The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart. (Mencius, Chinese philosopher 372-289 BC)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The New E-Bac: What's to Like?

E-Bac anyone?

It's official. GCSEs are on their way out - to be replaced by a shiny new qualification that combines a name that sounds like a virtual tobacco (The E-Bac anyone?), a stonkingly long  3 hour exam and the prospect of 18 year old lads in flannelette shorts sucking their pencils as they try to add an E-Bac to their GCSEs in 6 other subjects at the fourth attempt.

As the dust settles on yet another education reform passed by Britain's most popular Education Minister since Margaret Thatcher (aka the "Milk Snatcher") this is the Dad Etc 5 point take on this major overhaul of England's public examination system.

1. There will only be 1 Exam Board per subject

This is GOOD! With the commercial pressures that surround the current examination system it is inevitable that Exam Boards will seek to do everything that they can to make their subject attractive to their customers - the teachers. As a result questions become formulaic, exam specific textbooks are produced in collaboration with publishers, assessment schemes become overly transparent with the result that GCSEs have probably got easier over the past decade.

2. Controlled Assessment is on it's way out

This is VERY GOOD! I have been teaching for nearly twenty years now and Controlled Assessment has been the single worst innovation that I have had to deal with. It has created an administrative behemoth for staff to deal with and has meant that students sit approximately twenty Controlled Assessments across all of their subjects in their two years of GCSEs. In History it takes almost a term to complete and has deadened the excitement of the subject as it requires students to jump through repetitive assessment hoops. And, by the way, it was introduced as the coalition came to power.

3. BUT Coursework is also being reduced in importance

This is BAD. The focus on 1 exam at the end of the course is grossly unfair on those students who do not excel in those pressure situations. There are lots of kids who have got the grades that they DESERVE because of their coursework - and not all of them were helped by their parents Mr Gove - some of them just worked hard! This is also bad news for girls who tend to do better in coursework subjects.

4. The course will be assessed by one 3 hour exam

This is BAD. I hate this assumption that what was good for an academic few in the 1950s is good for everybody in 2017. I heard 1 commentator explain that that this is what they do at university! Not everybody goes to university Mr Politician! A 3 hour exam is a huge undertaking for anybody let alone a 16 year old - and what about somebody with dyslexia, ADHD, IBS etc?

5. It will be harder to get the top grades

This is BAD. Why do the Tory Democrats feel that they have to put a cap on aspirations. I am hugely suspicious of a claim that only 1 in 10 of students will get a top (Level 1) grade. Does this mean that the grade boundaries will go up and down each year to make sure that no more than 10% of candidates get a Level 1? Is that fair? Shouldn't 80% always mean a Level 1?

Overall, it is sad to see that Mr Gove and co have not tackled the issue that is at the heart of this "race to the bottom." It is something which I referred to in my post on A Levels in the summer - the dreaded League Tables.

League Tables rank schools by results. These tables really matter now. It is imperative for a school to finish well in these tables - and improve upon the previous year's results. So, they look to the easiest board, they teach to the test, they spoon feed their students. I assume that Gove is not planning on scrapping these tables - in which case I fear for the future of the E-Bac and the brave new world of education that he is pinning his hopes on.

Speak soon

PS Anybody else suspicious about the timing? These exams will come into play after the next election. The first years of exams always produce lower results - I can't wait to see the brickbats thrown by the Tory opposition at the Labour government for the drop in 16+ results in 2017. The hypocrisy of politics!
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