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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


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.

chloe74 Fri 14-Dec-12 21:59:23

Still don't get why arts feel excluded, this is about academic subjects not artistic ones. Maybe an EBaccArt, would make everyone feel included? but then when do you stop. EBacchairextensions?

EvilTwins Fri 14-Dec-12 22:15:07

Chloe, what a ridiculously condescending post.

chloe74 Fri 14-Dec-12 22:24:32

EvilTwins, you have a very bias opinion, and for a teacher your very offensive.

Tinuviel Fri 14-Dec-12 22:27:21

I think we need to revamp the whole 14-18 system to be honest. As education (in some form or another) is going to be compulsory to 18, why not let young people choose their route at 14. They could opt for 4 years academic subjects with a view to going to university; 4/5 years of some academic learning with a skills-based education as well, which would enable them to enter a specific career or go onto university; or do a 1 year course of English/maths/ICT and lifeskills, followed by a 3 year apprenticeship which would enable them to go into a specific career.

This is how I remember it working when I was in Austria - so for example they had a fashion college where at 19 they came out with a 'Matura' which enabled uni entry and a ladies/men's tailoring qualification. I seem to remember there was a business school/engineering/ICT/nursery teacher amongst other things. So if you weren't sure whether uni was for you, you could learn a specific 'trade' but keep your options open.

NewFerry Fri 14-Dec-12 22:28:07

I have a son at RG uni, and I work in an IT environment where colleagues are taking professional exams, plus I work in the finance department and am taking accountancy exams. In each case, a student does a module of work, and is then tested on it. The is how it works in the real world. Ths is how universities test and accredit students.
In my opinion, a return to a final exam, at the end of two years, is a retrograde step. In practice I guess it will mean some topics will not be tested at all.
In an office or project setting, an individual will be given a task and will access appropriate resources, inc colleagues expertise, and written and IT resources, to produce a piece of work. Yet we are now saying that controlled assessments are somehow not quite up to standard!

My final point will be to say that unless you work in teaching, or have had a son/daughter actually go through the GCSE and A level process, then you really have no idea how hard students work to get good results.

EvilTwins Fri 14-Dec-12 22:32:20

Chloe "For a teacher your very offensive" Really? What's offensive about pointing out that your post was condescending? It was. And perhaps I am bias*ed*, but I have spent the last 15 years seeing how much The Arts can enrich the life if young people. Why would I support those subjects being sidelined?

chloe74 Fri 14-Dec-12 22:46:54

Tinuviel - completely agree

NewFerry - Your right but you don't address the issue which plagues the education system. Modular courses, course work, endless resits etc etc over the years have been been plagued with schools finding ways to 'cheat' the system. It is advantageous for teachers to help children to beat the current system,which is the opposite of the real world in work.

I don't doubt children work very hard at GCSE's, no one is questioning that. But that has nothing to do with the effectiveness of the GCSE's.

Evil - you have been rude to me on many posts, but I wont get into that here. My post was not intended to be condescending, I was trying to make a point. I apologize if you were offended. Yes you are bias and you never minimize that in your comments. No-one is suggesting Art is being minimized, that is just political fiction. I have seen Carpentry, Maths, Language ... and many subjects transform peoples lives, what is your point about Art other than a bias?

EvilTwins Fri 14-Dec-12 22:51:50

Chloe- Arts subjects have simply not been mentioned by Gove as part of his new plans, which leads me to worry that they will be sidelined. Naturally I am concerned, because that's what my job is. I do, however, think it would be a sad day if arts subjects left the secondary curriculum.

SuffolkNWhat Fri 14-Dec-12 22:54:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

NewFerry Fri 14-Dec-12 23:00:27

For a great many students if you do not try arts at school, you will never get to try them.
If you don't try them, you can't properly appreciate them.
If you can't appreciate art, drama and music then you will struggle to make sense of life's important questions, and will have a reduced life experience sad

purits Fri 14-Dec-12 23:21:39

Schools will not spend money on resourcing subjects that play no part in league tables. Sad but true.

This is half the problem. When languages were not 'measured' a lot of schools dopped them; now they are part of the EBacc schools are desperately trying to recruit MFL teachers.
If schools concentrated on giving a good, rounded education instead of massaging performance figures then Gove's EBacc would never have been needed. The teaching profession brought it on themselves.

chloe74 Fri 14-Dec-12 23:32:50

EvilTwin - I agree Arts subjects have not been mentioned, why do you conclude that they will be sidelined? I would completely support a campaign to keep the arts if I believed they weren't going to be available to my children but this debate is about academic subjects not art subjects.

