Friday, 6 July 2012

Gove's Reforms: A Blast from the Past

Michael Gove’s well publicised recent Education reforms which call for a return to a two-tier secondary qualification, akin to the old O level/CSE system, came as a surprise to many, not least to the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Not only is this yet another clear example of the increasingly ‘behind close doors’ attitude that has engulfed Britain’s governance since the advent of the coalition, it is also one of the most controversial policies. Mr. Clegg has suggested he will vote against the propositions simply because ‘he was not consulted’ (roaring passionately as he throws his toys from the pram). Cameron for his part has now, fairly limply it must be said, got behind the proposals, but Gove has since been forced to retract somewhat and pull his neck in, lest he be beaten to death by Lib Dem cabinet members with what remains of their 2010 election manifestos.

So what of the remaining proposals themselves? Most notable amongst them is a move towards a single exam board that will set standardised, cross-the-board papers, in an attempt to enact a more rigorous approach to examinations. Moreover, there will be no more re-sits, except in the key disciplines of English and Maths. Whilst I do agree with Mr. Gove that British education is in dire need of reform, I also firmly believe that this is not the way to do it. Mr . Gove wants to build an education system for the future, to compete with the likes of Singapore, France and the USA; as the White Paper of April this year argues. However, these proposals are anchored in the past. If Britain wants an education system of the future (presumably to build an economy of the future), the past is not the place to find it.

We have already entered a new age in how we communicate, work, play and interact. This is the information age and in the information age, the enlightenment notion that knowledge is power is becoming ever less important, whilst understanding is becoming increasingly so. We continue to persevere with the industrial revolution’s model of education, born out of the values of the enlightenment. This system is founded on principles of education for the masses; but what this has led us to in the 21st century is a lowest common denominator structure. Schools are run like factories; children are sculpted and taught to in the same way, treated as a batch and not an individual. As any teacher worth their salt will tell you, what works for one child will not work for another. Furthermore, why should Britain aspire to be like any other country in its education system? What is right for the children of Singapore may not be right for the children of Britain. If Mr. Gove wants to start building education reform we need to be progressive not regressive, leaders not followers and we need to think differently about what we think will best benefit our children and our society as a whole.

What I mean by this is that principles of creative, divergent thinking are what need to be taught to our children. Ironically, these are the very same principles which Mr. Gove has failed to apply to his own education reforms. An approach centered on children being encouraged into a culture of learning, of interaction, of modern skills and of personal discovery that can take them out into the world with a desire to learn, create, collaborate and improve. A lecture given by Sir Ken Robinson to TED followers ‘Changing the Education Paradigm’ rather neatly sums up this sentiment: That we need to think differently about how we educate our children if we want to move forward and Michael Gove’s proposals would certainly be a step backwards.

I will use myself as an example, I have just graduated from a Russell Group university with a degree in Politics & Philosophy. My degree result and previous application to my subject has been good enough for me to be offered a place to study for a Masters at that same institution. However, this educational success has not always the case. I finished college with reasonable A-Levels but decided late on that I didn’t want to take the university course to which I had applied (Sports Science).The ability to do re-sits allowed me to improve my grades enough to get into a higher standard of university and to subsequently to excel within that environment. This is a classic example of children maturing at different ages academically. At 19 I was among the least qualified of the students entering the course, but by the age of 21 I had developed enough to stand out within the right environment. Any education system needs to give young people every opportunity to succeed in this way, not penalise them and create a culture of failure because they are not at the same level as their peers at any given age in mental arithmetic or their ability to remember the names of the Tudor kings and queens.

Education is undoubtedly in need of reform and indeed always will be. The world changes at such a rapid pace that we need to be prepared to be constantly flexible in all our institutions to adapt and survive. If we cannot achieve this then they will fall into disrepair and generations of children will be failed. To achieve these reforms by reverting to an archaic method that simply closes down children’s options before they could even understand what they are seems unjust. Education needs change and it needs both imagination and creativity to help us to achieve this, not simply a reversion to antiquated, anecdotal notions of previous excellence. We have to reassess the most basic principles on which our model of education stands, the things that we take for granted, standardised testing, class sizes, methods of teaching, what we are actually teaching if we wish to move towards a brighter, more educated future.


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