‘Gove Levels’ – EBacc Taking Us Backwards!

Yesterday, when I responded angrily to the pernicious leaks through Gove’s mouth-piece, The Daily Mail, some Tweeters warned it was wise to wait for the details. Knowing Gove employs a ‘shock doctrine’ style of announcing policy at high speed, represented through the gross simplifications of the tabloid press, I made my objections known without delay. By using such scurrilous tabloids, Gove often waves away criticisms of his plans with statements that it wasn’t actually his idea at all, but a newspaper simplification. This is before moving onto the next policy undaunted, unsupported by educational experts or most professionals in the field, devoid of any actual evidence about 21st century teaching and learning. We are careering towards a curriculum unfit for 1995, never mind 2015. In a rapidly changing world, Gove is determined to haul our students back into a nostalgic idyll circa 1950, regardless of the fact that it will ill equip students for their futures, whilst Gove is propping up the House of Lords.

What is so galling about Gove’s supercilious attitude is his wilful ignorance of educational expertise – his shunning of consultation with experts, and his tremendous arrogance to undermine the qualifications of hundreds of thousands of students still yet to sit their GCSEs, and who are condemned to sit examinations already deemed worthless.

He has labelled his new qualifications the ‘EBaccs’. In intentionally aping the widely respected International Baccalaureate he invites comparisons. Here he is exposed when proposing his simplistic plans for a terminal three hour examination as the be all and end all. The IB, particularly in the Middle Years Programme – equivalent to GCSE – the assessment programme is predominantly set by teachers – teachers who are trusted to teach and formatively assess students they know best. The IB itself states:

“Teachers are responsible for structuring varied and valid assessment tasks (including tests and examinations) that will allow students to demonstrate achievement according to the objectives for that subject group. These include:

– Open ended, problem solving activities

– Investigations

– Organised Debates

– Hands-on experimentation

– Analysis and reflection.”

Gove bangs on endlessly about standards. The standards of the IB have been lauded for decades. Gove himself has repeatedly praised the IB. Yet, for state schools in Britain, we are being denied these standards, this level of trust befitting professionals – instead, we are being given a terminal 3 hour exam – poetry recitation and archaic lists of royalty. Gove has indicated exam boards ‘may’ recommend other forms of assessment. Yes, I’m sure they will – tempered by the knowledge that Gove is their paymaster and that they want to appease his every whim and educational prejudice. Put simply, what is proposed are qualifications with ill conceived and backward looking assessment procedures.

Gove and Gibb today talked about forward looking textbooks that encourage broad and deep learning. Do either of them have an iota of knowledge of what goes on in classrooms? It smacks of Gibb encouraging teachers to ‘laminate’ good lesson plans. Even their strorm trooper inspectors at OFSTED at least recognise that inflexible planning is bad pedagogy. I haven’t used English textbooks for the vast majority of my career and teaching from a textbook is often at the root of the most stultifying and unsatisfactory teaching – but neither Gove nor Gibb know this because they blithely ignore any expertise with reckless abandon. There are laudable examples of effective textbooks already in existence, but I’m sure Gove and Gibb have no clue about this – it is too near actual teaching pedagogy – too near professional expertise. They would be in danger of debating about pedagogy and teaching and learning – god forbid!

I am a teaching professional who recognises that the current GCSEs require improvement. I see controlled assessment as a torturous cycle of in-class testing. The forerunner, coursework, was inevitably gamed and abused – even famously, by our royal Prince Harry. Yet, Gove’s opprobrium for alternative assessment is missing the real problem completely. The problem isn’t the format of assessment, but the punitive and destructive impact wrought by league tables. Today he announced that “competition” between multiple exam boards had initiated a ‘race to the bottom’ regarding standards – and I cannot but agree with some of this viewpoint (exam boards are bloated money-making regimes, often not fit for purpose); however, crucially, this race is driven by not by the qualification, but by the system of league tables. Again, lest I bore people with evidence, school systems that Gove himself praises most, such as the Finnish schools system, do not have league tables at all. Accountability is directed at a local level, but SUPPORTED by COOPERATION, not corroded by competition. Gove may do well to learn from his own lessons.

My previous blog finished with the hope that these proposals would be thrown out with the Coalition government. This still remains true; however, I fear that Gove will leave the system in such a ruinous state that Whitehall will not be able to rectify the state school system. We will all surely be set for another round of debilitating change – the one perpetual truth of education! The worst factor of all of this political posturing being that hundreds of thousands more will suffer at the wilfully ignorant ideology of Gove – stuck in the past – unwilling to listen to experts in their field.

Teachers will tomorrow go back to school in the knowledge that our Year 7 students that we teach will be forced to sit that ill judged three hour examination in English. It is another deeply sad thought that they will be unfortunate guinea pigs in Gove’s ideological games. I would call upon all teachers to stand up and challenge Gove, and his inept colleagues, in the year/s ahead and ensure that his blinkered vision of a backward looking future does not appear.


About huntingenglish

I am Director of Learning and Research at Huntington Secondary School, York. I have taught English (including a bit of Media Studies) for over a decade. If it is tragic and gothic, laced with humour and bitter truths then I'll teach it! I have had the great privilege to have written a book, 'Teach Now! Becoming a Great English Teacher', edited by the brilliant Geoff Barton, and I am writing another for Routledge, entitled, 'The Confident Teacher'. I am Project Lead of the RISE (Research-leads Improving Students' Education) Project. An EEF funded randomized controlled trial to evaluate if and how a Research-lead can improve outcomes for students. I am a proud member of the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) Executive Board at York University. I am also a proud member of the ResearchEd Advisory Panel. I write regularly for the TES and Teach Secondary magazine. My first book, 'Teach Now! Becoming A Great English Teacher' was released by Routledge in 2014 and my next book, entitled 'The Confident Teacher' will be out at the end of 2015.

One response to “‘Gove Levels’ – EBacc Taking Us Backwards!”

  1. Jason says :

    Thanks for posting your comments- very useful and insightful – more links to evidence/ articles would be helpful for me.

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