A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

6716652525_75d5e98afd_bWhich one is the real Mr Gove?

Reading much of today’s press, put to bed last night before nice Mr Gove’s appearance at the House of Commons today, one might easily jump to the conclusions that yesterday’s All Change Please!‘s post was now well past its sell-by date and suggest that the 7th February should become National Arts Day in which we all take to the streets singing, dancing and painting in celebration of the day the EBacc was laid to rest and the Arts lived to fight another day. And you might further want to celebrate the day that Mr Gove had to admit he had got the whole thing wrong and that he had finally come to his senses and did the right thing.

But nice, innocent looking Mr Gove is of course a lot sneakier than that. First he managed to shift the blame for his so-called U turn on GCSEs on the fact that he had been advised that setting up single, ie non-competitive, exam boards would fall foul of European legislation. Quite how those two things are connected All Change Please! has yet to establish. And in fact, all that Mr Gove actually announced was that his idea to re-name GCSEs as EBaccs had turned out to be a ‘bridge too far’. In other words the more so-called rigorous, end of course, 3 hour, no-conferring, academic written papers are still with us, but just now called GCSEs again. He then announced an end to the two-tier higher and lower system of papers, meaning that all pupils will have to answer exactly the same questions. However, he added, extension papers will be offered to more able candidates hoping to achieve the higher grades. So, no suggestion of a two tier approach there then?

But the most significant change announced was is in the introduction of a complicated eight subject performance measure, which extends the new EBacc, or rather GCSE, subjects by including a further three non EBacc GCSE subjects, ie that can potentially include Arts subjects, PE, RE, etc. So, as it stands, to come top of the league tables, schools will now have to encourage students to take English language, maths, two sciences, geography or history and a modern foreign language. Plus another three that are not EBacc GCSE subjects, up to a maximum of ten subjects. Now, add in English literature, and it will make it very difficult for a student to take all three sciences, or geography and history, or French and German (or whatever). Confused? You will be…, especially on Year 9 options evening. Hmm – All Change Please! is starting to get the distinct feeling that this is yet another hastily scribbled on the back of an envelope, quick-fix bit of spin written by an unpaid intern that the DfE hope they might get away with.

And then there’s the revelation that the EBCertificate has not actually gone away, as students who complete the core six academic EBacc GCSE subjects  will still gain the so-called prestigious award, and the measure will still be included in league tables. Now this does mean that while the 8 subject measure will at least give parents a better guidance as to the quality of breadth offered by a school, they will still want to see a good EBacc performance as well. So while the perceived value and uptake of Arts and other non-academic EBacc subjects has been raised, they still come second to the mighty EBC.

Meanwhile of course there’s also been the introduction of the proposed new National Curriculum. Strange that both things should be announced at exactly the same time? Why the urgency to tell everyone that EBaccs were going to be still called GCSEs, even though they weren’t? All Change Please! has no objection to a slimmed down NC defining the really fundamental knowledge that clearly everyone needs to acquire and understand, but there is little evidence here that what has been defined has been very carefully thought through in terms of the ease of the access to certain types of knowledge made possible by the information age, or indeed even agreed with teachers and subject associations. Much of it is as clear as mud.

And speaking of mud, watch out for tomorrow’s post on the new proposals for design and technology….

4 comments on “A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

  1. Tristram clearly has slightly more time than I, but these thoughts are spot on. End of two tier papers, so back to one paper, with an extension paper for the more able. So that’s tiered papers, but we are going to ask the more able to complete the warm-up questions on the lower tier paper, and waste their time through taking two papers. I am appalled at the sheer ignorance of the offer he is making. It is not as though the kids are going to have bags of time come exam time. From what I can see, they will have two papers in most subjects, so the most able will take something like 20 big shit-or-bust papers over a 20 day period.
    I actually thought we had learned a bit about assessment over the last 20 years; clearly not.
    How can a slimmed down curriculum exist along side the concept of making it more knowledge based and with more comples concepts to manage therein. So that will be one of those bigger, more bulky and indeigestible slimming curricula then.

  2. Roughly, I think, strongly in right ball park … However, it looks to me that its 3 ‘measures’ for sciences (nb are potentially 3 of), geog. history, languages and computing (ie three of seven). The “other” three can be in these or in ‘others’ including approved vocational. Don’t forget that double maths and English Lit are also squarely in the frame somewhere. And the 8-bit measure will be value-added calculated based on achievement in English and mathematics (KS2).
    Suspect the science lobby will not welcome being suddenly reduced to a possibility in 7 – and this is a consultation.
    It was EBC laid to rest not EBacc. But, yes, totally agree – what has really changed?

    The measures are the key ‘driver’ issue, maybe something has been won there? Could be.

    However, central dictat of minutia of ‘content’ (ergo summative assessment) exemplified in the ‘consultation’. re e.g. science and annex. Pages of it.

    But meanwhile – seems to be no change whatsoever in understanding why UK should not be in the game of producing robots. Let alone (speech to Social Market Foundation) utter divorce from understanding that ‘academic’ (read ‘theory’ or worse – just recall memory) is not necessarily the pinnacle, the ‘tops’. The “English-disease” as many have called it, lives on.

    Thanks for the blog – very helpful (we are not all crazy alone!).

  3. When I think about my own O level GCE education, which finished at the end of the 1970’s, I was able to study a majority of Art & Design subjects along with Physics, Computing, Maths and English, in the end passing all nine of them. That would be completely impossible these days I imagine, yet it was exactly what I wanted to do and was entirely and ‘academically’ correct for me. In fact I would have liked to throw in Chemistry, French and two other art subjects as well but there wasn’t the space according to timetable limitations.

    I never wanted to do any of the other subjects like Geography, History, Social Studies (or PE and RE if they ever did O levels in those back then!), they would have bored the pants off me and whilst I maybe wasn’t so brilliant at some of those subjects back then, it’s never done me any harm and in fact much of it was learnt through the other activities and subjects I did involve myself with.

    Gove’s announcements today have changed nothing of his ill-(in)formed (evil) plans, it’s just been repackaged in fast-talking words that whilst full of compliments for everyone in his speech in the Commons, shows no real change of heart. It’s like he originally threw in some big controversial things for everyone to rebel against and then when we’re all too busy arguing about those, all the other stuff gets through as the lesser of two evils stuck between a rock and hard place.

    I just don’t trust the man at all, I have seen or heard no evidence to justify his policies and (unfortunately) he’s such a good speaker that he’s blinding everyone with waffle and clap-trap and they’re all lapping it up it seems. The fight against Gove should not be considered over and won. Unfortunately, he has not actually listened or understood anything yet and has completely missed the point about everything that doesn’t fit into his tiny, narrow-minded view of what intelligence is.

  4. I’m tremendously relieved that my daughter will not now be a guinea pig for a completely new EBC exam in English and Maths, while taking GCSEs in subjects that would at some unspecified future time be EBC’d themselves. I do see the end to that crazy scheme as a victory of common sense. And I am also relieved that exams in each subject are no longer being put out to tender, not just to awarding bodies but, as I understand it, to anyone. That was also a recipe for complete chaos. How did such ridiculous schemes get so far? I am sure you are right in saying that his U-turn announcement on the same day as the publication of the new NC has to be viewed with suspicion. Perhaps he is hoping that his critics will be diverted from the new NC by the tangled mess of league table measures? I really hope not.

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