Letters: Gove's EBacc goes back to reciting facts


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The Independent Online

Your cartoon (18 September) hits the nail on the head. Michael Gove is trying to take the exam system back to the 1970s. All that GCE tested was the ability to recite facts, which is apparently what Gove wants.

In recent years exams have been far more concerned with the application of knowledge. Mr Gove wishes to ban source materials in exams such as history. But to give students several documents on a particular issue and ask them to evaluate, interpret, compare and assess those sources is a far more valuable skill than asking them purely to recite the facts.

The type of exam paper that asks some simpler, more straightforward questions at the start of each section does allow less able students to show what they do know. The more complex questions at the end test the abler students. A single essay-type question does not allow for this.

Paula Saunders

St Albans

There is a good deal to commend Michael Gove's plans for the reform of 16-plus examinations. Those of us who have deserted domestic GCSE and chosen, instead, to enter students for the international variant cannot doubt the attraction of greater rigour and challenge at this level.

However, he must ensure that the foundations of his proposed system are as rigorous as the content. There is a crisis in the systems for assessment that goes way beyond current concerns about English GCSE, and that will not be set right simply by franchising subjects to exam boards. Marking is routinely unreliable. Wide variations in standards and in grade allocations appear to be endemic. Mark schemes are ill-informed and limiting. The procedure for appeals is time-consuming, partial and opaque.

If Mr Gove's reforms are to be effective, he must undertake a thoroughgoing review of this essential element of the examinations industry. Without it, the English Baccalaureate will quickly become as discredited and devalued as its predecessors.

Kenneth Durham

Headmaster, University College School, London NW3

It may well be time for a radical overhaul of the secondary education system, with its proliferation of tests and exam boards, but I'm not sure Michael Gove, with his head stuck in the 1950s, is the right man for the job.

Last time we had a single exam for all school-leavers, the elite 10 per cent went to a small, elite university system, and the rest were – more or less – absorbed by the unskilled labour market. We now have a mass higher education system: 50 per cent of the cohort go to university to try to raise their profile for a job market with few places for the unqualified. What will happen to the 40 per cent rump who won't get the grades for higher education? What will happen to all those vacant HE places? It may be time to reinvent the polytechnic system – but Gove will need the back of another envelope to draw up that bit of policy.

Chris Butterworth


Nothing wrong with Michael Gove saying he wants us to emulate countries such as Finland in his attempts to raise educational attainment. It is after all at the top of international league tables such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Problems start when he attempts to hide behind this as a credible reason for introducing yet another in a long line of politically motivated changes to our exam system.

For the record, Finland not only tests students far less often than the UK, but along with teacher assessment it places a strong emphasis on modular assessment after each semester rather than end-of-course examination. The very opposite of what Mr Gove intends to establish.

Finland has also made paying for education illegal, sends all of its children to comprehensives, has abolished its inspection service and uses collaboration rather than competition between schools as its main driver of school improvement.

Chris Dunne

Headteacher, Langdon Park School, London E14

Annalisa Barbieri (17 September) says it would be unfair to judge Michael Gove on his physical appearance. In fact, judging people by appearance is an intuitive first line of defence. If we feel something is not right, it probably isn't, and our personal safety might depend on our trusting those feelings. I think Gove looks like a fool. By golly, he behaves like a fool, too! 'Nough said.

Sara Neill

Tunbridge Wells

Topless photos expose double standards

People, mostly poor, who feel that their Prophet has been insulted, indulge in violent protest and are rightly condemned. It is pointed out that the video in question was ignorant, was probably made to create precisely that reaction and should have been ignored.

Then we have stupid, lascivious pictures of a member of the Royal Family, which are a childish breach of privacy. These cause enormous offence, and result in strong legal action, generally considered to be totally justified. After all, this is a member of the Royal Family.

