New exams please – but after the next election


                On Monday  I was spoilt for choice for a blog topic. I felt the continuing deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan was of most immediate importance.  I was pleased to see  yesterday the Defence Secretary had to revise his answer to me and others over the protection of our troops. The US has wisely decided to ban all mixed patrols between NATO and Afghan forces. Some of us want the UK to go along with this.   It was one of the reassurances  Bob Stewart and I were seeking in both  Commons sessions. Just how long does it take to train Afghan police? Why can’t we give any additional  advice now from the base, and let them do the patrols?

                The topic I suspect many of you want to talk about is the question of exams. Mr Gove feels the GCSE is no longer fit for purpose. He dislikes the modular approach, the accent on coursework, and the lack of demanding exam questions in some papers. His critics think these  developments from the last couple of decades have been benign. They have helped more young people to gain  qualifications and give them more self worth.

                 As someone who underwent a  school and university education based entirely on competitive exams, with no coursework that counted towards the final grade, I have no personal difficulties with a system more heavily based on performance in final exams.  I do, however, understand that this method does not suit all people, and is not the only way to assess someone’s competence and learning.  In recent years I have worried more about the people who do not perform well in exam conditions. It was also notable that girls results improved  relative to boys as the educational establishment shifted from the grand final exam to more coursework based approaches.

               If you are studying English literature, does it help that you have to spend hours learning crucial quotes to illustrate points in essays on topics unknown, rather than being allowed to take the text in with you to use to write your critical appraisal? If you are  studying geography, should you need to remember many places and terrains or could referring to a map in the exam  be helpful? The balance between analysis, skill in arguing and problem solving, and memorising is a nice one to debate.

                  Being able to recall a topic and argue or analyse a problem or write well on an   essay subject are very useful skills to have. They are not , however, the only ones. There is a case to  be made for developing skill at researching a topic, drawing on a range of sources and producing a more considered piece.

                    However, there is one overwhelming problem with this latter approach which motivates Mr Gove. If you rely more on coursework, projects, longer submitted essays and the like, how can we be sure it was the work of the student? How much help is a willing teacher allowed to give? Aren’t their variations between schools and teachers over how much they put in to the student’s work?  Doesn’t a child with an able and engaged parent do better than a child without such help? Do we adjust for the very different family environments, where some children have study bedrooms, peace and quiet, and encouragement to use them, whilst others have no such thing? Shouldn’t a young person know and learn enough to be able to answer exam questions without assistance?

                          What is a fair test at 16? Indeed, why do we test at 16, when it is no longer the school leaving age in any meaningful sense? Are 16 year old tests a check to ensure the young people have the basic skills to go on to the next stage of their education? Or should it mainly be a leaving statement for those who wish to go off to apprenticeships and other practical training?



  1. ian wragg
    September 19, 2012

    Clegg has stitched Gove up as he has in the past with previous initiatives. As even Cameroon admits, you will lose the next election, these reforms will be cancelled by Labour so we can have sweets for all.
    The teaching unions and the whole left wing establishment is opposed to the concept of excellence with the X- factor mentality ruling.
    As we slipdown the competitive league, labour will be pleased to have more welfare dependants and supporters. They will know no better.

    1. Disaffected
      September 19, 2012

      It is a redundant debate and of little relevance, as Mr Cable and Prof Ebdon are dumbing down university education to suit the dumbing down of school education. Labour will be happy to continue with their scheme. What is a surprise is that Cameron was reported to say that he could not intervene. Silly me, I thought he was the PM?

      1. Disaffected
        September 19, 2012

        I read soft on crime Clarke stating there will be no change to his pathetic stance on crime and punishment now Chris Grayling is in the chair. I suspect the families of the two police officers killed yesterday will be instilled with confidence that justice will be served on a day that the ECHR rules indefinite sentences are against Human Rights and three criminals paid £43,000 in compensation. Complete madness. And yet, Clarke and Clegg want the ECHR to remain…….. How is Cameron’s pledge of a British Bill of Rights coming along? Any more resignations because of interference from Clarke?

        1. lifelogic
          September 19, 2012

          Absurd and many more than three to follow it seems too. Is it democratic to elect politicians who are powerless to act anyway due to overseas courts? Clearly Cameron thinks our judges are inferior and are unable to ensure justice without help from oversees super judges. The ECHR is a huge generator of pointless jobs for lawyers at everyone else’s expense.

          1. uanime5
            September 20, 2012

            Given the number of human rights violations in that judges are willing to allow it seems that the problem is not the ECHR but the UK courts. As long as certain parts of the Government policy cannot be challenged in the domestic courts it will continue to be resolved in the ECHR.

        2. Mark W
          September 19, 2012

          We already have a written bill of rights, English Bill of Rights 1689. A document largely copied by the USA and enshrining freedom of the individual from government.

          Id invite anyone to read it (google) and then provide a rational explanation of the need for a new bill or any need to not repeal the ECHR or human rights act.

          The wise heads of the 17th century had it right after all the turmoil of civil war.

          1. uanime5
            September 20, 2012

            The ECHR is needed because the bill of rights is woefully inadequate. Most of it is about the powers Parliament has and what the monarchy cannot do. It gives almost no rights to the ordinary people.

          2. APL
            September 20, 2012

            Mark W: “Id invite anyone to read it (google) and then provide a rational explanation of the need for a new bill or any need to not repeal the ECHR or human rights act.”

            Today we live in a lawless society. Not lawless in the sense that there are no laws, but lawless in the sense that the laws are whatever the politicians choose them to be for reasons of convenience.

            Even our host, has said our constitutional documents irrelevant.

            Our politicians have usurped the constitution and govern in their own interests. The executive controls the Parliament, filled as it is largely with brainless boobies, and they have replaced the Lords who’s main role was to observe the constitution of the UK with rejects of the democratic process, that is, people who could not manage to get themselves elected into the Commons.

            The judiciary are now creature of the executive, ‘Supreme court’ my foot! A seconds thought will tell you that if it’s rulings can be overturned by European courts, it isn’t supreme.

            Here we are with all restraint on government removed, consequently government interferes more and more in our lives.

          3. Mark
            September 21, 2012


            The principles of English Law are that something is permitted unless expressly forbidden. Therefore, the fact that rights are not expressly stated implies that they are available. Napoleonic Law operates the other way around: only things that are expressly permitted are not illegal. Therefore, rights have to be expressly spelled out.

        3. uanime5
          September 19, 2012

          Well had the Government given them 50 year sentences rather than indefinite sentences there wouldn’t have been this problem.

          1. Leslie Singleton
            September 19, 2012

            Dear unanime5, Your ever so profound response rather begs the question. A pox on all Courts outside of Blighty I say. Sorry, but we simply don’t need to be second-guessed by foreigners else maybe we should let the US Supreme Court have a pop at out Courts’ judgements, I don’t think. Bonkers.

