The many and various ways I pass the time now has a new addition. Usually it involves drinking coffee whilst sitting at a computer keeping in touch with chums, or sipping wine sitting on our tiny terrace catching the sun, and wondering what else I can do to avoid any cleaning or tidying or putting away of stuff and things that aren't even MINE. And now I am going to type this blog. Provided that doesn't become a chore as well, in which case...

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Ghastly Godawful Gove is at it again...

...and this time it is the English GCSE's that have been foully criticised and found wanting, laid waste to and reformed in his own seemingly permanently preening, self-important image.

The BBC has an article here.
Please look on other UK news websites for details and editorial comment.  There are too many articles for me to choose from to give a link to, and I'd be bound to pick one (such as The Guardian or The independent) which shares my left-leaning bias and attitudes.  Suffice to say in English Literature especially (a subject I am qualified to teach at secondary level) it has been a huge case of Rolling Back The Years AND some...

What did Shakepeare ever do to Gove, that he must become a weapon to beat 
teenagers about the head with so they can call themselves properly educated?

All GCSE students in England - yes, ALL students - must study an entire Shakespeare play and be tested on it in exam conditions several months, perhaps even as long as eighteen months, down the line.  There will be no more modular testing and coursework will either be taking a back seat or shown the door.  In all but name only we are back to O-Levels, but the way these proposals are expressed it is likely these courses and exams in Eng Lit will be even tougher than the old O-level.
I did O-levels in 1973, in the top stream of a grammar school, and we didn't do any Shakespeare for our exam.  The last time we looked at a Shakespeare had been Julius Caesar in the Third Form (ie Year Nine) and not to a national test, just for our interest and development. Another class studied Macbeth, but we did Arthur Miller's The Crucible as our play. I covered two Shakespeare plays at A-Level, and the fact that I hadn't done one at O-Level didn't hold me back any, as I did very well in those exams and at university afterwards. I am all for younger students being introduced to pre-C20th ideas and language, even going back to the age of Chaucer, but what IS this obsession Gove and his ilk have with Shakespeare?
I was educated the old-fashioned way, the type of way Gove and his lovers harp on about and hanker after, to the extent that we still had a one-off exam-conditions test at 11+ to decide which type of school would best serve our needs, talents and abilities. At 12+ there was another chance for a handful of kids to pass another similar test to move them from technical to grammar school and do the first year of secondary again at their new school. This was supposed to allow some leeway for "late developers", but what people who came into their own after the age of 13 were meant to do I never knew.
Many people are nostalgic for this system, and some Conservative-led county councils, such as Buckinghamshire, have always retained an 11+ exam and grammar schools. Gove is exceedingly backward-looking and KNOWS he has strong support in a certain age group (50+) who did well through this system and want it back for their grandchildren. But comprehensives prevail now. It's a different ethos. If the same course and testing is to be doled out to students of all abilities of the same age in the same school how can it be anything but horribly divisive and depressing for about half of them when the results are announced?  These are courses many cannot hope to benefit from or pass.  It's ridiculous!

And as for GCSEs with coursework and fewer modular controlled tests, which Gove is effectively outlawing, GIRLS have excelled at this. Girls have gradually outstripped the boys over the past 30 years, and there seems to be no solution to this (does there have to be a solution? No-one panicked much in all the the decades boys outstripped girls...) but to revert to the old way of teaching and testing, which favours memory feats, last-minute cramming and regurgitating, which - it is believed by some - suits masculine brains and learning styles better.

I have a rather masculine brain, even though I am female through-and-through, so that old O-Level system suited me.  I can recall many other very bright people of both genders with exam nerves and less self-confidence who were tied in knots before every exam.  My daughter would have been one of them had she had to endure it.  That's not testing knowledge, skill or understanding.  That is testing for the sake of it, as one huge hurdle to clear in one enormous final effort of fact-retention and against-the-clock struggle before one is allowed to go any further in school or college life.

