Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/770/16905
Fight the Tories for right to a decent education system
Fewer holidays for students, worse pay for teachers, Ofsted tyranny, forced academisation, Free School privatisation - it appears that Tory minister Michael Gove comes up with a new way of whacking the right to a decent education and a decent job every day. And the so-called opposition in Labour seem to be largely in agreement. Here Martin Powell-Davies, member of the national executive of the NUT teachers' union, looks at the motivation behind one of the latest attacks - on GCSEs.
Just when tens of thousands of 16 year olds sit their GCSE exams, Tory education wrecker Gove announced a further shake-up to the examination system. He was shamefully sending a signal that these students' achievements will be, in his mind, 'second-rate'. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Gove and the Con-Dem government can't accept that, through the hard work of students, teachers and schools, and under enormous pressure to achieve imposed targets, GCSE results have improved year-on-year. In the past, improved examination results would have been celebrated but widespread achievement no longer matches the needs and wishes of the government and big business.
Big business no longer requires a widely educated workforce. Now it's time for Gove and Co to draw up the ladder so that only a select few young people are able to succeed.
It would be wrong to idealise the GCSE system. Any exam regime is there, in the final analysis, to decide who is given the opportunity for certain careers and higher education, and who isn't. However, the introduction of GCSEs marked an acceptance that all students should have the chance to achieve a qualification of equal worth to their peers.
Gove has had to abandon his attempts to ditch GCSEs altogether but is insisting that exam boards revert to exams at the end of Year 11. The various changes to assessment methods, while significant, aren't the fundamental point. No, the key to Gove's agenda is to be found in the BBC's recent phrase: "the pass mark is to be pushed higher". Whatever happens, Gove wants to make sure that far fewer students succeed.
Coursework will be ditched under Gove's proposals even though it has allowed students to show skills that can't be so easily assessed in a brief final examination.
However, it also has to be said that, as schools came under increasing pressure to improve results, teachers have been expected to go to increasing lengths to coach and support students to complete the work required. Now the pressure will be on to cram students for the terminal exam.
Of course, if teachers, schools and students were consulted properly, it may well be that changes and improvements to the current system could be agreed upon. But as the economy crumbles, the post-war consensus in favour of high quality public services and comprehensive education for all is becoming a distant memory.
It is now the responsibility of trade unions to use their strength, backed up by students and their communities, to defend the gains of the past against those like Gove who are trying to steal them away from us.
"There has to be selection because we are beginning to create aspirations which increasingly society cannot match ... When young people cannot find work at all ... or work which meets their abilities or expectations ... then we are only creating frustrations with perhaps disturbing social consequences ... people must be educated once more to know their place."
Senior civil servant quoted in Caroline Benn and Clyde Chitty's book - Thirty Years On: Is Comprehensive Education Alive and Well, or Struggling to Survive? - rumoured to be a senior adviser to Sir Keith Joseph
In The Socialist 19 June 2013:
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