Two-tier exam system not the way to raise standards
WHENEVER teachers voice opposition to 'radical new initiatives', we brace ourselves for the inevitable criticism that we just want an easy life in which every child passes a pile of easy exams, thus making us look good.
This thought occurred to me – about a millisecond after my jaw hit the floor – when I read about Michael Gove's plans to bring back O-levels.
On the face of it, his aim is simple. He says he wants to raise standards.
Raising standards is not the issue here – that is the moral purpose of all educators – but can these really be achieved by going back to a two-tier system that existed a quarter of a century ago?
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The idea of a return to a kind of gold standard O-level for la crème de la crème, with the rest channelled at 14 into a separate system which almost by definition will be seen by young people, their families and more importantly employers as inferior, is no way to drive up standards.
The proposals, made public as the result of a leak, seem to be short on detail but it seems clear we would have a two-tier education system and I for one would have real fears for many youngsters, especially late developers who flourish as they get older.
It is not the case that everyone develops academically at the same rate. What a tragedy it would be if children were funnelled down a certain path with no prospect of moving across to so-called higher qualification. Each year in my school – and I am sure this is the case at all schools – I come across youngsters who surprise us all. They perhaps come to us from primary school with difficulties in one subject or another.
But placed in a different environment, with specialised teachers as well as their own growing maturity, they flourish. I would fight with all my might to avoid the situation where a child is pigeon-holed into the wrong pigeon hole.
Reading some of the other proposals, I can see some merit. Moving to a single exam board makes sense and would put every child from Carlisle to Cornwall on the same footing.
And I hear the concerns of the business world. I recognise their requirement for youngsters who are even more ready for the world of work but in fact, a huge amount of work is going on in our schools already to address just those needs.
Our children are highly skilled in the hi-tech world in which they will be working. They may be differently-skilled, as it were, to the children of Michael Gove's era, but that does not mean they are less able to cope in the workplace.
As teachers, we want the best and we want our politicians to share this – who wouldn't – but sometimes it seems that while there is a lot of talk, there is not much listening. Michael Gove, no doubt, would expect youngsters to listen – perhaps he needs to listen a little himself.
As teachers, we are excited about the future. It's a shame Mr Gove appears to be looking to the past.
Helen Holman is the head teacher of Orchard School Bristol