The 3 Rs of education: Reading, Writing and Radical U-Turns

Roy: (singing) “We don’t need no education”

Moss: “Yes, you do. You’ve just used a double negative”

–The IT Crowd, episode 1.4 The Red Door


Hands up, class: how many of us achieved the GCSE Holy quintet of 5 A*-C grades?


Last week we saw the culmination of the plans of education minister Michael Gove to scrap GCSEs and replace them with an English Baccalaureate. The so-called EBacc was only mooted in September 2012, but five months later the idea was shelved as being too radical. I welcomed the plans being scrapped for reasons I will outline below, but will argue for some change to our current education system.

The changes, if Michael Gove had had his way, would have seen something of a return to O-Levels and CSEs, a system which divided students clearly between clever and, well, not so clever. The EBacc sought to divide once again, under the pretence of challenging the bright and… nothing was really said about those not deemed bright enough to pass the EBacc. One of the greatest things about GCSEs, indeed one of the main reasons they have lasted for over two decades without change since their introduction in the 1980s, is that they are fair. Need a challenge? You can go into a Higher set. Need a bit more help? Into Foundation. In some subjects, such as mathematics, you can be sorted into an Intermidiate tier. In all cases the chance to obtain the lowest “pass” grade, a C, is always within reach. Achievable to every student.

The EBacc proposal was cold in comparison. Need a challenge? Great, the EBacc is for you! Need a bit more help? Oh dear… Still, you’re not forgotten: your school will write a letter of your time at school to any future employers. So that’s alright then.

A further problem with the EBacc came from the proposal to do away with coursework and staged examinations. Rather your entire years of study on any given subject relied on your final exam. No pressure…

The EBacc was at best misguided and at worst elitist, focusing only on those who would take the changes in their stride and ignoring those students who do not achieve their so important pass grades. In 2012 fewer than 6-in-10 pupils gained a C or above grade. Any proposals that we ought to have expected to come out after those exams should have focused on them, but the EBacc conveniently forgot about them. I’m glad it’s been scrapped.

But some change is necessary. The GCSE system in essence is fantastic, allowing every student the chance to achieve a passing grade at any subject. However an unfortunate side effect from making pass grades so obtainable lead to schools being penalised for “failing” to produce enough students gaining pass grades. As a consequence of this, schools are teaching their students how to pass their GCSEs as a matter of priority. Further to this, the choices of subjects and educational possibilities is limiting. Changes to education that I would welcome would involve:

  • removing all targets for schools set out by government that have nothing to do with ensuring the safety and comfort of all faculty members and pupils
  • a move away from league tables and other measures to beat teachers with for “failing”
  • a broader subject range, with greater involvement from companies/services offering apprenticeships and work experience so that when we ask 16 year olds to make a life choice regarding their future employment they have more experience to call on
  • a greater selection of extra curricular activities after and during school hours to help engage children and teenagers for learning, to work on socialisation skills and team building

Education is for everyone, in fact it’s a legal requirement for children between 5 and 16 (at the moment) to attend some form of education. It is not something that should be only for the rich or clever or lucky. It is for everyone.




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