          2. uanime5
            September 20, 2012

            Leslie as long as the UK is a signatory to the ECHR the ECtHR has every right to determine whether the laws of the UK are compatible with human rights. Your xenophobia doesn’t make the ECtHR wrong.

          3. Lindsay McDougall
            September 23, 2012

            But Leslie is right. And you should know that it is perfectly possible to ‘unsign’ agreements, protocols and treaties. That’s what being a sovereign nation is all about.

        4. Bazman
          September 19, 2012

          I doubt Kenneth (me old mate) Clark was wrong or soft on crime. Just sickeningly realistic. 40 year sentence. You die in prison or come out as an old man.

  2. lifelogic
    September 19, 2012

    “The balance between analysis, skill in arguing and problem solving, and memorising is a nice one to debate”. Indeed it is, but surely in the end it is the problem solving and logical analysis that actually matters. Not whether you can name and spell all the rivers in Africa or all Character names in many novels. These can be looked up in a second on the internet anyway.

    I have nothing against course work but it is hugely open to cheating, family circumstances and help from others. Surely the solution is an exam that gives more results instead of one misleading grade. Course work mark – X, exam work mark – Y. Do we have a hard working dope who perhaps get family help with the course work or a lazy clever person? Putting them together in the same grade is absurd.

    We could also have this in say English Language. Is it someone clever and logical but who simply cannot remember the absurdly irrational and arbitrary English spellings or someone dim who can spell well.

    Clearly in maths and physics, in particular, you need question that will actually challenge. Most maths & physics paper I have seen recently have no questions that would challenge any bright students so at the top level you dividing on the basis of who makes most silly mistakes or sets it out better not ability (or perhaps just giving them all A* as now).

    They should also just publish the position percentile relative to all entrants. This to the stop the incentives for stop inflation and give meaningful information. I am not sure one monopoly exam board is a good idea. Many exams already read like indoctrination from government and the green religion and the state sector “BBC think”. People who pointed out that Wind farms, PV and Carbon Capture are an absurdity might not be marked very well I suspect. Or that “renewable energy” is not actually a real concept given the laws of Entropy it is a political selling concept like “sustainable”.

    The GCSE grades to an employer and universities are often rather meaningless they are surely better setting their own exams.

    Why call it a Baccalaureate anyway? I also hope they will let people drop things early if they want to there is no point in making people like Sir Paul Maxime Nurse, a British geneticist and cell biologist awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine take his French 7 times as I understand he did. Though he has been a bit taken in by the green religion I note.

    1. Disaffected
      September 19, 2012

      Gove’s announcement is cosmetic rubbish. An illusion for the public to view the Tories differently.

    2. a-tracy
      September 19, 2012

      Last night we were advised during a lower sixth parents’ induction evening that large employers are now taking on more 18 year olds to train and quite often their first cut in applicants is those children that don’t achieve 300 UCAS points, you get so many UCAS points per grade e.g. A*=58, A=52, B=46 and so on. The total points are added together and divided by the number of subjects taken, some large employers use more sophisticated measurements using key qualifications they are looking for and only counting those. So GCSE do matter to employers specifically those offering Apprenticeships with high level training.

      It depends I suspect on what level of trainee your business requires and the level of basic intelligence you base your employment decision on.

  3. lifelogic
    September 19, 2012

    I to was pleased to see yesterday the Defence Secretary had to revise his answer to JR and others over the protection of our troops.

    I tend however to agree with Paul Flynne that:- British soldiers were being used as “human shields for ministers’ reputations” and should be withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately as all they were doing was “arming our future enemy”.

    They are not very good at protecting ministers’ reputations anyway it seems.

  4. j goodchild
    September 19, 2012

    Surely a final exam with some course work to back it up is the answer. Goves right, but lets not go right back to just exams alone. Lets hope that by 16 that no child leaves school without the basic 3R,sin the future that more time is spent teaching the basics, including British history. Lets have far less about climate change and more.about English and Maths.
    We also must have the equivalent O,Level pass for people less.academic who wish to pursue a.more vocational technical.path. A Good plumber is just as good as an accountant anyday.

    1. lifelogic
      September 19, 2012

      “A Good plumber is just as good as an accountant any day” indeed and far better than many Lawyers and Civil Servants at least plumbers do something useful.

  5. Pete the Bike
    September 19, 2012

    I can honestly say that the exams (8) I passed some decades ago have never helped me in employment or any other part of my life. Beyond maths, reading and writing my education has been entirely self directed. State school failed me on almost all counts.
    My 9 year old son is already realising the same thing and is complaining that he isn’t learning anything new or interesting. I accept that the state school system is beyond reform as is the rest of the public sector and I intend to teach my son the important stuff – how the world really works, the profit motive, how to live outside the state, geography, history, how to provide for himself, avoid all the scams and most important how to think for himself. He’ll still go to school but, hopefully, he won’t come out as a pre programmed worker drone that owes tens of thousands for a fake education.
    Everybody concerned about their kids future should check out just how many teaching resources are available online free or very cheap. Your child will learn more, faster and better than in state run child care prisons.

    1. lifelogic
      September 19, 2012

      Some truth in that one wonder why on earth a degree in say Maths or English has to cost so much abyway. Surely all that is needed is books, self motivation and a few tutorials/lectures and an exam or two why so much money?

      1. Francis Irving
        September 19, 2012

        There’s a surge in online education on the Internet – at least in Silicon Valley.

        Things like Khan Academy, and online courses from MIT and Stanford, are showing the possibility. A whole bunch of startups with names like Udacity, Udemy and Coursera are popping up.

        It looks increasingly likely there will be new models for education these make possible. There’ll be a UK university that will start to offer cheaper but better education than current ones.

        In schools, teachers won’t need to spend as much time on the rote and material stuff – that can be done via courseware which lets people learn individually the bits they’re stuck on, and flags to teachers kids who need extra help. Instead, time can be spent doing real, complex projects with children, which will be more fun, and better education for getting stuff done later in life.

        Education this decade looks to be as bumpy a ride as bookselling was the last.

        1. lifelogic
          September 19, 2012

          Indeed a video lecture from a good lecturer might be far better and far cheaper than a live lecture.

          Let us hope they occasionally teach some things that are actually useful in life at least some of the time. Real science, real economics, real accounting, engineering, medicine, physics, maths and the likes rather than endless humanities and quack fashionable religions like the green one.

          Perhaps Latin, Greek, Music, History of Art, English, and the likes should be considered more as interesting hobbies to be encouraged, perhaps, but be self funded by the applicant with no loans or grants available.
          After all there is no money left after Brown and with Labour back soon too.

