Yesterday, everyone’s favourite (well, only) Education Secretary, Michael Gove MP, and well known student advocate Nick Clegg MP announced their plans for GCSE reform, policies which are also reflected in plans laid out on consultation for A levels.
If their plans become a reality we’ll see a move away from students being tested on each area of study as they reach the end of it and towards a more linear approach with less coursework and staggered examination and a focus on fewer exams at the end of the course. This is based on the idea that modular examination is somehow easier and encourages “spoonfeeding”, something that Ofqual have historically said there is no evidence to suggest. This is on top of a move away from methods of examination like coursework, and moves to end competition between exam boards.
Michael Gove says that an “80s model” of examination is no longer suitable for this generation, and that may be true, but that doesn’t warrant a return to the 1950s model of linear examination that removes opportunities for those students experiencing difficulties in their life to have a second chance to achieve.
The idea that you can always improve should be a foundation of our education system, and our examinations should be a reflection of how much students know, rather than what knowledge they can regurgitate on a single given day. You get as many attempts to improve your driving and pass your driving test as you need and employers are required to give staff an opportunity to improve their performance if it falls short. The idea that years of hard work by individuals and schools can be undone because of an “off day” is ludicrous and the removal of different methods of examination (including coursework) moves us towards an ever more homogenous form of education at Key Stage 4 level.
This issue is particularly personal for me because of my own experience of the current modular examinations systems for GCSE and A level. When I was 16 I was admitted to hospital for several weeks with severe hip and back pain that led to several painful operations, an end to my love of sports and exercise and ultimately a two year repeat prescription to morphine and codeine, highly addictive pain relievers that had a huge impact on my wellbeing and ability to access my education. This meant that I spent much of my first year at college in hospital and unable to access a demanding curriculum of A level study, or unable to even complete basic life tasks.
I experienced panic attacks in my exams as a result of my medication and left my first year of study with two Ds and two Us. Receiving my exam results remains one of my worst experiences, but with the opportunity to retake modules and to return to study I was able to put a year of physical, psychological and emotional pain behind me and I could achieve the results I was capable of, ultimately leaving me with offers at a variety of my chosen Universities. Let me be clear; for me, and for others like me, it would have not been possible to complete my study under the system being endorsed by Gove and Clegg.