When staffroom conversation moves away from the English department’s current obsession, a surreal sitcom world of ‘Friends’, with ‘who amongst staff would you like to share a flat with?’, an icebreaker is always the never ending gift of Michael Gove. Which of the many daily educational edicts from the mind of the ‘Dark Lord’ was the most stupid, the most damaging? There are so many to choose from, all being operated in or coming to the loyal royal City of Worcester, all still having a damaging effect on the educational world.
Is it the new ‘free school’? Unwanted, unrequired, unloved and planned with little proper consultation. Worcester City’s ‘free school’ is going to be rolled out in 2018 to the cost of £13 million. A school of 600, hoping to glean top scientific students from the rest of us is a worrying threat to the five remaining city portacabin state schools. I have expressed serious reservations about this becoming a success due to lack of need, lack of parental desire and a belief that there aren’t the science teachers out there! 2018 will prove whether it is going to be a successful venture or be consigned to the Gove bin of wasteful, expensive ideas.
A second contender would be the reform of teacher training that has left us bereft of science and maths teachers, which is a long term crisis that will affect the profession for the next decade. Gove’s third strong new initiative is the ill thought out introduction of the Progress 8 measure, which has meant the castration of languages and the arts as viable options in so many schools as senior leaders ‘chase’ the correct bucket list, hoping to receive a positive score never mind the aptitude or needs of their students. Just look at the number of entries for languages, halved from five years ago – decisions which may effect their future employability and life chances. Furthermore, this judgement is limited as there is no real comparison. Good grades means good scores and the more affluent schools and demographic areas will score heavily. There needs to be recognition, a weighting for those who get good grades against home, school, community and cultural expectations, not a simplistic 8 grades good, points make prizes measurement. Hard to do if you cannot employ/find a science teacher.
Nevertheless, the huge change in GCSE grading with 9 – 1 replacing A*- G will, I believe, be his most contentious and unless some dramatic developments occur, his most damaging with already a dread of August 2017 results day forming in my already educationally neurotic stomach.
This potential change has hung over the profession for the last year as confusion continues as to what it will look like. A GCSE level 4 grade will now be equivalent to a C grade but the following year this will become a level 5?! This mammoth educational change perhaps explains the air of lethargy and flatness I feel, not buoyed by relatively good GCSE results and a fabulous full staffroom that should give an air of hope and optimism for the new year. My weariness is rooted in the speed of educational change, which is externally driven and appears to be rushed without sensible consultation or any real evidence. No coursework in the final GCSE mark increases the lack of feeling of control for staff and stressed out students. Coursework is another life skill that has been removed as we ‘hurtle’ back to 1970s education, without the trust in teachers that could mean we teach in a robotic, exam priority way, which I fear is detrimental to our complex society of 2016.
This change to 9-1 did not appear to be rooted in educational research or proper evidence with the proposed change late in 2013. Only 15% of the 328 teacher and parent responses agreed with the change. Employers and universities were even more scathing and unwelcoming with only 9% apparently agreeing to the change. So we have an exam system that is established and understood being replaced by the introduction of a system that is ill conceived and grades/levels given to new GCSE students whose specifications are not yet written. You simply could not make it up! This is based on limited research and little evidence with the idea conceived at a time when educational edicts were daily.
When I talked to Ian Narraway, my family butcher, his dismay at a grade 1 being the bottom score was partly to do with the apparent demotion of his three 1980 CSE 1 grades, which he was rightly proud of and partly because of the confusion he felt at my waffly explanation of potential future 2017 apprenticeships, English and maths graded 9-1 and all the other subjects graded A*-G. His best Victor Meldrew impression of ‘I don’t believe it’ is a sentiment I fear we will all share in the coming months. The fear is always that someone’s school, someone’s children will be caught in the exams grade lottery! I hope it will not be my school but I cannot guarantee with confidence my future predictions. This leaves me floundering during a year when young people and staffrooms require strong coherent leadership!