He'd better not forbid the taking in of texts to the exams (in the 1970s I never had a text in any of my exams, all quotations had to be from memory, including referring to which Act and Scene the quotation is from) or there will be riots in the playgrounds. 

The teachers will riot!

Memorising everything to regurgitate it in an exam maybe as long as two years later.  What employer wants that skill? " I will train you to do something now but you won't be allowed to prove you can do it for several months, maybe even a year or two..." Yeah, like TH
AT ever happens, except for doctors, lawyers, etc...

Gove wants everyone to have a traditional middle-class state education, such as the sort that he thinks didn't do HIM any harm, even if they don't have the aptitude, intelligence, home support, privacy to do homework or even the familial ambition to benefit from it. He has no IDEA of what some students struggle with in life - why does he think truancy is rife in some areas, or serious disruption of classes a daily event?

Does he think the already disaffected are going to be enraptured by THIS?

If he had (as has been seriously mooted by the present government) an optional school leaving age of 14 to sideline up to 30% of lower ability students into "training courses" and/or "work experience" in other separate "colleges" that will lead nowhere but the production line and the factory floor (ahem, what production lines, which factory floors?) he might see an apparent improvement in the achievements of the more academically inclined. 

Without sidelining those students who are unlikely to score any or many passes to a holding pen elsewhere to "study" or "train" for other things, his improvements don't stand a chance in hell
He will exhaust, alienate and most probably lose an entire generation of secondary teachers by asking them to perform yet another a Sisyphian task, just another impossible feat, please, before the bell goes.  After which they collapse sobbing onto one another's shoulders or head off to the pub, or crack open a bottle to share in the stationery cupboard, to try to blot out the memory of yet another particularly horrid day.  I've seen all that and more in my time under the old system.  Nervous breakdowns were ten a penny, even then, and I retired a decade ago.

This is a simplistic view, maybe, but it is my view, based on being a student of English to degree level, a parent of another English graduate (who got a first in her biggest Shakespeare assignment in her BA Hons) and a secondary English teacher who has taught Shakespeare from KS 3 SATS to A Level.

At least the last gives me a bit more of an inkling than Ghastly Godawful GOVE has!  He didn't even go to school in the English system.  He's a Scot, for heaven's sake!  Though you'd be hard pressed to know with his accent.  Even now, his speeches to parliament are stilted and slightly awkward and sound like he's reading out his weekly essay to his Oxford tutor.  Oxford, where even now one's entire degree result rests on one's performance in Finals.  Funny, that...


  1. Ironically the much-vaunted Scottish examination system of Standard Grades is in the process of being reformed to something more like GCSEs, just as Gove is hauling England backwards.

    Back in my O-Level days (1962!) Shakespeare was mandatory throughout school, at the rate of a play a term by the 3rd form, and I don't think we ever read a modern play or a C20th poet or novelist. I can still remember my O-Level set texts - Julius Caesar, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (now that's a door-stop of a novel) and Matthew Arnold's poems. Fine for the top stream of a grammar-school, but nonsensical in the context of an all-ability comprehensive. The man must be mad!

    That doesn't mean that I think everything is perfect in the present system, but to attempt such root and branch changes in such a short time-scale is ridiculous and damaging.

    1. Was just having another look at the BBC report on this when I spotted the following glorious comment:

      Can the acronym GCSE now be replaced by GOVE? This could stand for: Generally Overrated Victorian Education!

    2. It has a fifties flavour to me. 1970s at the latest. A return to what you and I enjoyed but MILLIONS would not. His emphasis on the brightest in syaye schools being ( as he sees it) educated and tested to the standards of the most conscientious countries in the world is worrying. One cannot achieve Far Eastern results without Far Eastern customs and family traditions. Does he want to introduce 12-hour+ working days, no-one leaving the office before the boss and ancestor worship as well?

    3. for syaye read stste. You knew what I meant...typing too quickly without re-reading. I can't touch type, you see.