Some quick personal thoughts on the big educational headlines yesterday and today, and ahead of the announcement today about the reform of examinations for 16 year olds:
• I want an examination system which is fair, rigorous and relevant to the 21st century in which our students will live.
• Importantly, I think it should be a system which balances rigour with broad access – so I would be strongly against separate exams for the academic ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
• We should be aiming for a high proportion of our young people to do well and get high grades, providing they meet the exacting demands of the assessment. So I would be strongly opposed to ‘norm referencing’, or grade rationing. No ambitious country should set out to ensure that a proportion of its young people fail at school. Like Michael Gove, I believe in the ‘transformative power of education’ – and through its power it can potentially be transformative for everyone, if they are well taught and are motivated to engage. No educationalist should base their life’s work on an assumption of failure.
• I also want to ensure that young people’s educational experience is not disproportionately shaped by examinations – good quality curriculum planning, teacher development and resourcing need to go alongside examinations to ensure that the system is not unbalanced. Education is not only a commodity, and there are important aspects of growth and development together at school which cannot be simply examined, and these aspects of education should not be swamped by over-emphasis on examinations at the expense of everything else.
• I think it is sad that GCSEs have become discredited, and I think that the present as well as the last government share the blame for that, not least through this year’s grading fiasco. It is particularly worrying for the young people who are working hard for them, or who have recently taken them. If there were political will, then GCSE could be reformed and credibility restored. But this is as much about politics as it is about education.
• I welcome the sensible timescale for reform, with first examinations not until 2017, because this could be a once in a generation reform. But there must be wide consultation and there must be a research base for reform – it should not be about political sound bites
• We need to remember that while we are looking to some of the fast growing Far Eastern economies for lessons on education, they are grappling with excessively high stakes examinations which are bad for child mental health and which can stifle creativity, essential for innovation and economic growth. If there is a better way than ours, which there may well be, then it isn’t necessarily simply theirs.
More thoughts to follow once we know what exactly is proposed, other than via the Mail on Sunday!