Gove must stop seeing the British education system as part of a global qualifications race


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By Amelia Peterson

News of education secretary Michale Gove’s plans to scrap GCSEs made headlines this morning and the story warrants some unpicking.

Michael-GoveChris Cook of the Financial Times has demonstrated how this plan could interfere with social mobility, but his projections have already been batted away by Gove.

A pressing question remains about the nature of the new exams. The claim is that O levels are coming back, and the moniker “traditional” is littered across reports.

The leaked document stipulates that the names of the new exams are undecided, though the description of a single exam model and emphasis on ‘core’ subjects suggests that something like O levels are in mind, with a separate exam for those not deemed fit for that challenge.

What is clear is Gove’s motivation: his aim is to ensure “that our education system stands in comparison to the world’s most rigorous”. Questioned this morning in the House of Commons, he defends his decisions by referring again and again to catching up with “the world’s best”, to the UK’s declining position in Pisa tables and to Singapore.

 


See also:

Wales education minister: Gove’s way of announcing GCSE reforms was “bonkers” 21 Jun 2012


 

It is unfortunate Gove is so much a product of his times that he can only view education in terms of a global qualifications race, even when other countries are turning their attention to the actual conditions of a 21st-century world, and looking to align their education systems accordingly. When questioned about whether he was looking back rather than forward, Gove insisted that he was looking “outwards”.

It is high time he adopted a more nuanced view of drawing global comparisons in education.

It is all very well for him to call Finland “an outlier”, to avoid responding to the implications of its success, but he cannot claim that one country’s achievement cannot be replicated while seeking to turn the UK – with its divergent history, culture and economy – into Singapore.

US scholars rightly doubt replicating Singapore’s tough standards would have the same effect in their country, where, like the UK, factors such as parental aspiration are less uniform.

Gove also does not seem to have taken on board the analysis of U.S. Pisa results showing that their relative declining scores over time are strongly linked to child poverty. So the US is particularly bad at educating its low-income children, and England appears to the the same – according to this DFE analysis (pdf), in England, “the impact of pupils’ socio-economic background is significantly higher than the OECD average”. Incidentally, the same is true of Gove’s beloved Singapore.

The proposed changes will be reviewed in the Autumn and when the time comes, Gove must not be allowed to defend them on the grounds of global competitiveness, when he is picking and choosing those countries whose values he endorses.

That he is a successful product of exams that divvied up pupils on the basis of straightforward knowledge must not blind him to the fact that forward-looking tests (pdf)today embrace complexity and a wider range of skills, fit to be used by all – not 60 or 80% – of pupils.

 


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  • Anonymous

    It is unfortunate Gove is so much a product of his times that he can only view education in terms of a global qualifications race, even when other countries are turning their attention to the actual conditions of a 21st-century world, and looking to align their education systems accordingly. When questioned about whether he was looking back rather than forward, Gove insisted that he was looking “outwards”.

    ============

    So we should be looking for a dumbed down education system, because you don’t need qualifications on benefits?

    No mention of the real failure. Vast numbers of pupils who cannot get 5 GCSE (even lower standard than proposed) after 14 years in education.

    That has failed them. That has set them up for life in a way that means they won’t succeed in almost all cases.

    One point I agree. Parental attitude. Change that and you make a big difference. That needs a big stick.

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  • Geoff, England

    There’s no such thing as a ‘British’ education system. The individual nations have long had separate systems. This has only become accentuated with devolution. Gove’s remit doesn’t go beyond the territory legally defined as England. Please learn the difference between England and Britain, and use the terms correctly.

  • home rule for england

    Errrr British education system? Education’s devolved mate! Gove is only responsible for England.

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  • WankerEnglish

    Geoff, England is 100% correct in asserting that there is no such thing as a “British” education system. Just same old lazy use of British to mean English and people wonder why SNP in government in Scotland

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  • Amelia

    Geoff this is a very valid point – I was quite careful in the article to use ‘U.K’ only with regards pisa results, and stick to ‘England’ the rest of the time – but I didn’t write the headline…

  • Anonymous

    Whoever wrote the headline please own up to not knowing the difference between England and UK.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61203912 Kate Neilan

    Fantastic piece, Amelia – thank you. Couldn’t agree more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61203912 Kate Neilan

    Thank goodness – at least some people are safe…

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  • Selohesra

    It’s a familiar failing on this site – the articles are often interesting but frequently do not justify the tabloid headline

  • Anonymous

    Certainly the people he’s pushing into CSE’s won’t need them, since benefits is all they can expect to get. It’s a pure failure track.

    And of course you’re for beating children. No surprises there! (Alternatively, you’re for punishing the poor for having kids)

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  • Mr. Sensible

    I think these proposals are completely nonsensical. Will be interesting to see what Clegg does next…

  • JC

    Will you be setting the CSE papers then. If not, how do you know (not think, know) so much about them?

  • Anonymous

    You don’t need to set them to understand the societal effects and aims. Only YOUR style of social engineering is allowed, of course.

    Taking bets on how long it is before JC calls me a commie, people!

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  • Ed’s Talking Balls

    Gove is a hated figure in teaching union circles. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Well done, Gove – keep up the good work.

    And anyone with an interest in freedom of speech would do well to read his comments to and about the Leveson Farce (or Inquiry, if you prefer).

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