Hey, Mr Gove, leave our kids alone

June 21, 2012

GCSEs were introduced the year after I sat my ‘O’ levels. What I remember is that there was total chaos in our school as teachers struggled to get to grips with the new exams. Many kids who might have excelled at ‘O’ levels or CSEs didn’t do as well as they might have done as a result, and had to resit. I’m sure ours wasn’t an isolated case.

So if it’s true there are plans to bring back ‘O’ levels and get rid of GCSEs, then frankly this makes me despair.

The kids I know who have sat their GCSEs have not been ‘dumbed down’, and I really resent anyone suggesting they have. Far from it. They’re incredibly bright and articulate and they’ve worked really hard to achieve excellent results. I may have good ‘O’ levels, but when it comes to discussing history or English (or Maths, *cough*), they are way ahead of me.

And the ‘O’ level system was a two-tiered education system. Those kids who were not deemed ‘bright enough’ to sit ‘O’ levels sat CSEs. If ‘O’ levels are being reintroduced, then presumably CSEs will also make a come back, and the majority of kids who sat mostly CSEs at my school didn’t go on to higher education – they left school at 16.

Is the plan simply to ensure universities have even fewer applicants than they do already? Because if it is, where are the jobs going to come from that they’ll need to support themselves? Does Michael Gove really want what’s best for ordinary kids – or is he determined to make a complete mess of our education system and our children’s futures?

The answers aren’t multiple choice.


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  • Violets Diary June 22, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    I think it is a rubbish idea to go back. I remember even the teachers at our shcool were scathing about the people taking CSEs. I don’t think this is good for young people to have this kind of divisive system. However, my Son starts High School in September and we have been told that the exams will change. For any child currently in yr 9 there will no-longer be any coursework or modules, people will not be able to take exams early and they will all have to be assessed at the end of year 11 as we were under the O level system. but exams, in the near future will still be GCSEs. so how will employers and HE institutions etc. know which young people have been through which system? I don’t like the change, but if they are going to make changes I do think they should change the name of the qualification to make it clear that one group of young people have been assessed under one system, and others by a different system.

  • Donna @ Little Lilypad Co June 21, 2012 at 10:41 am

    I sat GSCE’s but then the year after me, they suggested that some children took GNVQ’s as a more vocational option. I think the government / the country / the education system need to find a system that works and stick to it. From an employers perspective, how can you measure the abilities of people when you have a variety of examinations that may or may not be varying in difficulty. I took GSCE’s and I was thankful that they were partly coursework based as I panicked at the thought of exams. I know its difficult to find a “one size fits all” structure but repeatedly changing it isnt helping teacher, children or future employers!

  • Crystal Jigsaw June 21, 2012 at 10:21 am

    In a nutshell, and speaking as a mum to a special needs child, this decision could be the worst thing for our future generation. They don’t seem to have taken into account how this will affect disabled children. It’s as though all they’re wanting is the brighter kids to get the good jobs and the less able kids to earn minimum wage, if any wage at all. Children need to be encouraged to do well at school but when they are put into two levels or clever O’Level status and less able CSE status, this only causes a further divide. I suspect special schools will be praying this does not go ahead because many children with learning difficulties will not be able to sit O’Levels. Therefore, they will be left behind, forgotten about and never be given a chance at the good jobs.

    I’ve written about this today also, and have linked your post as you inspired me to write about it.

    CJ x

  • LittleMe June 21, 2012 at 9:45 am

    This government really is determined to wreck the confidence of school kids as well isn’t it.

  • MyLifesChaotic June 21, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Its certainly a dilemma. I’m not sure wholesale return to the old system is the answer but then neither am I convinced that the current system works either. And one thing is clear – any changes that are to be brought in must be managed to a sensible time-scale that allows the new system to be introduced in a time-managed fashion with additional resources allowed for training etc.

    I am aged enough to have taken O-levels – and yes there was a distinct “us and them” between those <> children who took O’s and those <> children who took CSEs – a distinction which is as invalid as it is insidious.

    However I have now been in the workplace long enough to see several generations of children who have been through the new system – and i’m not sure it does them any favours either.

    On the one hand, children who are good at exams, have supportive home lives and who work hard will do well under the GCSE system – in fact most of these children will do well under many systems, they have the ability and the support network to do so. And yes – when those children have worked very very hard for their exam credits it is unfair to suggest that they’ve had an easy route to them. Its not them who have set the benchmarks.

