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Michael Gove tells the truth about Britain's "discredited" exam system

Michael Gove serious 2010 By Jonathan Isaby
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Today's Times (£) splashes on the interview Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson have done with Education Secretary Michael Gove, picking up primarily on his comments about the credibility of the system of public examinations in this country.

His intervention is deemed controversial on the grounds that hundreds of thousands of school pupils are currently finishing their GCSEs and A-Levels, but he has made it nonetheless.

It has always struck me as incredible, in the literal sense of the word, that education standards have been improving year on year for decades to the degree suggested by exam results as recorded by the number of A-C grades being gained. The fact that A* grades had to be introduced demonstrated the increasing lack of value of even an A grade.

And Michael Gove appears to share that view:

“I want to refocus our curriculum to get rid of unnecessary extras and change our discredited exam system... It has become easier to get an A at A level or GCSE than it used to be and that’s a problem. Children are being better taught than ever before. But the rate of improvement is the issue. Runners are faster now than at the time of the four-minute mile but they are not faster to the extent that we have seen more people getting As and A*s.”

"The exam boards need to sharpen up their act. We are also saying in GCSEs that you need to award marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar. We need to have genuinely stretching exams which compare with the world’s most rigorous.”

“If you are doing art or geography, you’ve got to have a work of art or a field trip. But if you’re doing mathematics or English or French then the logical thing is to have a proper rigorous exam at the end of year 11."

“We need to ensure that A levels command the confidence of universities. Universities are reporting to me that students are arriving ill-prepared for independent learning. The A level has not given them the knowledge they need to succeed at university... If private schools are having an elite qualification and state schools are being left with a qualification that can’t match it, that is of profound concern to me, so we do need to do something to strengthen confidence in A levels.”

I agree with everything he says above and he should be unapologetic about having said it.

Here are other noteworthy quotes from his Times (£) interview.

On driving through his education reforms: “The tough parts have been more difficult, the annoying bits more annoying but the fun bits more fun. It’s only through trial and error you arrive at the right solution. I have learnt from the mistakes of the past. I am lucky in that a lot of changes I am making are carrying on from Tony Blair.”

On his opposition to the profit motive for academies and free schools: “Obviously I don’t have any ideological objection to profit-making institutions. The people who set our exams, provide school food and sell textbooks make a profit. But I don’t see the need to have schools making a profit because the idealism is very precious. I think a profit motive would turn the academies movement from something that is all about philanthropy and generosity into something that was seen in a different light.”

On striking: “I went on strike myself once. It didn’t do me any good and it didn’t do any of my friends any good. I don’t think it’s ever the answer. Two teaching unions have said they want to have this strike to show the strength of feeling. I know the strength of feeling. The strike is undeniably a mistake. We do need to reform public-sector pensions to be fair on other taxpayers.”

On the Government's recent U-turns: “We have entered a minefield. If you charge in a totally straight line then there will be damage. If you see an unexploded bomb in your path — something left by the last government, a poor decision, a mistake, a funding problem — you’ve got to move smartly around it. But there’s an overall sense of direction that binds the Government.”


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