          1. Mark
            September 20, 2012

            That depends on the student being a willing pupil. A live teacher has first to gain the attention of the class, and only proceeds once that is achieved. A teacher in the room can also perceive when a child appears to have lost concentration or has failed to absorb a point that perhaps needs to be put a different way to gain that child’s understanding. The video lecture simply ploughs on regardless.

            Reply: The new media teaching can include requirements for interaction to show the student is still following the lecture.

      2. Alan Wheatley
        September 19, 2012

        We already have the Open University, which would seem to fit your bill quite nicely.

        I continue to be surprised that the Open University is never mentioned as an alternative to incurring high tuition fees.

        1. David Price
          September 20, 2012

          But the OU is not cheap at all, for example the cost for English students for a 60 unit STEM subject (1/4 of a first year subject) is £2500. That translates to around £10K per year equivalent or £30K for the degree. It should also be noted that the same material could be significantly cheaper for Scottish and Welsh students.

          For those of us who wish to continue to study but don’t need to attain the paper qualifications the OU does provide some free material. However, in the STEM areas I have explored, the material from MIT and CMU for example, are superior (include video lectures), more complete (entire semester is packaged together) and much better organised. By comaprison the free OU material does not appear to be complete and is all lumped together in a category with no real attempt to organise it.

          I am prepared to pay for courses but not at the level the OU or universities are charging so my money is going elsewhere.

          At one time the OU probably led the world in distance learning but now proper tools actually exist (internet, ip comms, web conferencing and cheap tablets) they have failed to rise to the challange and squandered that lead.

          1. a-tracy
            September 25, 2012

            Yes, I reached the same conclusion! Over priced.

    2. David John Wilson
      September 19, 2012

      I took 8 subjects at O-level many years ago and with the exception possibly of geography I have used them all in the work environment and that includes using my latin.

      1. lifelogic
        September 19, 2012

        Latin/Greek has it uses in the professions, usually to make make simple thinks sound complex to lay people, confuse them and thus justify more fees. Or to show you went to a good school.

        1. lifelogic
          September 19, 2012

          Denis Healey Obtained a double first in Greats, I understand – but rather lacked common sense with his IMF and 98% tax rates or similar.
          Still it surely is better than PPE.

  6. Electro-Kevin
    September 19, 2012

    The problem with course work is that cheating can take place. Be it a parent helping out with homework or a teacher wishing (with best intentions) to raise grades.

    My BTEC (ONC) in Building Technology was modular – it didn’t require the student to have much knowledge in order to pass the course. ‘A’ levels in those days were a different matter entirely and I wasn’t up to passing them (not in sciences anyway.)

    The BTEC and the ‘A’ level were considered to be equivalents even in those days. I can say from experience that they most definitely weren’t. No way.

    Of course our country ended up opting for the soft route.

    Preparing for an all-or-nothing end of year exam is the ultimate in ‘course work’ in my view.

    If we don’t demand the best of our education system we shall struggle to put food on the table. That’s the reality of it.

    1. Electro-Kevin
      September 19, 2012

      Is it fair to test at 16 ?

      Some aptitudes should be apparent by that age. There is always mature studentship, correspondence and the OU to fall back on for late developers.

      Personally I wish I’d trained to be a plumber rather than gone into sixth form.

    2. uanime5
      September 19, 2012

      The problem with teaching children how to pass exams is that there’s very few equivalents of them in the real world. By contrast there a lot of types of continuous assessment similar to coursework.

      1. David Price
        September 20, 2012

        It depends on what direction your career takes. In technology and engineering for example practitioners are regularly called on to create something completely new and convince a customer theirs is the best solution in competition against others. The consequence of failure to win the contract or deliver the solution can be quite significant, just like exams

        1. uanime5
          September 20, 2012

          The difference between this and exams is that you’re told what you need to create (list of problems and design specs) and have more than 3 hours to come up with a solution.

          Unless the engineer is called into a room, given a problem, then give 3 hours to create a solution to this problem it’s not like an exam.

          1. David Price
            September 21, 2012

            In new product R&D you are not always told what you have to create. A lot of the time the customers don’t know what they want until something is put in front of them. Even if the customer knows there is a problem they don’t always know what kind of solution is really needed, what is viable or what is economic.

            And I have been in many situations, particulary in customer support, systems failure, disaster scenarios and even technology sales where we have had to come up with solutions in less than three hours.

            Not all occupations or jobs involve this but the point is that the ability to think on your feet when you have an incomplete understanding of the problem, no access to research/reference materials and very little time to create a workable response is very common in certain work environments, much more common than might think.

          2. Lindsay McDougall
            September 21, 2012

            There are situations where engineers only have 3 hours to come up with a solution and it really, really matters. Remember Apollo 13?

  7. Caratacus
    September 19, 2012

    Ref: Exams
    I was fortunate enough to attend a grammar school in Devon and made the most of it. My old chum Tom and I sat our maths exam in the morning (GCE – both passed at grade 2) and, as the rest of the day was clear, decided to soak our sorrows away at the local pub about a mile away. After a decent period we made our way uncertainly up the hill to be met by the Latin master who was hopping up and down demanding to know what the b- hell we were playing at and were we aware that we were down for the English Language exam which was due to start in two minutes. So we sat the exam, both a trifle the worse for wear – well I was bladdered actually – and I gave my expressive gene full rein. I passed with a grade 1.

    Now I am not for one moment suggesting that this disgraceful behaviour be included in the national curriculum, but somewhere there is a message…

    1. Alte Fritz
      September 19, 2012

      Maybe the law of unexpected consequences derived from the law of unintended..

  8. Bryan
    September 19, 2012

    The one size fits all Comprehensive system is the main problem. I see that some politicians, including those on the left, seek to ensure that their children do not educationally suffer from this by either using the Private sector or those Comprehensives which are Grammar Schools by any other name.

    1. Alan Wheatley
      September 19, 2012

      Comprehensives are not, at least they need not be, the problem. Indeed they should be a good solution, if a sensible approach is used.

      They ought to be able to contain the inherent difference of Secondary Modern, Technical and Grammar in the one school. Children would then be given the teaching approach best suited to their aptitude and ability on a subject-by-subject basis.

      So a child that is a high flier in, say, maths would be pushed along at a fast pace, but be coaxed along at a slower pace in, say, English. The objective being the the child would achieve to the maximum possible in both subjects.

  9. Barry
    September 19, 2012

    My wife is an English teacher. She’s been saying for some time that, as coursework is passed to and fro so many times, it’s difficult to say how much of the kid’s own work actually survives.

    Many teachers are effectively corrupt. Her words, not mine.

  10. Edward.
    September 19, 2012

    Life isn’t fair, in life, at home, at work – we are tested all the time – there is [usually] no revision time available.

    Teaching students to think on their feet, to read, imbibe and to solve problems worked for most students – from the time of the foundation of Oxford and a bit later Cambridge University.

