Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Proposed changes to GCSE and A Levels

King's is a member of HMC, an organisation representing the leading 250 independent schools in the UK, and yesterday I attended the termly meeting of Heads in the South East.  We had an interesting discussion about the changing face of ICT in teaching and learning and the need to adapt to the new technologies our pupils work with and embrace the opportunities they present.  This came at an opportune time as we have appointed two new Heads of ICT for September in our Prep and Senior Schools, one of whom is an Apple Distinguished Educator.  Increasingly, especially for Senior School pupils, the trend is moving away from teaching skills such as using word processing and spreadsheets which are developed at a much younger age and more to using technology to enhance learning.

The main item though was a discussion of proposed educational reforms to A Level and GCSE.  Michael Gove has made it clear that he wants to see an end to the two tier AS and A2 structure and a return to a two year A Level course.  There are advantages of this in terms of reducing the loss of teaching time in the summer term  but the various Heads associations and universities are opposed to this move as it reduces flexibility in teaching programmes and denies universities the chance to assess performance before making offers.

There is a good deal of concern here.  First that Michael Gove is fully aware that all of the associations of Heads and universities are against his proposal but is carrying on regardless.  Secondly, no clear details have yet been published for a change planned for September 2015.  Thirdly, should Labour win the election in May 2015 there is the prospect that they may scrap Gove's plans.  Clearly this is not a strong foundation for change.

Yesterday morning the media leaked even more wide ranging plans that would affect GCSE.  Having, very sensibly, backed down from imposing an English Baccalaureate (EBacc) based on a few core subjects it transpires that Michael Gove's latest plan is to introduce a two tier GCSE system.  There would be a new qualification called 'I Levels' which would be graded on a numerical scale of 8-1 rather than A*-F.  It is surely no coincidence that they would only be in those subjects which Gove had proposed as making up the EBacc (English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History and Geography).  Again this is planned for September 2015 but with no information available on syllabus content or assessment structures.  This was widely reported yesterday - click here for a link to The Daily Telegraph.)

The move from O Levels to GCSEs and the introduction of AS alongside A Level came about as the consequence of careful research and planning (10 years in the case of GCSEs).  Michael Gove is clearly determined to ensure changes which will have a significant impact on the education of our children for years to come, in the face of opposition from educationalists and all in a time frame driven by his fear of not being in office after the May 2015 election.

One of the great strengths of schools like King's is that we have the flexibility to adapt to change and, if we need to, will make sure that our pupils get the possible deal out any reforms.  This week we have several information evenings for parents of children starting in Nursery and Reception.  One of the great joys of having a school which educates pupils from ages 3 to 18 is being able to tailor an education which carries them all the way through to adulthood and such evenings are always enjoyable - full of excitement as to what lies ahead.  I wonder though what exams they might be taking in twelve to fifteen years time.  The education of our children in this country is a sacred duty and those pupils starting Nursery and Reception in September deserve better from a Secretary of State who seems more interested in his own legacy than their education.