By Nick Grant, NUT national executive
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Gove’s new exams will help no one but the Tories

This article is over 9 years, 4 months old
Tory education secretary Michael Gove announced on Monday that he is replacing GCSEs with a new exam for 16 year olds.
Issue 2321

Tory education secretary Michael Gove announced on Monday that he is replacing GCSEs with a new exam for 16 year olds.

He told the House of Commons, “We believe it is time for the race to the bottom to end”—and concluded that it is “time to tackle dumbing down”.

It is ideologically vital to the ruling class to pass off historical and social realities as natural, permanent facts of life. So they maintain that people are born bright or thick, academic or “practical”, either future employers or employees!

It is no surprise that they should oppose comprehensive schooling which tries to overcome any disadvantage that pupils may be born into.

They clearly don’t care about working class life chances being improved by decent educational experience from age five to 16 and beyond.

For a privately educated cabinet of millionaires bent on making life as easy as possible for their big business mates, the rise in exam grades in the last 25 years is a problem.

This change to qualifications at age 16 is part of the same process of rationing educational access and success. It’s the same as earlier decisions to hike university tuition fees to £9,000 and abolish Education Maintenance Allowance payments.

The particular lie Gove now spins is that continuing GCSE success does not reflect the sheer hard graft of students and teachers determined to reach top grades.

He argues that it is down to two factors—decreased standards set by the exam boards who design and mark the benchmark public exams, plus teachers “teaching to the test”.


Ministers effectively want a return to the two-tier system. This had O-levels, which were the hallmark of selective, minority grammar schools, and CSEs, which were largely for the “oiks” in secondary modern or technical schools.

It is pathetic for Nick Clegg to now claim that he has won some concession from Gove on this point. There are glaring contradictions in Gove’s argument.

Firstly, he decries the competitive tendering by different exam boards to win trade from schools for each subject syllabus. Yet he encourages such market forces when it comes to the establishment of new academies and “free schools”.

Secondly, the extent to which teachers “teach to the test” is not out of professional choice. Government insistence on league tables of achievement and the direct linking of teachers’ pay to results, have forced this.

The opportunities to engage in more interactive or spontaneous teaching are sadly rare and often punished by jobsworth managers.

Gove shows no sign of scrapping the core driving force of league tables—the SATs. These are much more pernicious than GCSEs.

SATs are box-ticking exercises that try to reduce a student’s progress to a number. They are based on authoritarian teaching styles which go against the known laws of children’s development.

In the first seven years development is best fostered by a play-based, experimental approach. There is no need for the kinds of assessment the government craves—other than its class-based ideology.


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