Planned changes to secondary-school exams (EBacc etc): teachers say there should be more consultation; what do you think?

(220 Posts)
LittleTownofBethleHelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 14-Dec-12 14:51:43

Hello.

We've been contacted by The National Union of Teachers (NUT), who'd be really interested to hear your views on the planned changes to secondary-school exams.

The NUT, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Musicians' Union have joined forces to say that, although they're not opposed to reform of the exam system, they think the Government's recent consultation on the new EBacc was too limited and that any decision to move ahead is being made in haste.

They say: "We believe on an issue of such importance to young people's future the conversation cannot be over. Accordingly we are asking for a further consultation with a wider remit and brief, involving parents and students, as well as the profession and employers."

They've also set up a microsite to petition Michael Gove to re-open and extend his review of secondary-school exams.

Please do feel free to post your thoughts here.

Solopower1 Sat 15-Dec-12 10:03:37

Great posts, Violetstar, Newferry and AView - but your last sentence was unnecessary imo.

I disagree with Chloe too, but would rather challenge her views than her grammar.

lljkk Sat 15-Dec-12 10:05:10

but we have to have constantly changing goalposts to "raise standards"; it's a mantra for our age. (sigh).

the BTEC approach sounds great to me, for teaching many things.

LadyLetch Sat 15-Dec-12 10:45:49

I am happy for there to be changes, but am deeply unhappy with the nature that Gove is rushing them through without proper thought.

I find it interesting that OFQUAL oppose the speed of changes and have grave concerns, the exam board I work for express concerns, I see the voice for businesses in this country have expressed their concerns. I've recently read a letter from 22 university lecturers (in education) expressing their concerns, my teaching union have concerns as do most teachers I know.

To press ahead in the face of these concerns (and to refuse to share these concerns in parliamentary select committee) and then to say that he will overrule OFQUAL's concerns is pure madness. I cannot see how anyone can defend this.

gelo Sat 15-Dec-12 11:11:46

I think it all seems rather rushed and ill thought through and I feel that tightening up the existing system would probably be a better way to go.

I've had two dc go through GCSE reasonably recently and haven't thought there that bad - certainly not bad enough to need scrapping. The current model of either 0%, 25% or 60% controlled assessment seems OK at least for the 0% and 25% subjects - some subjects (geography, science) really do need a bit of assessed practical work for which CAs work well, but maybe some tightening up of how they are managed would be good. The subjects that have 60% CA (languages, english language) are the ones where it doesn't seem to work so well - perhaps the way forward is to reduce these to 25% (spoken language would seem to need school involvement at least, but doing the written test as a CA hasn't worked at all well imo). Having higher and foundation level differentiated on many exams seems wise too.

Rather than scrap GCSEs they should be revised a little where needed. Remove some CAs, but keep them where useful. Reduce substantially the number of specifications/boards per subject (this seems much better for levelling, though there are issues of expertise that Ofqual has raised, so maybe a single board per subject is too few). Keep the current foundation/higher tier in most exams - I share Ofqual's concerns that a single paper to test the whole ability range will be insufficient, especially in some subjects. With the move away from modular already happening it should be possible to reduce the number of exams in some subjects too.

AViewfromtheFridge Sat 15-Dec-12 11:35:40

Good point Gelo. Or perhaps controlled assessments could be marked externally, if they're so worried about teachers "cheating".

Solopower, I know - totally lost the moral high ground. Especially as my phone auto corrected set to sett!

Phineyj Sat 15-Dec-12 12:12:55

I don't object to the philosophical aspects of RS/RE at all - as other posters have pointed out, they are good for the intellect, transferable, teach about culture etc. They are also excellent for vocabulary, spelling and debating skills.

What I object to is the 'Christians believe this, Muslims believe that' aspect of the RS course where it's not permitted (let's be honest), to discuss the down side of religious belief - the sexism, the patriarchy, the justification for customs and practices that have no place in C21st Britain - and that the course is compulsory.

Also just wanted to say that all these 'Bacc' terms currently being floated around by the coalition are not the same as the International Baccalaureate (IB) which is a rigorous sixth form level qualification that has been available in the UK since the 70s as an alternative to A level. It includes a compulsory Philosophy option, Theory of Knowledge, in which religious beliefs can be discussed (but do not have to be).

