Education secretary Michael Gove’s leaked plans to replace the current GCSE examinations with the O-Levels of yesteryear have kicked up a bit of a ruckus in the past few days. The media seems completely torn in opinion; the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail applaud the move, slamming the current system of ‘mickey-mouse’ courses, whilst the Guardian and The Independent focus on the implications of a two-tiered system that failed many of that generation. What seems important to note, however, is that the plans were leaked. Nobody outside Gove’s office, not even the Prime Minister, knew of the plans until the Daily Mail got their hands on them. Consequentially, much of the media furore has been focused less on the implications of the plans (which don’t need an Act of Parliament to pass into law) and more on Gove’s political standing in the Conservative Party and the Commons.
The mere name change elicits strong response. For my parents, it conjures memories of a system of corporal punishment, strict teaching, a lack of nurture and a harsh division between academia and vocation. Amidst the uproar, Nick Clegg has publically announced his opposition to the plans, vowing to veto any attempt to scrap the GCSE system.
Rightly so, the plans have sparked debate and discussion as to just how bad the GCSE system itself is. For those of us in university education, it takes little energy to cast our minds back to the muggy halls and rows of plastic chairs of our examinations. I can still remember a question on my Foundation Maths GCSE paper asking me to convert a 5 digit number into wording. There is legitimacy in the claim that the system is too easy. But the solution does not and should not lie in segregating children by ability.
Gove proved himself to be out of touch months ago, when his plans to send a King James’ Bible to every school was met with ridicule and scorn, resulting in no party willing to step forward to foot the £300,000 bill in a time of imposed austerity.
We are arguably a nation currently in the uncomfortable throng of nostalgia and retromania; Union Jack bunting still lingers in Wetherspoons across the country. Thrusting our education system back into a grammar/secondary split won’t solve the problems caused by current failures of the system. Some have praised Gove’s radicalism and strident attempts at educational reform. I’m more worried by his lack of clarity, judgement and downright obnoxiousness. At a time when youth unemployment is above 1 million and studies show an increasing gulf between the rich and poor, we can’t afford lacklustre throwback plans. We need something with more sophistication that will sustain and re-invigorate our education system. Anything with less effort is frankly an insult to the supposed Generation Y, who are pretty pissed off as it is. And with good reason.