First Monday morning in September and once again we face the annual autumn ritual of “back to school” for pupils and teachers (probably to the relief of parents!). There is something quite reassuring about this process. We all went back to school at some point in our lives; the school calendar is the heartbeat of our lives. All is familiar and all is right with the world.
Or so we think. This morning the airwaves on TV and radio were alive to the sound of Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, sharing his world view on free schools, bad schools and the most recent enemy of the state, GCSEs. In case you have missed the GCSE debacle this summer by some chance here is a quick précis. Context – year on year grade inflation. Issue – AQA English GCSE results dropped this year impacting most seriously on pupils on C/D borderline. Reaction of Head Teachers – anger and righteous indignation on behalf of pupils who have missed grade. OFQUAL – kind of blaming quirk of modularity and therefore grades stand. And Govt? Interestingly Govt has kept its powder dry until yesterday when Gove announced in a national paper that GCSEs are flawed and need urgent reform.
Following so far? Certainly in my time in education I have never witnessed such a sequence of events. As a follower of twitter, I have been greatly struck by the genuine passion amongst teachers and those interested in education about this whole affair. To judge by activity on this particular social media platform, questions are being asked and frankly, with Gove’s performance this morning predictably framed by politics, we desperately need answers which will move this most thorny of debates forward.
As a matter of urgency we need to have a proper, grown up debate about the purpose of assessment at every level. Forget about the past, let us focus on the future. Young people today will be living and working in a very different world, a world characterised by change and challenges yet unknown. Rather than rushing through solutions to assessment constrained by lack of imagination and time, let us consider the real assessment requirements. This is particularly important given the change to school leaving age to 18 from 2015 which begs the questions as to why a 16+ examination is relevant at all.
In the meantime, we shall continue to explore the best possible examination routes for our students. Interestingly the international options are increasingly attractive to us I.e. examinations which are not subject to the fiat of national govt.