Leafmould Sat 15-Dec-12 15:40:36

Going back to what titchy said:

Schools do not decide the day before the exam what level of gcse a child will sit. This is decided by streaming from year 7. Many children are only taught the syllabus for the basic papers which will get them the maximum of a d result.

So I agree with the previous poster that gcse's have got their problems, and the system of streaming, examinations and gcse's does not promote mobility for the late developer.

There are so many ways to teach. I am not convinced that ebacc will change anything for lower achieving pupils who do not concentrate easily, and struggle with basic skills and learning skills. While I do believe it is important to have a system which gives opportunities to high achieving kids, surely any major changes need to improve education for the kids who get very little out of it currently.

Leafmould Sat 15-Dec-12 15:41:12

And while their are grammar pedants online, is it gcse's or gcses?

noblegiraffe Sat 15-Dec-12 15:50:35

Leafmould, I don't think there are any GCSE papers that restrict pupils to a maximum of a D grade any more, the one in maths was scrapped 5 or 6 years ago, and certainly which paper will be sat isn't decided in Y7. Kids may be set in Y7 but they can usually move up and down sets throughout school, depending on how they're getting on. Borderline pupils who look like they have a shot at a higher grade can still change tier of entry very close to the exam. It is fairly common to have classes where some pupils will sit the higher paper and some the foundation paper depending on which will best suit the pupil.

Solopower1 Sat 15-Dec-12 16:13:38

GCSEs.

MayaAngelCool Sat 15-Dec-12 16:38:02

Chloe, you write like someone who understands very little about the arts and rarely, if ever, engages with them. I say this as an observation, not a criticism. I strongly suspect that Gove et al are coming from the same perspective.

Art (in all its forms) serves to enrich, reflect on, critique, challenge, inspire, humour and entertain society. It can and at times it does level harsh, direct criticism at politicians and those in power in a way that factual presentation cannot - it's the difference between South Park criticising Scientology and a public speaker doing the same. Which would you rather watch? Which would you most likely subsequently remember? Can you imagine the paucity of a life without the functions I listed at the start of this paragraph - enrichment, reflection, etc? Socrates himself said that the unexamined life is a life not worth living.

Why do we think totalitarian regimes typically lock up artists of all genres? Not because they dislike their painting style or vocal timbre, but because their work has the power to level direct challenges at the status quo. Fela Kuti was repeatedly beaten and his mother killed by the Nigerian government of the time because he threw continual challenges against the evil of corruption in his homeland. Incidentally he was sent to London as a medical student, then skipped over to Trinity College of Music because he knew he was 'meant' to be not a doctor, but an artist. Some people are meant to be city traders, some scientists, some artists. We cannot force square pegs into round holes, and should not force them out of square holes.

Remember the protest songs of the 1970s? The way that songwriting and community singing become an automatic and essential mode of creating social glue during civil rights demonstrations across the world? I am listing just a few examples of the way that art has the power to act as a catalyst for societal and individual transformation.

As well as that, the arts are playful, and it is this ability to play, reflect and seek inspiration which gives humans the ability to advance society and technology. Without the lengthy playful childhoods we enjoy, we would struggle to develop computers, brick-laying techniques and new methods of weaving cloth. Let alone all the other things humans have invented.

It is naive and ignorant to claim that the arts have less value than other subjects or career options. Society is like a human body - we may dislike our toes or regard our earlobes as less important than our fingers. But the whole body works at its best and is its most healthy and balanced when we care for it all.

By sidelining the arts, our beloved Coalition is once again, as in so many other aspects of policy, betraying its naivety and ignorance. Rash decisions frequently lead to impoverished decision-making - is that what we want for our children's future? I seriously, seriously doubt this government's competence to improve life in this country.

nickymanchester Sat 15-Dec-12 17:50:24

I think that both Muminwestlondon in her post at 08:40 and gelo in her post at 11:11 sum up a lot of my feelings on the subject so I won't repeat it here.

However, one point that doesn't really get spoken about much - or maybe I've just missed it - is what are these exams actually for?

I think, basically, you want two very different things from these exams:-

1 - To show what ''objective'' standard or criteria have been reached

2 - To differentiate between students when they are applying for higher or further education.

