GCSE and A level results have dipped for the second year in a row. The media focus has been on a technical debate about exam boards, early entry at 15 and of teachers and schools playing the system.
But what is missing from the newspapers is discussion of the impact of cuts to education funding. And there is not a mention of the government’s massive deregulation of schools though the Academy and Free school programmes.
Despite all the faults of the testing system, it does show a clear link between spending and success. Between 1997 and 2010, the proportion of GCSEs graded at least a C increased from 54 percent to more than 67 percent. During the same period education spending increased 4.2 percent. Under the Tory-led coalition it is predicted we will see a 3.5 percent cut between 2010-2015.
Schools are under such pressure to achieve the “benchmark” that it is no surprise they try everything to increase the number of pupils getting five A* to C grades. And that “benchmark” has been raised from 35 to 40 percent.We in the teacher unions have long been critical of the effect of league tables, exam pressure, Ofsted and the threat of Academy status. These pressures have escalated dramatically in the last couple of years. The push for schools to be academies has been so aggressive that ballots of parents where 98 percent say no are ignored. Heads are bribed, bullied and threatened.
The rot sets in at about the age of three when children go to nursery. They are put in ability groups as early as four and given homework and targets. Parents are told their children are “underachieving” at an age when most children across the world are not in formal school settings. Children should be learning through play without any burden of meeting a target. They are the ones who suffer most from this culture of testing.
Britain’s two largest teaching unions, NUT and NASUWT, are set to coordinate a national campaign of strikes and protests in the autumn term. More details at nut.org.uk