that for all students, including those with dyslexia.  Teachers are not required to be equipped by their Teacher Training to do this.  We have a problem with the number of children leaving school with an inadequate level of literacy.  We measure that at the end, and the GCSE changes are in part responding to that concern.  To us, it would be better to deal with it by having teachers trained to deliver it from the start, rather than this being a skill that is learnt on the job or via CPD.”

As much as I would like to say that I approve of these so called new style GCSEs, I find it difficult to comprehend how students will adapt to a system that for the next few years will be in a complete mess. If anything, this is likely to initially decrease the amount of students getting “good” grades and, in my opinion, I think it puts too much pressure on everyone to achieve highly. Michael Gove, although I know he won’t, needs to get his head on the right way round and start caring more about the quality of students’ education and less about league tables and good publicity. 

I finish with a quote from Robert Green Ingersoll, a politician from the 19th century, who said that “It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education, than to have education without common sense.” Unfortunately, I’m afraid to say, Michael Gove applies to the latter, not the former.

Backbench Minister for Education

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