Tag Archives: qualifications

With power comes responsibility Mr Gove

At the recent Sunday Times Festival of Education Michael Gove declared that he loved teachers. Mr Gove’s profession of affection however is somewhat at variance with events unfolding in the world of qualifications – change which arguably is hugely challenging (and not in a good way) to teachers trying to support their students.

1. IGCSE : early in the life of the coalition Gove decided that the International GCSE would be accredited by the Department for Education in their performance data. A number of state schools have adopted IGCSEs across a range of subjects enjoying an opportunity previously only available to independent schools. Indeed this very fact was a badge of honour for Gove. However, I understand from colleagues in maintained schools that there is a strong possibility, with the advent of new GCSEs, that IGCSE will no longer be accredited to ensure there is leverage for maintained schools to offer the new GCSE. Question. Schools offering the IGCSE are clearly happy with the qualification yet they are effectively being coerced into offering the new untested qualification – why? Answer. Gove is determined to mastermind a portfolio of GCSEs which he believes are rigorous and drive up standards – yet it is not clear why IGCSEs no longer fit the bill. I hesitate to suggest that Gove clearly has a political agenda but this does seem a likely reason.
2. Ofqual : is it only me who finds it odd that Ofqual has written to every school and college to warn of the possibility of variability of GCSE and A Level results this summer? Glenys Stacey, Ofqual’s chief regulator, said : “When qualifications change we would expect individual school results to be more variable, because the changes will have different impacts in different schools and in different subjects. It is not possible to predict at this stage how the national picture will look: these changes do not pull results universally in one direction or another, but together they are likely to affect the national picture to some extent.” A.K.A. not sure what will happen with the results but at least we have warned you. Question. So A Level students, you are sitting on offers which are based on previous experience but your experience could be different. Answer. Really?
3. A Level reform : the changes proposed by Gove mean that there will be a two year period when there will be a mixed economy of A Levels – modular v. linear. There is every possibility that universities will decide to extend the current system of testing to cut through the confusion of this mixed economy. Question. How does this help the widening participation agenda? Answer. It potentially creates another barrier for students in the maintained sector who have another hurdle to climb.

So teachers have little reason to feel loved by Mr Gove. The changes to the qualification framework have a myriad of unintended consequences. Which is a timely reminder that with power comes responsibility Mr Gove.

Fine margins yet huge mistakes

Contemplating the world of public examinations is like living in the Matrix. There are two worlds but which one is real? The world where grandiose plans for reform are solemnly presented by ministers as if the system works like clock-work or the one which appears dangerously over-stretched and creaking under the weight of expectation?

It is well documented that schools are engaged in a kind of guerrilla warfare with examination boards who are grappling with a perfect storm of providing a service as usual and reacting to government imposed reform. I have some sympathy. Indeed so too do Ofqual it would appear, who have intervened as a sanity check on the timetable for exam reform giving the exam boards a breathing space. However, despite my sympathy, I worry that something pernicious is happening. The widely publicised challenges to the exam boards, questions raised at the Select Committee in Parliament, and general unease of teachers are eating away at the trust and confidence in the exam process.

Rather like believing a pound note is literally worth this amount and is not merely a piece of paper with a fancy watermark, we need to believe that the exam grade is an accurate and fair reflection of a student’s performance under examination conditions. Sadly schools, including ours, are reporting – angrily – anomalies in marking which are baffling. In fairness, many wrongs have been righted after a remark by the boards but this has raised questions in its own right. Illustrative of this is one student’s work this year where a complete page was not marked – despite the paper being double marked. Needless to say a third re-mark resulted in an improved grade.

The broader issue is believing in the grade. The pressure on the student sitting on a university offer is huge. It was ever thus but my sense is that the confidence in the grade awarded has been eroded in recent years. And confidence is everything. So much is at stake. Let us not forget that the grade is the passport stamped. This should be with confidence, good to go on to the next stage of the journey. Our experience is that the increasingly fine margins in exams can be jeopardised by huge mistakes. It is important to remember that every exam statistic, every grade, relates to an individual and their lives.

My grave concern is that exam boards are battling to maintain the highest standards – of course they are not hell bent on destroying the dreams of students. However, the pressure on the boards is such that injustices will inevitably occur. Whilst our political masters point to a future where standards will be driven up, the aspirations of today’s students are dampened by the very human mistakes of the exam boards today.