One, above, is essentially a school leaving certificate. I am rather ambivalent about a leaving certificate, however, as I would undoubtedly never have got one - I was rubbish at French at school. As others have said, I really don't see the benefit of it; employers are quite capable of looking at individual GCSE results.

Number two, above, is where I feel the current system has problems, especially with a grading system that has to cover the entire range of performance at 16, not just grade those that are looking to go into further or higher education.

I presume that this may well annoy a lot people, but I would suggest that an exam that is designed to cover the entire range of abilities at 16 does not, currently, do a good job of discriminating solely amongst the group of children that are considering further or higher education.

As long as further and higher education is not universal then there is always going to be selection and differentiation required. This is where I believe that a normative assessment dimension is required as well as the ''objective'' criteria.

Whether this is done by giving the percentile achieved, or some other means, I certainly don't have the perfect answer. However, this would give the finer levels of discrimination required for FE and HE entry without having the problem of having two different levels of exam or relegating those with lower levels of achievement to being ''failures'' if they still manage to meet the set criteria.

To the people that say that normative assessment cannot be used as you cannot compare one year to another, I would suggest that this is ludicrous.

You are attempting to say that there are statistically significant differences in the intelligence and amount of work done in their school career between children currently in Year 11 and those that were in Year 11 say two years ago. While this may possibly be true in individual schools, to try and say it is true across the whole country is clearly ridiculous.

Finally, to the person who said they had an easy time at university and then just crammed in the last month and still got a 2.1, well, I'm happy for you. But, I had to work damn hard for my degree.

Personally, I feel that people like this are as bad as those that say that GCSEs are dumbed down now compared to O levels. To imply that we were all like this is as much a disservice to any debate as talking of dumbed down GCSEs

Rowlers Sat 15-Dec-12 19:12:39

Consultation HAS to happen, surely.
Bringing in a new system without discussing it with the people doing the job day in, day out is lunacy.
Teachers WANT their students to do well, to become well-rounded, balanced, open-minded, inquisitive people equipped to enter the world of work and adapt to whatever it throws at them. Everything schools do is to this end.
Why Gove thinks he knows better is completely beyond me but then I find the man loathesome and not just regarding his views on education.
With regard to a replacement for GCSEs - any new qualification needs to reflect the talents of each student. It should allow students to show what they can do, reflecting both their inate ability and the sheer hard work they have put in to their studies. How best to do this I'm not sure about, but I'm puzzled why Gove thinks that excluding certain subjects is a positive move forward. Surely the ECM policy should also apply to qualifications? The Ebacc seems to suggest that some students are more worthy than others. And clearly that's worrying.

BadMissM Sat 15-Dec-12 19:30:03

My daughter's school is piloting the EBacc. We've had so little information about it, and it limits the number of subjects she can take. So far, it appears to offer even less options than I had at school...

noblegiraffe Sat 15-Dec-12 19:46:48

badmiss I think you must be getting confused between the EBCs (also confusingly referred to as Ebacc) which are to be the new qualification which will replace GCSEs and be Ebacc which is a name given to a certain selection of academic GCSEs. The new qualification couldn't possibly be piloted yet because they don't even know what it will be yet. The current Ebacc is simply a measure for the league tables which Gove hopes will force more students to take his favoured subjects at GCSE.

mam29 Sat 15-Dec-12 22:12:00

intrigued why if ib exists as purpose built system why we just dont adopt that.

my local academy does ib but 6th form not at gcse level..

hats diffrence between gcses and i gcses?

does every european country have its own exam qualification or do many do the same . how does system work in france?

I thourght ebac as going to be balanced beteen humanities, arts and languages.

Dont scotland have different system to us and works well.