This is not meant to be a factious comment but if I complained that Gove wasn't forcing MTV to show more Science programs would I sound silly? I send my son to a private 'arts' class and because his school is useless at this, but its a completely separate point to academic provision. Your reasoning does not lead to your conclusion.

SuffolkNWhat - It does not follow that any subject not included in the EBacc will be excluded from the curriculum. We need an intelligent debate!!!

Newferry - Most kids try arts at primary, it seems to be what they spend most of their time doing, so its hardly neglected. It would be nice if all children could try all subjects but you have to be realistic, but not everyone will make a living banging an African drum. There are many things children are taught that mess up their chances of making sense of life's important questions but we feel obliged to force personal views on them... I wish it were otherwise.

NonnoMum Sat 15-Dec-12 00:01:17

Be careful about the erosion of the arts; drama, art, dance, music etc in the curriculum. The state schools will be left with the prescriptive curriculum, whilst all the privileged children in the private schools will be flying in the cultural experiences of putting on plays, playing music to an audience developing their confidence, thriving and celebrating life-enhancing experiences whilst our kids will be league-table chasing and drilled to become call centre fodder.
I shit you not.

chloe74 Sat 15-Dec-12 01:34:09

hmmm ... of all the possibilities, I doubt that state school will be the last bastion of Science and all the private schools will migrate to liberal arts. I doubt that VERY much.

noblegiraffe Sat 15-Dec-12 02:02:08

I am utterly appalled that Gove plans to introduce a raft of new qualifications without any pilot study beforehand to see if they are fit for purpose or not. In maths I can think of a few qualifications that have been piloted and found wanting (e.g. compulsory stand alone functional maths, linked pair) so not rolled out across the board, so it's not simply a fact that you can get these things right first go. And the changes that he wants to make (80% of students all sitting the same exam) sound like a potential for disaster.

VioletStar Sat 15-Dec-12 05:51:54

What I don't get is the old 'teachers should live in the real world' bit. What world do you think teachers inhabit? They don't live at school. They have lives, families, friends and, guess what? They have children too that will be affected.

Secondly, if you think teachers don't deal with change then clearly you haven't been paying attention every time a new Sec of State is appointed. They all have made changes and teachers have to deal with that. Allied to that is the fact that teachers, like me, are constantly making changes because I want to make my lessons better, accessible, relevant and current. I want to prepare my students to love my subject but also to see that they have transferable skills to the workplace.

Finally, what is the problem with consultation? We are there day in, day out and presumably that gives us a bit more insight into what is workable. Not do as we say, but ask us for input. No other profession has such wholesale changes imposed on such a regular basis with no consultation (maybe NHS?).

The majority of teachers I have worked with in the past 20 years are there, and stay there, because we love working with kids and bringing out the best in them. (Yes, there are a few who are there as they see it as an easy gig, but they don't last). We care about the kids we teach and we care about education. Can you say that about some of the people who are making and imposing the changes without prior investigation, consultation and trialling?

Amblin Sat 15-Dec-12 07:03:59

I think my sons doing it already. In not sure. That's shit, isn't it

gazzalw Sat 15-Dec-12 07:14:53

A secondary school education should embrace all subjects including music, art and RE and I say that as someone who didn't relish lessons in art or music. I think RE is actually quite a rigorous subject, if taught properly, and is the closest to philosophical thought that most school children will get at school.

I am not sure that I feel fully briefed on the proposed EB but my DS will be in the first cohort to do those exams. But from what I know if it (it's more exam based isn't it?) I think it will suit my DS more than GCSEs with their emphasis on course work. DS is clever and likes exams but he's not the diligent pupil who will ever spend hours fine-honing a piece of work. It may be that it suits boys more than girls (who do tend to be more diligent and perfectionists) and there may well be a turnaround in girls' outstripping boys in their exam results.

If I understand correctly the EB also includes a core of subjects. Well when we went to grammar school it was a given that we had to study a science, history and/or geography, maths, English Language and Literature and a modern language. That is a robust spread of subjects. I have no problem with that system at all.

I do admit though that I'm only thinking about this for my own relatively bright children and if I had non-academic ones I am sure I might have a totally different view of the proposed EB.

