One way or another, the education system we’ve come to love/loathe isn’t going to stick about unchanged for very long. It would appear that this Government are trying their utmost to put their mark on British educational history, with Nicky Morgan now picking up the cudgel following the exit of Michael Gove.
No sooner than Gove had shaken up GCSE English Literature – by removing the few decent novels you could study for it – did more than 100,000 people took to online petitions urging the Prime Minister to persuade a resignation. Indeed, novelist Graham Joyce claimed that “Michael Gove’s name excites disapproval from across the political spectrum in a way that even Margaret Thatcher never managed.”
With Gove’s days numbered, it seemed as though he set out on one more policy change to ensure that we won’t forget him – he’s shuffling about GCSEs and A Levels, scrapping several altogether. This is all in addition to changes to the core subjects of Maths, English and Science, the humanities, and foreign languages – all of which are to be rolled out over the next few years.
Thousands of exams and qualifications are seeing change of some description – we can probably break them down into three categories:
1. Those which will be simply scrapped – the subjects which won’t form any part of our curriculum again. Some examples cited by the Huffington Post include home economics, human biology and performing arts.
2. Those which will be reformed – According to a few sources out in the media, the government wants to give some subjects some more credibility by making them tougher. On the list for reform includes law, media studies and ancient history.
3. Those which will be merged – the idea behind this is not to challenge the rigour of certain subjects, but rather to cut back on the sheer number of similar courses. One cited example from the BBC was a potential merger of catering and food technology.
There are always two sides to the story, so let’s look at each in turn.
Those to get the axe
In theory, this seems logical if it’s done for the right reasons. Merely getting rid of a subject because the DfE doesn’t like it would be the wrong way to go completely.
Ofqual, the exam regulator, got involved with a consultation – one cited reason for some of the cuts was because of the relatively low numbers of students taking them, such as only 105 students a year for GCSE Manufacturing. If that’s the case, then fair enough, I think it’s unreasonable for exam boards and the like to have to cater for every single possible course/module.
However, according to the consultation – which ends in 8 weeks – the foreword reads: “Our proposals for this will inevitably lead to a small drop in the number of subjects available: subjects that attract few students may disappear, with exam boards unlikely to invest in reforming them to the standard we require.”
To me this sounds like they’re cutting out ones because they aren’t up to standard – and ones which aren’t like to see investment to meet a certain standard. The trouble is, there’s very little in the way of guidelines to decide what the standards are. Very tricky to gauge indeed.
I understand the ones which aren’t popular and rarely taken, but it would seem that they’re trying to cut out perhaps popular ones based on an agenda.
Those to be reformed
Reforming different subjects requires a very careful approach to it, as reforms to make them more difficult are often a sign that the DfE sees them as ‘soft’ subjects – or ones that are considered less desirable.
The secretary general of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Brian Lightman, hits out at the notion of subjects being labelled as either ‘soft’ or ‘rigorous’, saying that “We need finally to let go of this toxic discourse about ‘soft’ and ‘rigorous’ subjects.” He also went on to say that rumours around some sort of ‘great abolition’ were highly exaggerated and undermined efforts to instil confidence in the qualification system.
However, immediately afterwards he went to the defence of two subjects that were facing reform – A Level Film Studies and GCSE Home Economics – two subjects unfortunately held as ‘soft’ by members of the public and university alike. It seems as though he is happy to protect the notion of ‘soft’ and ‘rigorous’ and claim it doesn’t exist, all at the same time!
Reforms to certain qualifications have to be done rather carefully – the gap between now and the reforms taking effect will no doubt cause a shift in mentality among the public. Will these subjects be valued less because of their upcoming reforms? Potentially, which is worrying. The reforms are due in 2016 and 2017, so there is a distinct possibility that things are going to look down for certain students.
Those to be merged
This seems like a clever attempt at streamlining – less choice means a rather more tightly-controlled curriculum. I know some people in catering courses – I have been assured that there is a sizeable difference between catering and food technology – making this merger seem rather pointless and potentially damaging. The same could be said for biology and human biology, which are both to be merged into biology. It seems a shame that certain specialisms are beginning to be lost – there is always value in having specialists at a given subject – regardless of the level they’ve been taught at.
On balance, this all seems like a bit of a rushed idea. Not enough has been given to the cuts – certainly in the wording at least. It appears that the DfE is trying to streamline education down a given path without taking into consideration what students actually want to study. The reforms to certain subjects are only going to cause issues later down the road, as they are devalued by employers and universities – even when they are actually changed there’ll be a distinct amount of worrying as we all wait to see if it worked.
The mergers? Definitely not – some of the listed changes are seriously flawed in that they cut out specialisms despite key differences between the two.