Suffolk: Concern that Gove’s GCSE shake-up ‘could mean more pupils fail’

THE biggest shake-up of secondary school qualifications for nearly 25 years will disadvantage the majority of Suffolk pupils, it has been claimed.

The GCSE will be replaced by the English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBacc) and will see the return of a tough end-of-year examination, the scrapping of modules and less coursework, the Government announced yesterday.

In a joint announcement, Michael Gove, the Conservative Education Secretary and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister said: “We need a new set of exams for students at the age of 16 – qualifications which are more rigorous and more stretching for the able, but which will ensure the majority of children can flourish and achieve their full potential.”

But the county’s headteachers and union bosses have criticised the Government’s “obsession” with written exams, which they claim will cause pupils and employers to lose out.

Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “This system will mean the majority of Suffolk pupils will fail.

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“Things like the three-hour exam are totally unsuitable for most pupils – it’s good for a few, but bad for many. All this system will do is demonstrate what a pupil cannot do, not what they can do. A three-hour exam is not needed in the world of work.”

Mr White, who said the NUT had not been consulted, said he feared that this summer’s GCSE fiasco – where students were marked down to curb an inflation in grades – had been engineered to make the move to a new exam system less controversial.

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“They change the exam boundaries so they can say the exam is not fit for purpose and then replace it. Maybe I’m cynical, but it seems politically motivated,” he said.

According to details released yesterday, children of all abilities will take the EBacc and there will be only one exam board for each subject, in order to prevent competition between boards to deliver tests which are easier to pass.

Teaching of the English, maths and science certificates will begin in September 2015, with the first pupils receiving EBacc rather than GCSE qualifications in 2017.

Nigel Burgoyne, headteacher of Kesgrave High School, said the reliance on exams in the EBacc system was out of touch with employers’ needs and would not ready teenagers for the world of work.

“There is an obsession with the written exam – there are many subjects that shouldn’t be examined with a written paper,” he said.

“I do agree that the exam system needs an overhaul but it would have been nice to be consulted and get to be involved. I think Mr Gove should have sorted out the mess he created [with the marking of this summer’s GCSEs] before rushing out reforms.”

Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, said although he was keen to see the full details of the EBacc plan, the “rubbishing” of GCSEs by Mr Gove should stop.

“The modular exam has been a problem, it gets in the way of teaching because every few months you have to assess the students. It makes teaching a lot less creative. So I would welcome a more traditional exam but I hope it will be mindful of subjects such as art, music and drama.

“But in the meantime, the rubbishing of GCSEs has to stop while we try to keep pupils studying for exams motivated.”

Mr Barton also said the GCSE marking fiasco must not be forgotten with the unveiling of the EBacc.

Ken Jenkinson, headteacher of Colchester Royal Grammar School, said: “I have not heard any detail as yet and will reserve judgement until I have seen the full proposals. I would say that I am in favour of greater rigour at GCSE and that the school has moved over to IGCSE in certain subjects to address some of the concerns expressed about the current GCSE system. A move to a single examination board per subject could restore some confidence in the consistency of the assessment process.”

Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for children and education said: “At this stage we only know the bare minimum of details about the new proposals. What is clear is that there is a need to minimise the variation of approaches and standards of the numerous examination boards.

“There is a lot of evidence to suggest the entire examination system needs to better meet the needs of employers and further/higher education providers as well as better preparing students for the world of work.

“A different system is necessary to raise standards across the UK, if the country is to reverse its current disturbing trend of slipping down the league tables of international comparison.”

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