    Applying a universal exam system is nigh on impossible, however, the current modular mess needs changing, with a final exam[s] at the end of a two year period of study. A long proven and better way of testing students abilities, the reason why we’ve slipped down the academic league – the Chinese and far Easterners and just about everyone else – use methods similar to the ones we used to employ here in Britain and then which we threw out – go figure, as they say.

    But, exams aren’t the be all and end all. Students, who are not academically minded must be steered towards more practical careers, Blair seemed to think it was but academia isn’t to everyone’s taste .
    ‘Dumbing’ down the system, to enable everybody to gain entrance to a ‘university’ was typical of the Socialists idea of social-engineering, an anodyne egalitarian mush, via educational interference – perfect for model citizens and model citizens are those who cannot think on their feet.

    Mr. Gove, should be congratulated on his clarity and forwards thinking – a ‘return’ to the rigour of the past. What is not clear, is, will his noble reforms ever see the light of day – because if they don’t, then Britain will succumb to being a second rate nation in perpetuity.

    1. uanime5
      September 19, 2012

      Surely annual exams would be better as they give the student something to focus on and to motivate them to study harder. Especially they there were also mock exams held halfway through the year.

      Regarding Easterners in Japan they have regular schools; cram schools (extra schooling after school); and you need to pass an exam to get into middle school, high school, and university which is set by these institutions.

      1. Lindsay McDougall
        September 20, 2012

        Extra schooling after school. Additional homework. Working hard to better yourself. How wicked!

        You can’t do it so easily in this country -…. support from the teaching profession.

        1. uanime5
          September 20, 2012

          Cram schools aren’t part of the state education or free; they’re private schools that educate children after school and on weekends. Also they don’t usually give children homework.

          I doubt teaching unions would object to teacher being able to charge private rates for out of hours teaching.

          1. Lindsay McDougall
            September 21, 2012

            No, it’s South Korean schools that get students to do 12 hours more homework per week than their American counterparts. And their mathematics results are better than those of the US students, in spite of much larger class sizes.

            It’s not the teaching unions I worry about, it’s the teachers themselves. How many of them are in the mind set to take on extra work? ( Are enough teachers able to get a good life/work balance which allows leading activities outside class hours etc -ed_)

  11. Simon_c
    September 19, 2012

    The ability to remember facts in this day and age, when people walk around with the entire internet in their pockets is of limited value.

    It’s far better to team the skills to analyze facts, critically assess other points of view, construct reasoned arguments, and understand the basic tenants of the subject in hand. Perhaps moving to a blended approach of modules, but with end of module, open-book (open intnernet ?) exams or exam-like conditions to prepare an essay, or piece of work. Sure, some subjects need closed book exams, but that’s just a small part of what’s needed these days.

    1. Anon
      September 19, 2012

      “tenants” or “tenets”

  12. Andrew S
    September 19, 2012

    Mr Gove clearly wants to boost his career with another “major” reform. He’s out of touch with reality.
    The talented pupils who have had great support at home will thrive anyway.
    The pupils who have struggled don’t need to be told they’re not good enough and sent back into third class.
    What we need most of all from this government is an economic policy that in a few years time results in the creation of large numbers of real jobs – productive, private sector jobs. At the moment the government is failing badly for all the reasons outlined at length by Mr Redwood.
    We don’t need to waste money on reforming Mr Gove’s career.

  13. English Pensioner
    September 19, 2012

    One big thing that seems to be missing from our education these days is what we used to call “General Knowledge”. I was recently told by a 15 year old pupil that “we don’t have to learn facts as we can look them up in Wikipedia”!
    Not surprising that, when my son-in-law was interviewing a number of graduates for a post with his company, one of them didn’t know that the time here was different from that in Los Angeles or Sydney and couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t be able to pick up the phone and ring them any time during working hours! OK, he had graduated in Media Studies, but even so ….!
    As for the exams, anyone could pass them with sufficient re-takes, module by module Exams need to be taken at a single sitting if they are to mean anything.

    1. Barry
      September 19, 2012

      I agree with your comments about “General Knowledge”. I also agree with those who say that pupils need to learn how to think rather than learn by rote. The two are not mutually exclusive but, as far as can I recall, “O” and “A” levels required a fair amount of thought.

      The internet can be very useful but one needs to be aware when something needs looking up in the first instance, as demonstrated by your example. It seems to me that many pupils have insufficient grounding to make them aware of their own limitations.

  14. Iain Gill
    September 19, 2012

    I think the state should get out of the business of running schools. Sure make sure everyone can afford to send their kids to school by giving each parent a cheque that can only be cashed in at a school, but I see no reason at all for state run or controlled education.
    I was for instance in an excellent (incidentally Catholic) school the other day, and was surprised to find children of other religions in there all doing extremely well. I wondered what was going on as I know the political elite have enforced religious segregation imposed by school separation in this country. It took me a fair while to figure out what was going on.
    Guess what the Catholic schools are quite prepared to accept children of other faiths WHEN THOSE CHILDREN ARE FEE PAYING. In other words religious segregation is ok for poor folk.
    The hard cash in the parents hands had forced the school to let in a wider range of children from other backgrounds, and that for me is a lesson in all of this, give the parents hard cash to spend and force the schools and system to bend to their will and not the other way around.
    And don’t accept the madness of the current situation where half of the country is lying about their religion to get their kids into a better school.

    1. Mike Stallard
      September 19, 2012

      This is a good idea that is totally out of order in Westminster.
      It is called “vouchers”.
      Mr Gove used to support it before the election but then he chickened out.
      The catch comes when you have to stand back and let anyone open any kind of school to see if they can attract parents.
      (You can get some dodgy schools backing certain causes or theories-ed) It takes a bit of time for these to go under and while they do, you get a lot of flack from the Guardian and Mail.
      BUt this system was tried in Sweden in 1992 and today it seems to be going fine, despite a lot of lies, yes, lies, spread by the Blob.
      The Swedish Labour Party is totally in favour.

  15. Iain Gill
    September 19, 2012

    You shouldn’t change the exam system into something the children already in the school system are not being led towards. Adding languages to a 16 year olds exam which must be passed or all other subjects are failed too is a massive mistake, I absolutely don’t buy into a language being essential. There are other subjects such as Computer Science which deserve a place in the core subjects more than bland French for the masses does. You shouldn’t do this when current 4 to 11 year olds are not being taught French and the bottom 50% of senior schools couldn’t teach foreign languages for toffee. You don’t improve knowledge of a subject by adding it to the compulsory exams you need to start teaching it earlier and better! The cleverest poor kids in the sink schools have no chance of learning a language and they often turn out to by the best performers at university.

