A-level student who gained six A* grades pens furious letter to Michael Gove over 'offensive' exam reforms

Raphael Hogarth warns Education Secretary that candidates will learn less, not more

Richard Garner
Monday 26 August 2013 08:32

A top performing A-level student has sent Education Secretary Michael Gove an open letter - warning his exam reforms will leave pupils worse educated.

Raphael Hogarth, who gained six A* grades sitting A-levels at University College School - one of the country’s leading independent schools, said the exam would become “harder and more traumatic but such that candidates learn less not more”.

Raphael will now be going to Oxford where he will study philosophy, politics and economics. He gained A* grades in maths, further maths, history, German and music and an A* in his extended project - which encourages students to develop their creative thinking skills through an essay.

He is particularly critical of the plan to abandon January A-level modules, arguing: “Resitting a module is not a second chance to cheat the system into giving you a good grade. It’s a chance to work harder and learn all the stuff you failed adequately to digest the last time.

“If a candidate fails a module in June and then does well the following January, that’s evidence that they have become better educated in those seven months. If resits disappear, that learning won’t happen: pupils will just give up on material with which they did not enjoy initial success.

“That is neither conducive to academic progress nor is it, in my view, a healthy work ethic to inculcate.”

He also attacks the plan to base the entire exam on one end-of-course sitting after two years of study, saying this will “effectively abolish the AS-level as we know it”.

He says the current system means the amount of knowledge necessary for some modules requires “intense cramming”, adding: “It is borne out by research, as well as common sense, that we remember more when we learn in small chunks.”

He adds: “If I had to revise everything I learnt over the last two years in preparation for one set of exams and I were to get through the nervous breakdown that would likely ensue, I am certain my performance would get much worse.

“It would, as you seek to ensure, be an accurate representation of my academic ability. That, however, is precisely the problem: my academic ability would be much worse.

“A lower grade on results day does not necessarily mean ‘higher standards’ or ‘more rigorous qualifications’. It could, and will under these reforms, just mean less accomplished, worse-educated candidates.”

In his letter, he also turns his attention to GCSE reforms - claiming the plan to scrap most coursework - is also worrying.

He says coursework was “not an opportunity to cheat the system into awarding you a good grade - it is an opportunity for a different and valuable kind of learning”. “I learnt how to research, how to write and how to structure arguments by tackling a series of 2,000-word essays for my GCSE English Literature,” he adds. “These skills simply cannot be developed to the same extent through teaching for an exam.”

He concedes there may be “a bit of cheating - some dodgy teachers and parents here and there might give a bit too much help with coursework”. However, he argues that “might be the price we pay to learn skills we need”.

“I find the attempt to ditch this important part of my education much more offensive than the false achievements of the odd dishonest candidate,” he says.

He urges Mr Gove to listen to the “genuinely valuable insights” of pupils, concluding: “It’s really not long until we start voting.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We are reforming exams to make them much more rigorous and ensure they match those in the world’s best-performing education systems.”

He added that GCSEs had “serious weaknesses” and there was “an urgent need to tackle grade inflation”. Scrapping coursework would help restore confidence in the exam.

“We are involving our top universities in developing new A-levels to ensure young people are better prepared for work and higher education,” he said. “Linear A-levels will end the constant treadmill of exams and ensure pupils develop a real understanding of a subject while new AS levels will be demanding and will give students the opportunity to take a smaller qualification for additional breadth.”

You can read Raphael Hogarth's full letter to Michacel Gove here: www.openlettertomichaelgove.com

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