WynkenBlynkenandNod Sat 15-Dec-12 08:26:37

My DD is is year 9 and a lot of parents I know are totally confused and not aware that year 9s are doing GCSE's that are different to the ones year 11's are doing . When you say about the changes most assume it's the Gove Level, look lightly puzzled and mutter about 2015. Mention linear GCSE's and there's a puzzled look and 'I can't keep up with all of this'. I was also under the impression they would be only able to do their exams at the end of year 11 but that's not right is it ?

Whilst I agree changes need to be made, what is the point of changing the existing GCSE's for two years then not evaluating the effects of the changes and bringing in something different? It paints a picture of Gove as highly ineffectual, not concerned with the effects of changes he is making and rushing through as much as he can whilst he can, destroying any credibility he might have had.

Also agree about the arts inevitably being shouldered out as state schools only concentrate on those subjects that will be assessed and therefore affect their ratings. DD has been covering philosophy in RE and is looking forward to Ethics. She isn't hugely academic but really enjoying RE at the moment, has been asked to consider taking Art for GCSE and really working hard at the moment. DS is 5 years behind her and very good at Maths and science so changes are the right way round for my family but that's not the point.

FWIW I did O Levels at a Grammar and came out with decent grades but worked nowhere near as hard as my friend's Year 11 DD is currently doing, it's been a real eye opener.

sashh Sat 15-Dec-12 08:31:10

Remove the alternative quals and the problem of dumbing down is removed

What makes you think the alternatives are dumbing down? I think the Royal College of Music is quite capable of creating an exam.

I teach (well not working so I supose taught) health and social care BTEC L1, L2, L3.

IMHO BTEC is a far better prep for something like nursing than A Levels. The units include things like being able to wash your hands properly to research using Harvard referencing, equality and diversity. In most FE colleges it also includes a work placement.

So who is better prepared to start nursing degree from these two?

A Level Biology, Sociology, Art

BTEC National HSC
2 years work experience
practical skills
reseach skills

And these qualifications are not new, BTEC National used to be ONC, HNC/HNDs are not new, my grandfather studied and achieved HND in the 1950s.

Muminwestlondon Sat 15-Dec-12 08:40:03

To answer the opening post..

I am a parent with two teenage girls. One at a superselective, one at a leading comprehensive school. I do think the changes are being rushed through but I really don't think that a petition is going to make a jot of difference. Industrial action by teachers might, but that will probably only delay matters and wrest minor concessions.

I think the EB stinks. If schools want to teach the IB, fine it is up to them. I think schools should have a choice.

I think the make up of subjects is ridiculous. E.g. Are you really going to force a severely dyslexic child to spend a few miserable years attempting to learn a foreign language and failing badly? Though I personally am an atheist, I think RE is a robust enough subject to qualify as an humanity. I think music should also qualify quite frankly.

I think that children do too many subjects and GCSEs should be restricted to 8 or 9. If that leads to a child dropping humanities or two sciences at 14 to specialise in say art or music, it should be up to them. That happened in my day.

I do not want to return to the nasty divisive pre GCSE system we had of O' levels and CSEs. I went to grammar school and did O' levels. You are kidding yourself if you think they are superior to GCSE. Having a daughter who did 11 GCSEs last summer gaining A*/A in all, I think GCSEs are more rigourous. The reason children get top grades is because they are extremely well taught. Don't bleat on about dumbing down and teaching to the exam. What is wrong with teaching to the exam, it is designed to test the knowledge accrued over the course after all. In DD's school which is a super-selective they go above and beyond the National Curriculum. I also have a child at a comprehensive, children there can also achieve top grades if they are able enough, the teaching is superb.

My personal preference is for terminal exams in subjects, however I can see why some people prefer modular exams and controlled assessments and I think schools should be free to decide what is best for them based on their intake.

I think all public exams should be sat in year 11, though there is nothing wrong with able children sitting one or two (i.e. maths or English language) in year 10.

I can say with absolute certainty that there is no cheating in controlled assessments at DD's school based on what she has told me. Now she is doing A' levels the teachers have made it blatantly clear, they are not going to be spoon fed or given much help with course work and they have to work it out for themselves. It is a fucking insult to the majority of teachers to call them cheats.

lougle Sat 15-Dec-12 08:58:10

sashh, all nursing students need to be able to wash their hands, but they also need a good grasp of maths (for drug calculations, drip rates, etc.) and not just whole numbers, but decimals. That sounds silly, but a misplaced decimal can have tragic consequences. Don't forget, also, that we aren't talking about exam conditions, but a busy ward with buzzers going off, patients calling out, telephones ringing, possibly in the early hours of the morning after 8 hours on duty.