    1. Mark
      September 19, 2012

      The cleverest poor children often have good chances to learn a choice of languages if they live in cities – but probably not French.

  16. merlin
    September 19, 2012

    How about teaching students to actually think, for example consider the following problem:-
    A bat and ball cost £1.10.
    The bat costs one pound more than the ball.
    How much does the ball cost?
    The majority of students would not have a clue how to solve this problem let alone explain the answer.
    IQ vs EQ at school, students are taught to use IQ, EQ is never even encountered yet it is probably far more important than IQ.
    Most working class children are denied the opportunity of going to a grammar school under all 3 parties-they have no choice, once again this is undemocratic and unfair.
    Private and Grammar schools are successful why not more of them?
    Before the Nationalisation of education students left school able to read and write, alot leave school unable to do either.
    Comprehensive education has and will continue to fail bright working class students.
    The old system of Grammar Schools and Secondary Moderns worked-bring it back.

    1. David John Wilson
      September 19, 2012

      There is a strong argument that in addition to the new BACCs there should also be a basic standard that all students should acheive before leaving school. Let us call it graduating from secondary school, and would be examined entirely by the school mainly during course work..

      This should include basic standards in reading writing and arithmetic. It should also include the skills necessary to progress in the adult world:
      Understanding income tax, the interest on creit cards etc.
      Basic first aid
      Living on a budget including cookery etc.

      There are many other subjects that should be included. While academic qualifications would count as a pass in some subjects, others would need to be passed by all students.

      1. a-tracy
        September 21, 2012

        I’m pleased my children were tested through the external exam system and not just reliant on whether the teacher marked them well or down. One teacher in the LAPs expected a C from my son when all his other teachers were expecting A and A* he got an A*. One teacher used the actual mark of 60 in my daughters science exam in Year 8 and put her in the average stream for a whole year when her % was 85.7% we supplemented her work that year with books from a well known retailer.

        Most schools do teach cookery for 2 or 3 years at High School the mistake is that they don’t teach them to prepare low cost, healthy meals as I did at school and basics such as how to make jam, bread, pastry, different ways of cooking potatoes, how to cook rice, pasta etc – In an ideal world they would have these skills from home but instead of teaching them how to make Nachos, cheesecake, pizza (using shop bought base and pre-made purée perhaps the Jamie Olivers of this world should help with the curriculum and how to make this demonstration interesting and involve them without them all having to bring in the ingredients from home individually.

    2. BobE
      September 19, 2012

      5 p

    3. uanime5
      September 19, 2012

      Bat (B) + ball (b) = £1.10
      B-b =£1
      £1 + 2b = £1.10
      2b = 10p
      b = 5p

      Therefore the bat costs £1.05 and ball costs 5p.

      Can you explain how having a high EQ would help you solve a maths problem?

      Also in the past even more people left school unable to read or write but it wasn’t a problem because there a large number of manual labour jobs. As these jobs have now gone it’s now a major problem it someone can’t read, write, or count.

      1. Mark
        September 20, 2012

        Your methodology is interesting. Must be “new math” (see Tom Lehrer – himself a mathematician). Most would I suspect add the two equations to give 2B= £2.10; B=£1.05, b=£0.05, while some might subtract them to give 2b=£0.10; b=£0.05 directly. Your intermediate step is unusual.

        1. uanime5
          September 20, 2012

          I was trying to calculate the cost of the ball so I tried to remove the cost of the bat from the equation. To get the cost of the bat you can use this equation:

          Bat (B) + ball (b) = £1.10
          B-b =£1
          (B+b) + (B-b) = £2.10
          2B = £2.10
          B = £1.05

          Well at least I didn’t try to calculate this in base 8.

  17. Captain Crunch
    September 19, 2012

    One of the problems with coursework is that it means the student or pupil is always working.

    Pupils now are far less likely to get involved in extra-curricular activity, like a play, when they are 15 (the old 4th year, Year 10) as they are keen to get their assessed course work off to a good start. The same is true for the Lower Sixth (Year 12).

    If you are always being assessed then you will always focus your energies on getting good results. Time we cut students and pupils a bit of slack.

    1. uanime5
      September 19, 2012

      I thought pupils were less likely to get involved in extra-curricular activities because at home they have access to TV and video games.

      Unless pupils are given one piece of coursework per week and it takes them a week to write it it’s unlikely that coursework is causing the decline in extra-curricular activities.

  18. Lindsay McDougall
    September 19, 2012

    What is your objection to a student gaining one mark or grade for the exam, a separate one for course work, publishing both and leaving it to prospective employers to weight them according to their needs? Mr Redwood, I would like you to answer this specific question.

    More generallly, why is it that government institutions always try to take other people’s decisions for them, in spite of having a poor track record? Why do they persist in trying to fine tune human behaviour through the tax system? I’m not arguing for a bit more laissez faire, I’m arguing for a lot more laissez faire.

    Reply: there is nothing to stop schools giving course work marks and for pupils showing those to others. I have no problem with that.

    1. Lindsay McDougall
      September 19, 2012

      Thank you. That’s fine as far as it goes. I want to see a certificate whose typical entries are as below:

      …………………………….Exam grade……………Course work grade

      Then would be employers are informed and in control.

      1. uanime5
        September 20, 2012

        This has two problems.

        1) What happens when pupils have to submit multiple pieces of coursework? For example when I was doing English Language and Literature you had to submit several essays. Perhaps an average coursework grade would be the best solution.

        2) Coursework usually isn’t worth more than 30% of your mark, so you’d need three entries on the certificate: exam grade, average coursework grade, and overall grade. Though the exam grade and overall grade are often the same.

        1. Lindsay McDougall
          September 21, 2012

          1) When I was at school, English Language and English Literature were separate subjects.
          2) You don’t need to give an overall grade at all. Let the employer weight the exam and course work marks.

  19. Matthew
    September 19, 2012

    Can’t help but think that allowing British patrols to continue operations with their Afghan counterparts. (If that is what happens) Is a face saving measure by the MOD, as to withdraw such operations leads to some fundamental questions.
    Everyone must know now that the Afghan mission has failed at just about every level, it’s time to speed up the withdrawal of troops.
    Regarding exams, there isn’t a perfect way to measure academic achievement, but an end of year examination without coursework must be about the best fit. It better ensures a level playing field.
    I think to take exams at 16 years old is about right, (the student has probably gained a degree of maturity then and it provides a good run to “A” levels or whatever replaces them at age 18 years.
    Its a good sorting out age.

  20. a-tracy
    September 19, 2012

    My children’s school has already stopped coursework in Mathematics a couple of years ago. It stopped modular exams this year 2012-13 in Science and stopped home based coursework completed at home last year 2011-12.

    My boys were quite happy about this and hated coursework. My daughter who really enjoyed putting project files together, taking more time over her work generally and using thesaurus and other tools to improve her written work preferred to work under her own steam at home doing her coursework and feels her writing improved because of this.

