Chalk Talk with Richard Garner: These exam reforms matter – so do let's stop playing politics


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The Independent Online

Whatever else your thoughts on Education Secretary Michael Gove's plans to replace GCSEs with the EBacc, think on this. Its launch wasn't really the way a reputable government department should handle the start of a debate on what is probably the most significant reform of the education system planned in this Parliament.

It started with leaks to right-wing newspapers in a way to appeal to the Conservative right wing – thus prompting speculation it was all about the incumbent Education Secretary presenting himself as a rival to "BoJo" in a forthcoming Conservative party leadership campaign.

As a result there was a flurry of fury right across the education world as teachers, academics and opposition MPs (all useful enemies for Mr Gove in the political game being played out) reacted to what they perceived as a plan to bring back O-levels.

By the time Mr Gove got on his feet in the House of Commons and released a document about his proposals, entrenched positions had been taken up.

Which is a pity, really, because while I hate to think I am dousing Mr Gove's leadership hopes, the actual proposals were a bit more nuanced than the Daily Mail (or whoever had spun it to them) would have us believe. There was mention of the new EBacc for the first time and there was good in the plan and bad in the plan – and definitely something that merits debate.

The good in it is the revival in subjects such as modern languages, history and geography. The bad in it is the fact that no subject outside the Baccalaureate appears worthy of recognition as a qualification. If I had been at school under the current EBacc, I would probably have ended up a NEET (not in education employment or training after the age of 16), with no qualifications at all as a result of my appalling record at science.

Most versions of the Baccalaureate are broader based than this one – including subjects such as art and technology and a dissertation, for instance. Let's hope, though, that improvements can be wrought through meaningful discussions rather than the current megaphone diplomacy.