I belive the welsh have a welsh bac.

mam29 Sat 15-Dec-12 22:17:05

interesting as outlines what welsh bac is outcomes and and reveiws on its success are mixed with some unis not accepting it.wonder if the ebac be very similar

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_Baccalaureate_Qualification

mam29 Sat 15-Dec-12 22:28:20

www.independent.co.uk/news/education/international-baccalaureate-are-we-ready-for-the-toughest-exams-in-the-world-8180728.html

after reading this article think ould like my kids to do middle years ib.
no fiddling from either political party
no grade inflation
highly respected accross the world and by unis.

just shame only private sectors able to take advantage of it.

the i includes arts where as ebac does not

MayaAngelCool Sat 15-Dec-12 22:50:35

Mam, I suspect the reason why the ibac is not being proposed (which would save a hell of a lot of money rather than creating a new system from scratch - might be useful in times of recession, eh, GoveyBoy?) is that Michael Gove is hoping for personal glory.

mam29 Sun 16-Dec-12 07:50:21

yes possibly just seems daft

reason we calling it the bacc-cynical me reckons its rigeour through association people may be confuse it with the i bac which is world recognised, respected be so much easier for pupils.

but reading about welsh bac dident enthuse me.

I do think we need a change from gcses.

i think an independant body of paremts, unis, employers, teachers to consult be best i wouldent want the nut a left wing political organisation dictating every detail of new qualification as i im not mistaking genuine concern with self interest.

did they already consult? what was outcome,

its also possibly my understanding that kids could take on additional subjects arts maybe.

CouthyMowEatingBraiiiiinz Sun 16-Dec-12 10:45:56

I want to know what will happen to DC's with SN's when these new qualifications come in. SA and SA+ will have disappeared by then, but those DC's SN's won't have disappeared.

Where are the vocational qualifications for them?

My DD is in Y10, and is doing Catering GCSE. She is doing very well in that subject, and the college that does the NVQ qualifications accepts that qualification as the equivalent to an NVQ level 2.

If there are no longer vocational qualifications, what do children like my DD do?

There is a place for a more rigorous qualification, for those DC's that manage it, but there should also be an alternative for those that can't.

It's not right to leave some children in a position where they are literally being made to turn up, sit in a classroom, not understanding what is being taught, knowing full well that they will be leaving without any qualifications at all.

How do these reforms benefit those DC's? How do they help them gain future employment?

Not everyone will be able to pass these new exams - my DD is working her socks off to bring her Maths GCSE grade up to a 'G'. She has dyscalculia, and it has been a long, hard slog for her to even understand the basics. And that is despite tons of extra input from LSA's. NOT everyone is academic.

The cynic in me believes this ties in with the Welfare reforms, trying to create a ready made pool of slave labour, who have no choice but to work in what are currently low-paid jobs for even less money, on Workfare.

If they have no qualifications, then they have no alternative but to claim benefits and be put on Workfare.

But I'm a cynic.

CouthyMowEatingBraiiiiinz Sun 16-Dec-12 11:07:46

Muminwestlondon - I agree wholeheartedly with you. My DD dropped MFL at the end of Y7, and used those timetables lessons to have Learning Support for her Maths and English.

When she started Y8, she was working on NC level 1 in Maths. She is now at a stage in Y10 where she is revising hard to try to get a 'G'. It may not sound like much, but for a severely dyslexic DC, it's amazing.

She can do fractions, decimals, simple algebra. She can weigh and measure and understand temperatures (which, ultimately, will be the most relevant parts of the Maths GCSE for her intended career.) She can use percentages, though not in her head.

I would far rather she had spent extra time doing what she has done, and become functional at a basic level in Maths, rather than learning a foreign language.

However, I would not be happy with the removal of vocational qualifications and the Arts from any future qualification, as it narrows the breadth of their knowledge.

CouthyMowEatingBraiiiiinz Sun 16-Dec-12 11:24:17

The changes are actually the right way round for my first two DC's, my DD with SN's who suits the Current GCSE's with the ability to choose vocational qualifications, as well as a core of more academic subjects suits the current system, and my very Academic DS1 suits a more academic based set of qualifications.

What won't be much help is the fact that my DS2 also has SN's, and is just two years behind DS1.

DS1 goes into Y7 next year, he's currently in Y6, and will do brilliantly whatever the qualification is.

DS2, not so much! He is likely to want to sit more vocational qualifications, which more than likely will not be there by the time he gets to Y10 in September 2019.

Which means I can see both sides of the system.

Having DD and DS2, I can see that the need exists for some sort of vocational qualifications. They don't need to be 'equivalent' to GCSE's, and tbh nobody takes that seriously anyway.