Nurses need a grasp of biological concepts, so that they can assess their patient's condition. They need to understand, for example, how hydration will affect blood pressure, which will in turn impact on heart rate.

Nurses need a good grasp of English and must be able to record notes succinctly and clearly, in such a way that they may be referred to in court up to 21 years later (the clock for medical negligence starts ticking at 18 years old for children).

Knowing how to wash your hands is not going to get you far, and most prospective nursing students will (should) have got some experience before applying.

cricketballs Sat 15-Dec-12 09:14:19

in relation to the GCSE v BTEC argument I teach both so feel that I can give an opinion based on fact surrounding this.

The reason that BTECs are thought to be easier is that they are based 100% on coursework which can be continuously improved until it reaches the required standard which allows for students who 'don't get it' the first time to work and work with feedback on their every step until they do 'get it'. This does not mean it is easier just different from a memory test.

For example, BTEC Level 2 Business requires students to create a profit and loss account, cash flow forecast, break even chart and balance sheet to gain a pass in one unit. In order to achieve a merit criterion they then have to analyse the importance of these financial tools for a manager. The Distinction then pushes them to evaluate fully (with references and using 'real accounts') these. This means that if the accounts are incorrect, they can then go back and correct them. If they have missed an area in their analysis I can feedback that this is the case and they can then re-write this. This is not easier infact it is harder then the GCSE; just different.

The GCSE only requires them to be able to complete a very simple profit/loss account if they are tested on it at the end of year 11.

Which skills are going to be used within the workplace - a memory test or the ability to go back and improve, the ability to research, the ability to analyse using tools and guidance

SantasBitch Sat 15-Dec-12 09:28:56

Oh enough already with all these exams - GCSE at 16, AS level at 17 and A level at 18. Which other country does this? Embrace the IB (or a version of) and put an end to all of this exam madness. If the school leaving age is 18, surely this makes GCSE and AS level redundant - or would do, if children followed a broader curriculum until age 18. My two are in the IB system and will stay there - no "grade inflation", a qualification that is recognised world wide, no nonsense of specialising in 3 or 4 subjects at 16. My A level choices were just plain wrong - hindsight is a marvellous thing to have, but who knows, really, what they want to do at age 16?

AViewfromtheFridge Sat 15-Dec-12 09:38:47

I'm an English teacher. This is my fifth year, and in that time I've had to learn and teach six different specifications (Lang and Lit, so three lots of changes). Absolutely agree that it devalues what has gone before.

Also, when change is pushed through too quickly, there are so many things that suffer. When the new spec came out in 2010, we were floundering in the dark. Text books were full of errors, people and reports from the exam board contradicted each other at every turn, and no one had any idea what each grade looked like, particularly at the top end. And we were a pilot school, so had a couple of years on everyone else. Results this summer were crazy - I had sett 3 of 8, target grades mainly B with a few As. About half of them got A*s in Lit, many with full marks on one paper. Now, this sounds great for them (and looks great for me), but never in a month of Sundays were some of them A* kids.

You may use this as "proof" that the system needs changing, but the same thing will happen again if reform is poorly consulted and implemented too quickly.

The vast majority of the children I teach work so hard and care so much about their future; any reform that is implemented for the political gain of an individual is doing them a disservice. The thing that makes me rage the most is that Gove's rhetoric about falling standards has at its centre a study that has been discredited - here.

I love my job. I love being in the classroom, I love it when children finally "get" stuff, I love it when we argue about what a poem means or why characters behave in a certain way, I love it when a lesson about a persuasive leaflet becomes a whole-class debate about smoking or animal cruelty or derogatory terms that are peculiarly feminine.

What I do not love is changing goalposts. As someone has already said, how children will be terminally assessed completely changes the way in which we teach them, from Year 7 onwards. This is not dumbing down, or teaching to the test, but it would be nice to be confident about how my lovely, hard-working Year 7s will ultimately be assessed.

With regard to the arts, of course they're rigorous. I have no idea why Gove appears to be so opposed to them. A comparison to hair extensions is puerile and ignorant, in the truest sense. We often compare our results to those of RE, as many of the skills are the same. If we were to lose these subjects, we would be cheating our children of an appreciation of culture - you only need to look at the opening ceremony of the Olympics to see how much talent there is in this country. And of course state schools would be the ones to suffer the most, as the cultural subjects will lose time in order to concentrate on the ones which "count", league table wise.

Finally, chloe74, clearly you and I are ideologically opposed in our views on education. That is fine. However, if you want to be taken seriously, I suggest you learn the difference between your and you're. This might help!

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