    I don’t recall any of my children doing coursework in History.

    If schools don’t do coursework, they will set homework which will be internal ‘coursework’ preparation and will rely on the child having a better memory to regurgitate work they’ve already prepared.

    1. a-tracy
      September 19, 2012

      Oops first para. should say… and stopped home based coursework in English last year 2011-12.

  21. Lindsay McDougall
    September 19, 2012

    Change of subject (you heard it first from Lindsay McDougall):

    “George Osborne is pressing for state benefits to be frozen for two years as he struggles to find a further £10 billion of cuts in the welfare budget.

    ………………… there are signs that the LibDems might not repeat their veto …………….”

    From page 8 of the ‘i’ newspaper edition of 19 September 2012.

    Reply: Indeed – we debated the growth of out of work benefits exceeding the growth of wages sometime ago on this site.

  22. backofanenvelope
    September 19, 2012

    I think we should bite the bullet. Either nationalise private schools or privatise state schools.

  23. Glenn Vaughan
    September 19, 2012

    Teaching unions protecting incompetent teachers are responsible for declining standards in British education.

  24. Lindsay McDougall
    September 19, 2012

    Exam reform – why wait until after the General Election?
    Is it because we don’t have a mandate?
    Is it because we might lose the election (don’t be faint hearted)?
    Is it because the unspeakable Shirley Williams might wreck the bill in the Lords?

    Do tell; I’m curious.

  25. Iain Gill
    September 19, 2012

    The other big issues is “dyslexia” and the perks handed out to anyone who can get a diagnosis of this. Perks include longer to take exams, extra one on one time with teachers, and so on.
    Now excuse me if this isn’t common knowledge but masses of middle class parents get their little darlings diagnosed with this condition precisely in order to get those exam perks. And it is apparently quite easy to go see a private dyslexic specialist and come out with a shiny new diagnosis, percentage of kids denied this diagnosis when seen privately seems minimal.
    These same perks continue on through university where a “dyslexia” diagnosis facilitates longer to do the exams and courseworks, extra teacher time, and so on.
    Some parts of society are abusing this much more than others, and that does none of us any good, as the genuine candidate ranking is hard to identify given this corruption of the system.
    While I might have some sympathy with genuine sufferers of a medical condition I think its open knowledge that this abuse is rampant.
    I would stamp their exam certificates with “extra time awarded for dyslexia” so that it is more transparent what is going on, and give an indication of how much their grade has been uplifted for this.
    Its interesting to note that these same darlings never disclose any disability on their job applications.
    Like lying about religion the state has incentivised masses of people to lie about their childrens medical conditions.
    The sad fact is in the real world you don’t get twice as long to do your sums dyslexic or not.

  26. Winston Smith
    September 19, 2012

    Can you find out how many pupils are now getting extra time in exams for a variety of reasons: learning difficulties, dyslexia, illness, poverty, etc? I hear it can be as many as 25% in some schools.

  27. Alte Fritz
    September 19, 2012

    Coursework was devised pre internet. and also, primarily for traditional core subjects. The internet and the information or essays available corrupt the system since a process of cut and paste is tempting at school and university level. Perhaps some sort of viva voce on coursework submitted would sort the sheep from the goats.

    The other issue is the introduction of subjects which are simply not proper academic subjects. Photography is a great art and involves great skill and knowledge but is it really a GCSE/A level subject?

  28. forthurst
    September 19, 2012

    “If you are studying English literature, does it help that you have to spend hours learning crucial quotes to illustrate points in essays on topics unknown, rather than being allowed to take the text in with you to use to write your critical appraisal?”

    ‘English literature’ is an example of a subject which lacks academic legitimacy. An examination should be concerned with establishing a candidate’s overall knowledge of a whole academic subject up to a particular level which is generally invariable, year by year; if an exam doesn’t do that, it is the exam which as a fault, not the concept of entering an exam hall with a pre-learned corpus of relevant knowledge.

    English poetry and Shakespeare’s plays should however be studied as exemplars of the finer use of the English language, possibly incorporated into that topic as unseen passages for discussion. This raises the issue which Clegg refuses to acknowledge, namely the impracticality of one exam for all abilities, bearing in mind the enormous range with which the teaching profession is confronted. Is it reasonable to expect a child who cannot use correctly the present indicative, or any other tense, of the verb ‘to be’, to a understand an associated Shakespearean soliloquy?

    Academic children should not be held back, but non-academic children should still schooled and examined in their knowledge of the three ‘R’s. It is entirely fatuous to expect children to take one exam in which so many of the questions are perceived as ridiculously easy or impossible hard by children of different intelligences.

    1. forthurst
      September 19, 2012

      The fact that girls are ‘better’ at course work than in examinations taken at a sitting, or better at verbal subjects than those involving abstract reasoning, raises a very fundamental question indeed: are the proportions of those going onto higher education correctly identified according to inate ability or even acquired knowlege, by sex, and is the balance of subjects being studied to achieve an ‘educated’ workforce correct? What is the point in any case of producing a surfeit of women with ‘English literature’ degrees? If there is to be a surfeit, why not of men with ‘Physics’ degrees; perhaps they could infiltrate politics and the news media rather than the other way round whereby public discussion of scientific topics is being hijacked by people who know less Physics than I did at fourteen.

  29. john harmsen
    September 19, 2012

    Like our friend John Redwood.I also underwent a school and university education based completely on competitive exams. We had NO coursework,NO resits like today and which
    count towards the final grade. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a system based entirely on performance in final exams. I have a first in Classics,became a teacher, and
    taught both Greek and Latin for over thirty-five years. We must return to the traditional
    ways of testing,restore credibility in our exam system,and make the qualification again worth the paper it is written on. Allow non-academic pupils to have their OWN curriculum with their OWN range of exams they can sit. This system is in operation in both Holland and Germany and if they can manage this,why not here in England as well.

    1. Iain Gill
      September 19, 2012

      Although I didn’t need to resit any of my O levels it was perfectly possible to resit O levels back in the day, and lots of kids did and disproportionately those with better off parents.
      Much the same as there are plenty of folk taking 3, 4 or even 5 years to pass a one years masters degree.
      It would be better if the certificate said “grade on Xth attempt at this exam”.

  30. Bert Young
    September 19, 2012

    ” Education consists after all has been taught has been forgotten ” . Standards are set in one way or other throughout ones schooling ; they provide the means by which comparisons are drawn and indicate how the individual can adjust to challenges . Employers and Higher Educational Institutions have to rely on two things – a) what an individuals achievements have been – preferably measured by a reliable system and , b) how a candidate performs at interview backed up , if need be , by further assessment . Exams as such are meaningless . I found that the only effective method of assessment of an individual was by references taken face to face with someone who had known ( or worked ) with the individual over a number of years . The information gleaned from this approach was enough to forecast how the individual would perform and achieve over the next 10 years . As an ex Headmaster the technique worked for pupils in my school and for the selection of my staff ; as an ex Consultant and Adviser to the City , Industry and Government , the system never once failed . GCSEs or any sort of other paper qualification are nothing more than a general indicator .

