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Michael Gove – new ways to fail at school

This article is over 8 years, 7 months old
The education minister is doing what’s right for capitalism—not children say Nick Grant and Terry Wrigley
Issue 2357

The leaked proposal to change GCSE grades is designed to turn large numbers of children into school failures.

Technical changes in school qualifications might seem trivial but they have to be understood for their political significance. 

This latest move is to change the familiar A* to G grades to a scale of 1-8, with 1 being the lowest. Typically at present, the top scoring 15 percent obtain A* or A.

Since Gove has made it clear that he wants to divide A/A* into four separate grades, it is likely that most students will receive a 1 or a 2 on an 8-point scale. In other words, their achievement will be made to look very poor. 

At the same time, obstacles are being increased by removing coursework and staking everything on a final exam. 

This is education minister Michael Gove’s second attempt in a year to disqualify large numbers of young people. 

Earlier, he planned to abolish GCSEs and replace them with an “English Baccalaureate” in a restricted set of subjects. 

There was outrage because it didn’t include creative or practical subjects such as music, art, and design and technology. 

Only high achievers would receive a certificate—the majority would simply get a note from their school saying how badly they had failed. 


Faced with a broad and vocal opposition, Gove had to back down but the latest grade changes are a back-door attempt to get his own way. 

Why is the man in charge of England’s schools trying so hard to reduce the number of young people gaining qualifications? 

Mike Rosen put his finger on the reason for such perversity. He said, “Capitalism can no longer see a way to employ all the clever, well qualified people. 

“In their terms, schools are producing too many students who are performing well enough to do a degree, so barriers are put in their way. Exams must be made harder, fees are raised, universities must shed so-called useless courses.” 

With high levels of youth unemployment, it’s easier for capitalism and its politicians if young people can be made to blame themselves. That is why they have to be failed at school. 

It is not only students who are being set up to fail. Teachers’ pay is now performance based, so a fall in exam passes will cut the salary bill. Schools are forced into privatisation as academies if their exam results aren’t high, so it’s important to have lots of “failing schools”. 

The process starts now from an early age. The new phonics test, which required pupils to read nonsense words, failed 4 out of 10 six-year-olds. 

The primary test which Gove is trying to impose on primary schools makes impossible demands of young children. For example, seven year olds are expected to distinguish the spellings affect and effect—most seven year olds don’t use either of these words.

 Six year olds are expected to have a “concept of civilisation”—which is more than the present government does. 

So it is crucial that Gove is not dismissed as being simply arrogant or mad. He is doing all the right things for capitalism in a state of crisis.

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