    But the truth is that we have not reared a generation who are inherently ‘cleverer’ than in the past, what we have done is played about with the measurement system. And the further truth is that when these children move on through the selection processes of life (university selection, job interviews etc.) – if they “all” have very similar marks on paper – then the external organisations have to look at other means of differentiating between them (cognitive testing, personal statements, verbal interviews etc.) which if you want to be radical, you might say renders the examination process somewhat redundant! Hence we get the headline situation where someone with 15 A* GCSEs and 5A* A levels is not accepted for a place on a particular course. (But if there are 2000 applicants with those qualifications, the distinction must be drawn somewhere…)

    At the other end of the scale you have children leaving education and entering the work place, or leaving school and going onto tertiary college with a raft of GCSE qualifications which quite clearly are not representative of that childs abilities or potential.

    I have had school leavers come for interviews where their application has clearly been completed either by a parent or by someone at the job centre – that in itself is not an issue for some of the roles for which I recruit – but when their application states that they have 7 or 8 B grade GCSEs there is a basic standard of education (literacy, numeracy and the ability to express yourself) that the qualifications lead you to expect – and against which expectations they clearly fail.

    I do believe we need some sort of return to accepting the premise that different children have different abilities and that getting them all to a situation where they all have a similar raft of qualifications doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t let the most gifted shine, and it sets the less academically articulate running in a race which – in todays employment market – they are not going to compete in.

    In the end it DOES come down to the job market, and what type of jobs are available. And to the shift in the working environment that technology and social change has brought about certainly since the war but specifically in the past 25 years. There are far less un-skilled or routine employment opportunities available now – and those that are (call centres etc.) offer limited on-the-job vocational training or progression.

    As a society we haven’t yet worked out what the alternative is for the people who used to be employed in these types of jobs and who are unable to fulfil or uninterested doing more traditional ‘white collar’ (to use an old phrase) roles.

    I suppose in a way it comes down to accepting the old premise that we can’t all be good at everything, and that academic qualifications are not the be-all-and-end-all if they dont actually provide a relevant disctinction and explanation of a person’s skills regardless of what their paper qualifications say.

    The challenge for us is to revolutionise both the education system and the employment system to fit a 21st century society rather than a 19th century system which is still essentially where it’s at.

    One thing is clear (even if none of the above rambling is…..) the very LAST people who should be overseeing this revolution are the politicians – of ANY party regardless of political persuasion.

  • Starfish June 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

    This makes me sooo mad. The kids aren’t dumbing down. The teaching is better, the environment is better, there is more information available, and students appreciate they need to get good grades to even stand a chance of a job – that’s why exam results are improving. The kids I know currently studying for GCSE’s are working really really hard over two years, this announcement is just so insulting to them.
    The old system was totally divisive – why would we even think of going back to that!It really makes me want to weep in despair.

  • Kara June 21, 2012 at 8:28 am

    I was in the second year of sitting GCSE’s and I think the teachers had a better understanding of them then and I subsequently did very well.
    I think GCSE’s work very well and the balance between coursework and exams makes it fairer on everyone!
    My daughter did really well at her GCSE’s an worked very hard to get good grades, my son is going through them now and although doing well in his favourite subjects, is struggling with English which he hates!
    I certainly don’t think they are dumbed down – there is room for improvement certainly, but to go back to an old system would make teachers lives a nightmare and will confuse all the current years 7, 8 and 9 who are already working on GCSE coursework!

  • Sinead safford June 21, 2012 at 7:59 am

    My step son is currently working towards his GCSE’s he sits them next year and is working really hard. they are certainly not an easy option and he has been under a lot of pressure with modular exams and coursework already and his exams are not for another year. I think they need to leave the exam system alone, they are certainly not an easy option. Maybe some of these politicians should try sitting them see how they get on, might not be so quick to judge if they did!

  • Liz (@violetposy) June 21, 2012 at 7:30 am

    I was in the first year that did GCSE’s. We had no books to study, just some old O-Level ones which weren’t relevant. Teacher’s had no idea what coursework was, let alone how we should do it – I’m amazed any of us passed it.

    I don’t really see the need for bringing in a new exam, if they think they are too easy then surely just make the upper exam paper’s harder? I’d hate for another year of kids to go through the stress we did.