A welcome for the Ebacc - but is coursework really that bad?
End of 'dumbed down' GCSEs is greeted warmly by some - but do Michael Gove's reforms constitute progress?
MICHAEL GOVE proclaimed the end of 'dumbing down' in the education system but admitted some pupils will leave school without any qualifications as he laid out plans to axe GCSEs and replace them with a new exam, the English Baccalaureate or EBacc.
The new exams will be set by a single exam board, eliminating the competition between providers that has been blamed for creating ever easier exams, the Conservative Education Secretary said yesterday.
"It is time for the race to the bottom to end," said Gove as he unveiled the measures alongside Lib Dem Deputy PM Nick Clegg in an effort to show the entire coalition was behind the reforms. "It is time to tackle grade inflation and dumbing down. It is time to raise aspirations, restore rigour to our examinations and equip children for the 21st century."
But he admitted that, because every pupil will sit the more challenging exams - a two-tier system was rejected under pressure from the Lib Dems - some children would leave school with no qualifications.
"Of course there will be some students who will find it difficult to sit these exams, just as there are students who do not sit GCSEs today," said Gove.
"We will make special, indeed enhanced, provision, for these students with their schools required to produce a detailed record of their achievement in each curriculum area at 16 - and we anticipate some will secure EBacc certificates at the age of 17 or 18."
"The latest overhaul of secondary school testing is much needed," says The Times in an editorial. The higher pass mark is "designed to reassure employers, schools and colleges - in Britain and abroad - who have become concerned about a decline in quality being masked by grade inflation".
But there are still concerns about what will happen to less academic pupils forced to take the same exams as their brighter peers. "The answer is surely to provide a more rigorous and respected system of technical qualifications," says the paper.
The Daily Telegraph also welcomes the reforms, but is concerned that, because they will be implemented in 2015 - after the next general election - Labour might be able to dismantle them. The paper calls for cross-party agreement: "What matters now is that consensus should be built around these changes, for the education of our children should not be used as a party political football."
Sally Coates, the principal of Burlington Danes Academy in West London, also approves of the EBacc. GCSEs do not prepare students for university, she writes in The Times: "There is a large gap - a chasm in some cases - between GCSE and AS level."
Coates continues: "I do not want a return to a two-tier system that pigeonholes pupils at an early stage of their learning. But I do want rigorous final exams and an end to all the coursework, controlled assessments and modular papers.
"This will, I hope, create a more just system, in which children regardless of background have an equal opportunity, free from the risk that some parents will assist with their children's work."
Others are unconvinced about the wisdom of removing coursework from the curriculum. The Guardian says in an editorial: "A nostalgic lurch back to a world where a single three-hour written paper is the be-all and end-all risks jettisoning real advances. Thorough-going coursework can require pupils to get down to the library to delve into a subject in far greater depth."
Meanwhile Annalisa Barbieri, writing in the Independent, is "terrified" by the thought of "the finality of how you perform over a mere three hours". She points to a host of studies dating back to the 1930s that show when learning is focussed on "getting good marks" pupils lose interest.
"It would be woefully unfair of me to judge Michael Gove on his physical appearance," she writes. "Yet he would have me judged, perhaps my whole life defined, on something equally superficial - how I perform over three hours sitting an exam."