Richard Garner: Reforms with potential for improvement, but don't leave the bottom 40% behind


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The Independent Online

The first thing to say about the proposed reforms is there is a potential for improvement on the present system there.

At least the requirement to get Liberal Democrat support for the package has put paid to the idea that you should have a worthless "son of CSE" for struggling pupils to go alongside the "son of O-levels" proposed by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

They will also, by focussing on the five English Baccalaureate subjects, be a further spur to increasing the take-up of subjects vital to the future of the UK economy.

That having been said, I share some of the reservations expressed by Labour's education spokesman Stephen Twigg about the package.

It is difficult to see how these proposals - if they are the only show in town - will give those 40 per cent of pupils who at present fail to gain five A* to C grade GCSEs a worthwhile qualification to take to employers at the end of the day.

I like the optimism expressed by Sally Coates, head of Burlington Danes Academy - a successfully turned around school in west London - that good schools will be able to get their pupils to pass these new exams.  However, I have a feeling it will take more than that before many in the teaching profession will welcome this package with open arms.

I have to say that the best proposal for giving equal weight to the academic and vocational sides of education that is so vital came with the report by former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson in his inquiry into the last exams fiasco a decade ago.

It recommended an over-arching diploma which would recognise a pupil's academic achievements and their vocational achievements.  It was not, as then Prime Minister Tony Blair thought, a recipe for abolishing GCSEs and A-levels.

By all means make the exams more rigorous but do not forget the bottom 40 per cent while you do it.