The forgotten majority


“Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land!”

For somewhere around 20% of the population of under 12 year-olds – the 20% that are potentially academically able and motivated – the news that GCSEs (England) are to become a great deal more demanding is good news. But for the remaining 80% it’s decidedly bad news. The prospect of perhaps achieving a 1 or a 2, or even perhaps a 0 (to replace a U?) is unlikely to encourage them to even bother turning up on the day of the exam. Unless of course they are crafty enough to realise that they could then claim on their CVs that they have ten 0 levels?

“In maths and science, questions and content will be more demanding, so that state school students can compete with their contemporaries in Singapore and Shanghai, acquiring the skills that the rich pay handsomely to pass on to their children and that are the guarantee of future opportunity,” Gove wrote.

“Exams will test higher-level skills, such as more essay writing, problem solving and mathematical modelling, that universities and businesses desperately need.’ DfE

The whole misguided premise seems to be that simply by asking more demanding questions, academic standards in state schools will rise and children from poor backgrounds will all go to Oxbridge. And All Change Please! still remains to be convinced that businesses need higher-order skills in essay-writing and advanced ‘there’s just one-correct-answer’ problem-solving.

Meanwhile for the long tail of the forgotten 80% we can perhaps expect to see a substantial growth in non-academic subjects that do continue to include coursework, such as art & design, design & technology, engineering, drama, P.E., etc. What’s really needed now is a means of more formal recognition of success in these so-called ‘soft’ skills – surely what most employers are actually looking for these days, alongside some sort of certification that identifies an ability to read and write, do basic maths, follow instructions and be able to deal with the public – as opposed to being able to write essays about a Shakespeare play or solve quadratic equations? Someone is going to have to pick up the pieces – maybe there is some hope for a Better Future here?

But perhaps the best news of all is that ‘iGoves’ will go down in history as one of the shortest living ideas in education. And instead, in an attempt to revive our world rankings back to their heady 1966 levels and to differentiate them from the easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy, my mum did my coursework for me in her lunch break Welsh GCSEs and Scotland  where of course they sensibly don’t actually have GCSEs, the new GCSEs will actually be known as GCSE (Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land!*). Perhaps the intention is that the prospect of achieving better results than their Welsh and Scottish counterparts will drive our children upwards to even higher academic achievements?

Or perhaps there will be an outcry when it is realised that in order to mark that many essays they will have to be out-sourced to places like India and China in addition to Australia, as is already the case? Or that perhaps the number of marks needed to get a 5 (the so-called pass-mark) will be mysteriously adjusted so that an acceptable percentage of children appear to pass?

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

*Eng-ger-land is apparently what the English sometimes chant at football matches because it’s easier to say (it just rolls off the tongue).

Image credit: Flickr: crabchick