  31. Leslie Singleton
    September 19, 2012

    Was it true what I heard on Question Time the other week, that there is a school where when the pupils run a race they are all told to stop just before the finishing line and all cross together “so that everybody wins”? Barking mad to me.

    When everybody’s somebody nobody’s anybody. We are NOT all identical and that applies to any (meaningful) examination as much as to anything else in the real world including Gay “Marriage” and all the rest.

    Did anyone read that News Item today about a 4th century Coptic script that they were saying raised the question of women’s role in Christianity? How dare they ask, surely woman’s role is identical to that of men? What has changed since the 4th century? Birth control and little else. How principular! If the Good Lord had wanted us all to be identical he would have made us identical.

  32. uanime5
    September 19, 2012

    Given that A-level and degrees still require you to produce coursework and dissertations it would be unwise to remove this element from GCSEs. Pupils need to learn how to write essays and the sooner they learn the better.

    Unless you know the exam question beforehand it’s impossible to know which quotes will be crucial to illustrate the various points. For example in Macbeth the quotes need to show that Lady Macbeth feels guilt for killing Duncan are very different from the ones needed to show whether Macbeth feels guilt for having Banquo killed. This type of question works far better for coursework than in an exam because you have more time to analyse the text and find the best quotes.

    As with anything that requires research the finished product will always depend upon the help that the person has received and the material they’ve had access to. Someone who has access to a professional analysis of Shakespearean plays will generally do better than someone who has not but as research is an important part of essays is it right to criticise children who were able to find something that was useful for writing essays or who knew who to ask for help?

    GCSEs at 16 do become somewhat meaningless when pupils have to remain in school until they’re 18. Perhaps GCSEs and A-levels should be replaced with a 4 level baccalaureate with exams at the end of each year. This way the academically gifted can take full exams every year and get a level 4 baccalaureate after 4 years, while those who are less gifted can take half exams and get the level 2 version after 4 years (obviously if they improve they can take the full level exams and get a higher level baccalaureate).

    In another news Osborne is planning to reduce welfare in order to save money. The main problem with this is that unless he can reduce the cost of housing then housing benefit won’t be reduced and he can’t reduce pensions because the elderly are more likely to vote. So he’s left with cutting the benefits of the sick, disabled, unemployed, and those in low paid work. Given that these people tend to spend all their income and very rarely save it expect there to be a drop in demand and those in work to find that work no longer pays.

    1. a-tracy
      September 21, 2012

      Independent colleges would want a 16 year old assessment grade over a range of subjects surely?

      Universities do use average GCSE marks to produce their statistical evaluations of potential candidates as most offers are made before A level grades are known.

  33. Credible
    September 19, 2012

    Mr Gove makes some good points about GCSEs. It is not helpful for such a high proportion to get top grades and there are issues about the validity of coursework and the modular approach. However, this is a hasty short-term fix that either won’t work for the long term or won’t be adopted. Why can’t we be more considered in this country and build a strategy for our long-term future rather than resort to knee-jerk reactions.

    My son will take the new exam in its first year and my heart sinks for him (especially if Ofqual are involved).

  34. Alan Wheatley
    September 19, 2012

    Oh dear, the latest in a long line of big ideas that is intended to make an improvement in the education of our school children, and with it the latest in an equally long line of educational and financial disasters.

    It is not that these ideas have been without some merit, it is that they try an apply a single approach to all children, ignoring the fact that there is an enormous variety of children, as there are humans of all ages, and what is needed is a range of approaches matched to the needs of the child. There have been attempts to do this, such as the eleven plus exam with selection for Secondary Modern, Technical and Grammar schools. This failed in a practical sense because far too few Technical schools were built. It failed in an emotive sense because it became the accepted wisdom than children who were SELECTED for Secondary Modern were categorised as failures at eleven; even though this was rubbish, that is what most people though led by the educational elite who put equality before practical education.

    I hear in the news that Nick Clegg has successfully vetoed any return to a so-called two-tier exam system. So once again the loony-liberal “everyone must be treated the same” nonsense will be condemning children to an eduction that is not aimed at getting the best for all, each to their aptitude and ability, but forcing all through the same sausage machine.

    This is not something for after the next election, it something for never.

  35. Alan Wheatley
    September 19, 2012

    Over many years one hears teachers periodically complaining that the exam system is not a fair assessment. I think what they mean is that the exam results the children achieve is not a fair assessment of what they have achieved as teachers. They say that what they do as teachers goes beyond the scope of the exams sat by their pupils.

    If this is so, then the obvious solution is to match the exams to the syllabus, changing either or both as appropriate.

  36. Alan Wheatley
    September 19, 2012

    One of the complaints heard recently has been that exams have become too much a test of memory and too little a test of understanding and analysis. That may be so, but a good memory is a great aid to understanding and analysis. Even if you can look up a piece of information, having to do so does slow down the thought processes.

  37. JT
    September 19, 2012

    Withdraw from Afghanistan tomorrow — there can be no peaceful solution while a large percentage of the population do not accept one.
    Remember not to interfere in foreign affairs or create power vacuums in countries that we don’t understand — eg Libya, Syria
    And remember we have around 6 strategic interests, back those and develop infrastructure to retain those interests

    It makes no difference having O Levels or GCSEs because the top 30% in education will be well served by both. The failure in UK education is the 30 – 40% who do not engage with the exam process, and gain little or nothing from school. (Remember 55% of all school leavers do not reach the A-C pass targets set by government). This is the central issue that needs to be addressed concerning school education.

  38. Mike Stallard
    September 19, 2012

    One thing which we must not do is to assume that we all know what we are talking about because we all went to school once didn’t we.

    Mr Blunkett deliberately reformed the independent examination system so as to put the government in control of all examinations, but of course, it suited him to keep the old respectable titles. The Chief Examiners were angry, and then got rid of and the marking system was skewed. This is true for GCSE and A level. All of us teachers knew perfectly well what was going on. And it was a scandal. But things looked exactly the same!

    What everyone needs now is a leaving examination for everyone which everyone needs and which everyone can pass with a bit of an effort. I suggest elementary literacy and numeracy should be the only two subjects examined. It could be called whatever you like. I really hope that Mr Gove (who let a lot of people down over Free Schools) has this in mind.

    Meanwhile anyone who wanted could go forward to take other subjects at a much higher level – GCSE and A – Level. But you shouldn’t have to. Ideally I should like to see vocational colleges set up too for building, cooking, teaching, police, transport, whatever. Admission conditional on the leaving exam.

