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Michael Gove’s GCSE reforms fail to value wider skills

Jun 12, 2013 by

Focus on final examination neglects importance of young people learning how to learn, work in teams and speak well

Michael Gove‘s view is that the current qualification system is letting countless young students down and is entirely discredited.

I don’t believe there is anyone who would dispute that the system is showing signs of creaking. The Commons education select committee’s report on last year’s GCSE grading debacle points to systemic failings. Anecdotal evidence from teachers at the sharp end confirms that all is not well when it comes to qualifications.

But we appear to have lost sight of what education should be about.

David Blunkett, a former education secretary, felt strongly that young people must learn how to learn, work in a team and be able to speak, as well as write. The concern I have with the proposed GCSE reforms is that the mode of assessment – final examination – is so rigid and narrowly focused, it fails to take into account these skills.

We have missed an opportunity, probably because of the speed of the reform timetable, to reflect more broadly on what we value in learning and how this should be assessed.

Stephen Perse, the school which I lead, offers the International Baccalaureate diploma programme, a gold-standard global qualification.

I am sure Gove would approve of the IB’s traditional terminal examinations in each subject which conclude two years of study. However, the IB’s approach to assessment is far more wide-ranging: approximately 25% of marks are awarded for coursework; there are oral tests in English where credit is given not just for presentation but for use of language; in modern foreign languages there are individual orals and group orals with roundtable discussions; a group presentation in science is built on teamwork; a “theory of knowledge” presentation allows the teacher to review the students’ understanding of this core part of the diploma; and an extended essay offers an opportunity for the student to engage in meaningful independent research under the supervision of a staff member.

Although the IB is clearly a model for sixth formers, it offers a valuable insight into how a well-constructed assessment framework can work without comprising rigour and standards. Can we not offer something as sophisticated for our own national qualification?

Tricia Kelleher is principal of the Stephen Perse schools foundation in Cambridge

via Michael Gove’s GCSE reforms fail to value wider skills | Tricia Kelleher | Comment is free |

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