All the 'vocational' qualifications I have had experience of are well designed, rigorous tests of knowledge required in that subject, and are often put together with the help of people working in those industries where they would be looking for that qualification too. They are as rigorous as GCSE's, and more so in many cases.

My DD does far more research, works far harder, and produces far more in depth work in subjects like Health and Social Care BTEC than I ever had to for GCSE's, and I was in the top sets for everything.

So I feel that there is still a place in the curriculum for vocational qualifications.

However, I would ALSO like a more rigorous exam than GCSE for the top sets, as that would benefit my DS1.

I just want BOTH, rather than all academic. Which is the system we have already, barring a more rigorous exam for the highest achievers academically.

chloe74 Sun 16-Dec-12 12:30:23

If consultation was anything like this discussion thread it would achieve nothing but waste lots of time, further disrupting children's education.

Consultation has taken place already, this is about more consultation.
Consultation advice does not have to be adopted. It would be crazy to implement everything everybody 'advised', this isn't the same as not listening.
It is ignorant to suggest the EBacc is developed on the back of an envelope.
Teachers admit they are used to change.
Teachers do mostly have the best interests of children at heart but lets not be naive and pretend they don't also have their own interests in mind as well.
Many improvements suggested to make the GCSE better could easily be included in the EBacc, the Exam/Curriculum is not starting from a blank slate, again to suggest otherwise is just ignorant ideology.
Whilst from a teachers point of view, thinking of an individual child, the GCSE might be worth saving. The government has to make decisions based on the whole system for the whole of the country considering national, international and business interests. What use is a GCSE if the country goes dogs and there are no jobs/investment or future for the next 100 years.
The EBacc will not be burdened with all the negative baggage the GCSE has.

For well over a decade as our education system was being devalued teaching Unions never once called for a strike to stop the Government changes. It would be hypocritical if they now do so, we live in a democracy and in the end it is teachers job to make it work even if they don't like it.

I have heard a lot of hysterical comments about Arts, Music etc being dropped from schools, I have not heard a single factual news story suggesting this is even being considered. What is wrong with giving parents choice, if they want their children to learn art at school they will be able to. Isn't that the situation as it is now.

I remember the EBacc was being considered along side another exam for less able children. Unfortunately it was the left wing liberals that stopped that and so the proposal was a compromise to accommodate more opinions. I would suggest if people don't like something they can vote differently at the next elections.

From my point of view a lot of posters here are what you would consider 'middle class'. So perhaps when you consider the thousands of youth and long term unemployed. More time spent on Maths, English, Science, and Language would improve their chances of getting work. Being able to play the recorder, watch South Park, or admire a picture are not critical skills. Of course selfish middle class parents want their children to learn the finer skills in life but its unfair to lie to working class families that it will help many of them get a job. What will help them is a core of Maths, English and Science so they can get employment.

Its debatable whether learning the history of the country you live in is necessary and as several posters have suggested RE provides good philosophical/ethical aspects. A better option would be to ditch the harmful decisive nature of religious education and make it a useful philosophy class, which would have more benefit to children's future.

And finally those posters use lack of punctuation or rude insults instead of reasoned arguments show just how ignorant they are. If you haven't anything intelligent to say, say nothing at all. Most of us here are adults who have made their choices and decided which direction their career is going. I learnt English to a very high standard when I was at school, I am not at school anymore, in a literary role or ever will be, therefore I have made the informed decision that many comma's/apostrophes are a waste of time and those who like to point that out are usually snob's.

ravenAK Sun 16-Dec-12 13:40:11

chloe74 Don't you think it's a tad inconsistent to hold forth on the necessity of 'core skills' for employability when you then don't use them, though?

Anyway, that aside, you demonstrate with every post that you have very little understanding of how arts subjects work. Indeed, none of your arguments are substantiated by much beyond prejudice as far as I can see.

But perhaps I'm wrong & you are actually better informed than the teaching profession as to precisely what consultation has taken place re: reform to KS4 curriculum - reform which is not, in fact, opposed by any of the unions & which has been constantly in place, qv. the new specification GCSEs brought in in 2010.

Perhaps you'd like to share your knowledge: who has been consulted? How? When?

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