    And for heaven’s sake free the system from you politicians or we will have courses in PE, Women’s Rights, Chinese, Cookery, all made compulsory for a week, then replaced by the latest fads!

  39. Alte Fritz
    September 19, 2012

    The enthusiasm for one set of decisive exams from contributors is hard to reconcile with life’s reality which a perpetual need to perform which has more in common with tough coursework.

    Our current education system (Universities included) turns out sets of results which give very little indication of an individual’s abilities, save in the case of the truly inept. The old system was hard on the inept, but success in exams said little more than that the individual was good at exams.

    Is it too much to ask that education experts design systems of exams and related tests which give a fair measure of the candidates’ all round abilities within that subject? Unless exams are to be no more than an exercise in narcissism, they should give employers a reasonably fair picture of the individual. If exams do not achieve that, why have them at all?

  40. Jon
    September 19, 2012

    If the numbers in economics say one thing then how is it that the Art in politics can result in them being ignored?

    The Arts meant millions and news paper editors thought Mr Brown was prudent right up until 2008.

    We have a broken exam system where we are falling down the league tables and there is a race to the bottom with prizes for everyone.

    Those who are good at the vocational and sport, art etc should be shown to be the best and the less able academics in those areas to know failure. For those who are academic they should know they are the best at that and the rest know failure for not being so in that area.

    What we have had is mediocrity on both areas, a dumbing down of all so all get prizes and our international education standard has fallen.

    I question the establishments abilities for those children gifted in the vocational, artisan areas. The answer is not to hold the academic back , its to improve their work standard for the non academic.

    I question the establishment as I guess they are made up of academics designing courses for non academics. Is there an engineering course in school? Okay the gifted mathematician can go on to an engineering degree to be able to design the electrics in the Gerkin but we need engineers in greater number but less qualified. A physics class to many can be lost on them. Let them build a circuit, understand the atoms and the math to push those atoms sufficiently to power and they might be interested in engineering (learning physics and math along the way)rather than the cold academic subject.

    I think Mr Gove has made a right choice but I also thing Mr Gove may not know whats needed for the non academics that we also need.

    I work in the east side of the City. People think numbers and yes that is there but its the arts that are used far more than people would think. Taking O/A Level math as a base I would say the arts are used at a far more complex and frequent level than math.

    The Arts meant millions of people and news paper editors thought Mr Brown was prudent right up to 2008. No different from a private company trying to win business. Mr Gove has one part right, its the other part I wonder about.

  41. wab
    September 19, 2012

    “It was also notable that girls results improved relative to boys as the educational establishment shifted from the grand final exam to more coursework based approaches.”

    Yes, this was one of the reasons this shift happened in the first place. Of course when girls do badly in school it’s the fault of the system (it’s rigged against them), and when boys do badly in school it’s the fault of the boys (they are lazy).

    Anyway, there is another option besides coursework (where there can indeed be cheating) and a final grand (or grand final) exam, and that is tests on specific parts of the syllabus at specific points during the year. These would be set and marked by the teachers themselves, and there would be no need for the government to control these in any way whatsoever, leave it up to the school/teacher. And anything that keeps control freaks like Gove from micro-managing teachers has to be a good thing. The only problem with such tests could be that the teacher shows favouritism to certain students (but the same can happen with coursework).

  42. Mark
    September 20, 2012

    The question shouldn’t be whether we have exams at 16, but rather whether we shouldn’t return to making 16 a standard school leaving age for the less academic once again. By increasing the pace of learning to what it used to be, less time need be spent in classrooms, and fewer teachers and schools are needed. There is a big dividend for taxpayers and for pupils in improving the productivity of our schools in this way. Pupils get to earn sooner, enhancing their lifetime earnings. Those who lack academic skills are freed to go and develop the skills they do have, rather than become disaffected teenagers, inclined to disrupt the schooling of the more academic pupils.

    I disagree with those who claim that you have no need to learn because everything can be looked up on the internet. The internet is not a reliable source of information: there is much misinformation available. The art of research is to disentangle and distill truth from a morass of often apparently conflicting facts, and the ability to identify the relevant patterns in the data.

    To a certain extent academic studies can be viewed as exercises for the brain to develop its abilities, just as a musician works at scales and studies as an aid to developing the skills of good performance. This is most obvious for the basic skills of reading, writing/drawing and typing (very like a musical skill), basic maths (arithmetic, simple geometry/spatial perception, simple algebra), basic comprehension, logic and deduction, and memorising. Repetition and rote are good methods for acquiring these basic skills.

    1. uanime5
      September 20, 2012

      I suspect the Government doesn’t want people to leave school at 16 because they’ll increase the unemployment statistics, specifically youth unemployment (under 25s). By contrast encouraging pupils to stay in school and go to university means they won’t be part of the youth unemployment statistics until they’re 21.

      1. a-tracy
        September 21, 2012

        It was the Labour party that introduced compulsory education to 18 before they left office.

      2. Mark
        September 21, 2012

        I think you’re right: Labour knew their policies were going to do youth unemployment no favours from the outset. That’s why they thought of EMA as a replacement for dole money too, I suspect.

      3. Lindsay McDougall
        September 23, 2012

        There was a time when a substantial section of the population left school at 14 and went straight into apprenticeships.

  43. David Price
    September 20, 2012

    I don’t think there is a single answer but politicians keep messing around with the education system in this country to try to establish one, to the detriment of students, families, teachers and the country. For example, the grammar school system worked very well for academically oriented individuals yet was deemed unacceptable for political rather than academic reasons. Now, if employers are to be believed we have reached a point where a single model of education has resulted in many youngsters who can’t even read or write.

    Why not allow a mix of approaches with the proviso that all pupils must reach a basic attainment in a few core subjects (eg reading, writing, maths and history) but allow for diversity in other subjects to meet vocational or further educational needs. This suggests to me that the common nation certificate or whatever you want to call it needs to be tested before 15. The wider range and further education subjects also ought to be age neutral considering how many people are losing jobs and having to retrain – for example try finding a D&T course if you are not of secondary age.

    Perhaps politics needs to be taken out of education completely and replaced by economic need. We need young people who can contribute to our economy and society not simply collect badges for attendance.

  44. a-tracy
    September 21, 2012

    The CSE, O level system was dismantled and replaced with the GCSE foundation, intermediate and higher level papers. The candidates certificate doesn’t say which of these exams the teenager sat, so you may think you have a five A-C candidate if they have 5 C’s on the foundation paper they don’t have the knowledge that you as a college or an employer are anticipating or perhaps needing for further advanced training. I know too many teens that start A levels expecting to cope with them and leave after the AS year because their expectations aren’t realised.

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