Monday, 17 September 2012

Education reform and why I'm really glad school is a long way behind me

Today Michael Gove, the Minister for Education announced he was scrapping the GCSE qualifications and introducing an English Baccalaureate, starting in the next few years. I did GCSEs when I was 16, and if I had to sit anything more complex I wouldn't have ended up going to university. A few years ago there was a mooted Baccalaureate qualification to replace A Levels (which I sat at 18). In order to pass the Baccalaureate, which is used on the Continent, you need to be a good all rounder. You have to take exams in English, Maths, Science, History, Geography and Languages. Now, I'm rubbish at Maths, numbers do not stick in my brain. I had fairly crummy Maths teachers growing up, if you don't have an aptitude for it, you ended up with teachers who weren't allowed (or able) to teach Maths to the kids who understood it. However I was good at English and other Arts and Humanities subjects (languages, History, Drama, Religious Studies, I was even good at Geography) and I could get by in Science. I can't draw for toffee and why run around in the freezing cold playground in shorts when there's a perfectly nice, warm library indoors (P.E teachers are sadists).
If I hadn't been able to drop the subjects I was no good at (I did however get a C in Maths at GCSE, you need a D to pass - take that crappy Maths teacher who told me it wasn't worth sitting the exam as I was going to fail - the insane Maths tutor totally paid off!!) and do subjects I understood and could cope with, then I wouldn't have got any qualifications and ended up with an MA.
The other thing Gove wants to scrap is coursework, bane of all teenagers' existence. I remember being asked by my mum "What coursework do you have?" "Have you done your coursework?" over and over. Teachers were the same, nagging about it. But it meant that for those who struggled with exams (I have a big brain, but even it cannot hold that much information) there was a chance to pull your grades up by doing great research for your coursework and presenting that well. (Let's not talk about my A Level History coursework, ever.)
Basically Gove wants to make it nearly impossible for kids to do well, if you're not an all rounder, if you don't have the aptitude for something, that's going to be the thing that pulls you down, that makes you fail and leaves you unable to excel and go on to further and higher education.
That's just wrong and I am so lucky that my GCSEs were 10 years ago. Which sounds insane as I don't feel nearly that old and I can remember going in for my exams and rushing off with my friends after, either crushed because it was terribly hard and frustrating or elated as it was a doddle (like the German oral exam, my teacher had the answers upside down on her desk).
I want the children coming up behind us to look back and have good memories of their time at school, or mixed ones like mine, not ones where they look back and wish government ministers in their ivory towers hadn't tampered with their exams so they ended up falling behind.

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