Tuesday, 18 September 2012

More Gove nonsense uncritically accepted

Before I start this post, a caveat and some reassurance. Reassurance first: this will be my last post about the bloody e-bac. For a while anyway. Now the caveat: I simply cannot bring myself actually to read Gove's statement, let alone watch or listen to him making it. If I am therefore guilty of misrepresenting his views please tell me. It is utterly irresponsible of me, I know, to seek to criticise proposals I have not heard at first hand. Perhaps they are infinitely better thought through than I give them credit for. Perhaps Mr Gove has been listening and learning and now actually does understand how education works, and it is the commentators who have got it all wrong. Miracles sometimes happen.

Anyway, there are two aspects of Gove's proposed replacement for GCSE that appear to have gone largely unchallenged thus far. Indeed they seem to have been accepted as truisms and hence beyond dispute. They are these: that his new exams will be more academic; and that they will stop teachers teaching to the tests. However just for a minute, let us examine these two claims.

Mr Gove (it appears) has stated emphatically that his new exams will be more academic, citing as evidence that there will be no more modules or continuous assessment and instead a three hour terminal exam. The only debate that this appears to have engendered is over the question of whether this is fair to the "less academic" students. The primary claim seems to have gone largely unchallenged. However I personally really don't get it. In what universe does academic ability equate with the ability to succeed at a three-hour exam? What proportion of the average academic's working life is spent sitting three-hour exams or doing anything remotely similar? Academic study approximates far more closely to the processes involved in modular and continuous assessment. Academics conduct research, produce papers, interact with other academics, take part in debates and review the work of their peers. These are not dissimilar activities to those students engage in when producing continuous assessment. In science for instance the only part of student assessment that comes anywhere close to the working life of academics is the coursework element in which students carry out a scientific investigation.

So to claim that a three-hour terminal exam is per se more academic than modular or continuous assessment is absurd. When Mr Gove went to school the academic students were the ones who sat the three-hour exams while the non-academic ones did woodwork. However I have news for you Mr Gove: the world has changed since then. We have found better and more sophisticated ways to test academic ability. Except that you seem intent on destroying them.

The second claim is that these exams will stop teachers teaching to the tests. Indeed they will free up teaching time so much as to allow whole vistas of advanced learning to be explored. Again this claim appears, to me, to be going largely unchallenged. However again, I don't get it. We live now in a world where every aspect of schools' success (and indeed survival) is linked to the exam performance of its students. Mr Gove is ratcheting up the "floor target" for exam success at the end of KS4 just as he is forcing down the percentages of students who do succeed and schools caught in this unholy vice face compulsory conversion to academies and/or forced closure. At the same time everyone who feels qualified to pontificate on education (that would be everyone then) is loudly bemoaning the numbers of students who fail to achieve high grades at the end of KS4 and prophesying calamity for those who do. It stands to reason therefore that teachers care, and will continue to care, about the exam performance of their students above and beyond anything else.

So how will the new exams prevent teachers teaching to the tests? Why under the new system will teachers suddenly feel that yes, these exams are the be-all and end-all for my students' achievement and yes, my own career progression and possibly pay will be linked to my students' success in these exams and yes, my school may even be forced to close if the students do not succeed at these exams but no, I am not going to spend as much time preparing my students for these exams as I used to? Can't quite imagine it, can you?

So for a time I wondered why on earth even someone as brazen as Mr Gove might suggest that these exams will prevent teachers teaching to the tests. And then suddenly I got it! He won't tell anyone what's in them. Brilliant! All that teachers and students will be told will be that there's a three-hour exam. That's it. No more details. No practice papers, no mark schemes, no assessment criteria. Just like the old days. See teachers trying to teach to the tests then! No- they'll go back to how it used to be, like when I was at school. Students will get to sit at their desks copying out chapters from old textbooks and when they ask what this has to do with the exam the teacher will simply say, "No idea. Do it anyway," just like they used to when I was at school. Dolores Umbridge would be proud.

So back to my reassurance at the start of this post. This really is the last I will write on this subject, at least for a while. It makes me sick and dizzy just to think about it.  Thank God I'm not in education any more.

No comments:

Post a Comment