Eileen Noakes

Totnes, Devon

I'm fed up with folk moaning when the mess is of their own making. If you go topless on a balcony within half a mile of a road, you are likely to be seen. If you don't want to be seen, stay out of sight. A 30-year-old woman should have the nous to work this out. And as they say, it's no use closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Margaret Holbrook

Poynton, Cheshire

Now I'll never know whether Kate's got a hairy chest. But then I never wanted to. On the other hand, I'd pay money to any paparazzo prepared to give us all a laugh by checking out Silvio's crown jewels.

David Penn

Kendal, Cumbria

A reality check for Salmond

The message delivered by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso last week on the BBC's World at One couldn't be clearer: "All new states have to apply to join the EU and must be accepted by existing members."

Despite the SNP's usual bluster, Barroso's remarks have dealt a serious blow to the party's claims that Scotland would seamlessly continue as a full member of the EU post-independence.

A newly independent Scotland will be a new state and must negotiate an increased number of MEPs in the European Parliament, a revision of the weighted voting rules in the Council of Ministers, and the appointment of a Scottish member of the European Commission. Such changes are not possible without revision of the EU Treaties, which in turn would require Scotland to apply for EU membership and become an accession state, a process that takes years.

What would happen to farm payments in the meantime? What would be the position of the 160,000 people who work in our financial services sector? A huge cloud of uncertainty would cover the whole Scottish economy. And as an accession state, Scotland would have no option but to join the eurozone and the borderless Schengen Area. There would be no question of holding a referendum to ask the people of Scotland for their views on joining the beleaguered euro, as Alex Salmond promises.

And, because the rest of the UK is not a member of Schengen, we would certainly have to erect borders at Gretna and Stranraer. Brussels has given Scotland's First Minister a dose of reality.

Struan Stevenson MEP

(Conservative, Scotland) The European Parliament, Brussels

Justice is just too expensive

Julie Carlisle (letters, 13 September) seems unaware of the pernicious processes of the personal injury claims industry. A multitude of unjustified claims are paid because it is cheaper to negotiate than defend a claim.

A large part of the blame must rest on the legal profession and its inflated fees. I know of a claim paid for injury to a child in a traffic accident where that child was not even present. An acquaintance was aggressively pursued by a claims company because he would not progress a claim because he had suffered no significant injuries.

Would that we lived in the country described by Ms Carlisle where claims were taken up only by solicitors who believed they were genuine.

Charlie Rossiter


One other major problem

Russell Lynch reports that beneath the Arctic there are 400bn barrels of oil and gas (Business, 18 September). He continues, "Getting it out is the problem." If those fossil fuels are extracted and burnt, the release of greenhouse gases will likely render the planet uninhabitable to most forms of life. A rather more significant problem.

Keith O'Neill


Boycott theatres

M Mazower (letter, 17 September) asks how theatres can justify booking charges, but your correspondent, by paying them, provides all the justification theatres need. These days the phrase "Because they can" has become the response to overcharging wherever it occurs, but such passivity is more than justification, it is encouragement. Victims should practise self-denial and miss a few events. A not-too-prolonged refusal to buy tickets carrying booking charges will soon have theatres discovering the same lack of justification the rest of us already recognise.

Ray Black


Apolitical point

Dan Kantorowich (letters, 13 September) chastises me for daring to defend professional politicians, and lists skills that he believes I lack through my politics-only career path. My point was that people acquire skills and experiences throughout their life in a variety of different places and not only from their chosen career. I do have the "apolitical" skills he mentions because I, like most people, have a life outside my day job.

Matthew Kay

London E11

Mad mark-ups

When I emigrated to Australia in 1968 I was told that Australia was a high-wage, low-cost economy, whereas the UK was the complete opposite, and it was so true. Some years ago, the motor trade referred to the UK as "Treasure Island", because of the grossly inflated prices that people here could be charged (and would pay) for cars. You refer to the record orders for the new iPhone 5 (18 September) and quote selling prices of $399 in the US. At today's exchange rates that works out at around £250. And the selling price in the UK? £699. What could justify such a mark-up? But I guarantee buyers will still queue overnight to get one.

Peter Henderson

Worthing, West Sussex