Teachers warn of ‘incalculable damage' from Michael Gove’s reforms to A-level and GCSE qualifications

Education Editor

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has been accused by head teachers of causing “incalculable damage” to the education system through his reform of A-level and GCSE qualifications, which scrap coursework.

Delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers’ (NAHT) annual conference in Birmingham unanimously backed a motion urging him to review his plans, which will affect teaching in schools from September 2015.

Under the plan, coursework during the two-year run-up to exams will be ditched, with the emphasis instead put on written end-of-course testing.

Alan Mottershead, a member of the NAHT executive and head of Trinity School, Carlisle, proposing the motion, said: “The damage this may do to a balanced curriculum across secondary education, particularly in GCSE and A-level years, is incalculable.”

He added that the reliance on end-of-course exams would make the qualifications merely “a feat of memory recall”, adding: “These exams will be even more of an unreliable and unrepresentative picture of a student’s work or real ability.”

Pupils, he said, would be told “learn this and make your answer look like that”, as teachers tried to get the best results for their school. “It will also deny the richness, curiosity, wonder, questions and many other things that characterise a real education,” he added.

“What we seem to be doing here is going for a throwback to O-levels, CSEs and back to written exams only.”

Rob Campbell, chairman of the NAHT’s secondary schools committee and head of Impington Village College, Cambridge said: “We should be preparing people for a world that is dynamic, demands greater flexibility and is about enterprise and creativity.

“I believe our curriculum and assessment should mirror those conditions. Therefore the planned changes... are a retrograde step and I deplore them. I can’t believe parents will want their children to be assessed exclusively and once and for all through an exam at the end of a course.”

He said the end-of-course exams would last for three hours, which – for pupils with special needs given extra time to finish their papers – meant three and three-quarter hours sitting in exam conditions. “I don’t think any of us in this hall have ever sat an examination for that long,” he said.

Heads of special schools warned there would be no way their pupils would be able to pass their exams under the new system.

Tim Gallagher, manager of a referral unit in Wolverhampton for pupils excluded from school, said he gave his students portfolios of their coursework to help them return to mainstream education by showing the progress they had made.

“Under this new framework, they are doomed to fail,” he said. “This is pernicious, this new way of doing things.”

Head teachers also backed a move to demand that all schools, including those in the independent sector, give priority to disadvantaged pupils in deciding admissions. Private schools, they argued, should be encouraged to do so to justify their charitable status.

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