Friday, 29 June 2012

Comment #6: -- GCSEs and O-levels

'GCSEs 'face axe' in exams overhaul'

Okay, let's take this one in chunks...
(I know it's ever-so-slightly not topical anymore, but i got busy and forgot to post it!)

a) 'GCSE' is just a name; 'O-level' is just a name; how will the changes actually effect the courses that pupils take?

- To Be Determined...

b) When Gove was at school, he did O-levels, and now he wants kids' qualifications to be called 'O-levels'. Nostalgia?

- Well he is in the Conservative Party, and emotionalistic hankering for the familiar is what conservatism's made of.

c) It was the Conservatives who changed to GCSEs in the first place. Acceptance of failure, or just Gove out-conservativing the other conservatives?

- I'm thinking it's probably the latter. Gove is the man who suggested that the taxpayers of the UK, despite 80% of them not being Royalists, should fork out £60,000,000 to buy a yacht and give it to the Queen as a symbol of austerity! The man's a nutcase. 'nuff said...

d) O-levels used to be 'academic' (which basically means 'written'); CSEs used to be practical. GCSE refers to any courses on this level.

- The GCSE system acknowledges practical efforts, whereas the O-level system subjugated people who did not do 'academic' subjects; plus it forced people to make a choice between them, too early in their education.

e) Gove wants to scrap the national curriculum altogether, exposing children to dangerously contorted subject matter.

- If there's one thing history has taught us about schools (it's that it's taught us many more than one!), it's that dangerous, superstitious movements will strain at the bit to seize them and infiltrate their practices with hokum, and, well... bullshit.
  The whole reason the Church of England wants to retain - nay, expand - their power over the UK's schools, is that children are more gullible than adults, and are therefore easier to indoctrinate. This is why two thirds of primary schools in England are 'Faith' (read: "cult") schools, but only a fifth of secondary schools are -- higher standards of teaching; more difficult to indoctrinate kids.
  This is also why businesses have  grasped at the chance to wield power over the new 'academies' -- not just quack organisations, but corporations as well - because they know an increasingly enlightened, internet-linked population is not likely to regard selfish, money-hoarding, resource-draining, community-undermining corporations in a favourable light. And they have to get their new underlings from somewhere!

f) Gove's new 'academy' schools are even worse than the crap schools they replaced, and are not limited to the curriculum - evidence that the curriculum is important in regulating course quality.

- Almost all of the 'new' academies are rehashes of previous schools, but with glitzy branding attached -- basically a PR job, with negligible effort put into making them any better at actually conveying quality information to the children who attend them.

g) The proposed English Baccalaureate undermines efforts in practical subjects, subjugating pupils who are, for example, dyslexic/dyscalculic, and are therefore much better at practical work.

- The current system acknowledges any GCSE pass achievement in school assessments. This means schools don't feel compelled to force non-'academically' inclined children to do 'academic' subjects (other than Maths and English).

h) Gove wants exam boards to be split between subjects - currently, they all do most subjects - in future, one subject each. Wasteful and disorganising, or effective specialisation? And where are the boards actually going to come from?

- This one sounds like the anomalously good idea, to me. The specialisation, and more importantly, the lack of competition, will free them to concentrate on producing quality papers. Whether the "race to the bottom" is a significant effect or not (the evidence on this subject is so pathetic that it might as well not exist), the mechanism will at least have been cut out of contention.
  Also, resources and personnel from the departments of each exam board can merge, providing examiners with a more even distribution of work, and enhancing efforts to improve examination standards. Examiners are usually teachers or retired teachers, who work from home, and have to relay information with the examination centres, regarding marks, and whether certain centres (schools -- i know - confusing!) have been over/under-marked. This would work better if there were only one examination centre with which to relay information.

i) An end to modules, so pupils have to take all their exams at once.

- This just ramping up pressure on the kids. Many fail or under-perform because of this, already. Courseworked subjects are least stressful, and get a less variable result for the pupils. The only trouble is - it's easier to cheat, with coursework you take home!
  Modules worked very well during my degree, thank you very much! Why end modules? Makes no sense. Subjects cover more than one sub-subject area, so multiple modules, each examined separately, seems obvious. Doesn't it? I can't even see how this idea would actually manifest!?

Hopefully, all of this will be moot - Gove's changes are still proposals, and could well be blocked. Let's hope so!

There are problems with the current system (and there always will be, but that's an immutable fact of life!), but only one of these ventures could possibly make it any better.

Exam boards should be non-profit; schools should all be private (as in public - i know, that's confusing too!); none of them should be specialised, thereby taking decisions out of the kids' hands; Science and languages teaching should start earlier, and occupy more time and funding; subjective subjects should be run as clubs, in breaks, and after school - not displacing valuable, worldview-determining information that all people should know; exercise, but not factionalising, competitive sport, should be regular and frequent; etc, etc, etc...

I could go on, in greater detail, but not here and now.

Fortunately for Welsh kids, it looks like they're keeping the GCSE system, regardless of what happens in England.

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