An irate Tameside MP is demanding an apology from Michael Gove following the coalition government’s U-turn on education policy last week.
The Education Secretary was forced to abandon his plans to scrap GCSE’s in key subjects and replace them with English Baccalaureate (eBacc) qualifications.
Jonathan Reynolds, MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, welcomed the reversal having been strongly against the proposals when they were first announced in September last year.
He said: “Our education system should ensure that all children have access to a curriculum that is broad and to an exam system that enables them to achieve to the best of their ability.
“However, the government’s plans to replace GCSEs with an English Baccalaureate qualification failed to fully recognise either of these aims.
“The plans were deeply flawed and I am pleased that they have now been dropped.”
Mr Gove acknowledged that his call for a single examining body to set and regulate the eBacc had been a ‘bridge too far’, with the reforms attracting caution and criticism from teaching unions and the Commons Education Select Committee.
Despite this admission, Mr Gove remains adamant that there is a cross-party consensus to press on with changes to the exam system, a key aspect of which will be an increased focus on rigorous linear assessments and a reduction in coursework.
Derek Clarke, Equal Opportunities Officer for the Tameside branch of the National Union of Teachers, does not share this belief, suggesting it could alienate certain types of learner.
He said: “The rote method of learning and end of course examinations heralded by Gove may suit some pupils, but not all.
“While there is a need to ensure that coursework is done appropriately it should not be removed altogether.
“It needs to be remembered that university courses involve regular assessment, not just one set of exams at the end of a course which you either fail or pass in one sitting.”
The announcement on aborting the eBacc came alongside proposed changes to the national curriculum, with the focus on a core of English, mathematics, science and history, and a slimmed down programme of study in creative arts and vocational qualifications.
Speaking in November last year, Mr Reynolds condemned the short-sightedness of Mr Gove’s plans, stating that vocational qualifications were hugely beneficial to the young people of Tameside.
He said: “The narrowness of Michael Gove’s approach is where he goes wrong.
“For me, he’s got a very old-fashioned view of education, kids in short trousers lining up and that sort of thing.
“If you go into schools, even one with a really high academic reputation and teaching standards, they do things like BTEC’s and they’re really worthwhile, so let’s not dismiss them.
“Especially when you talk to employers and they want more of that taught in schools, not less.”
Mr Clarke agreed, stating that a new curriculum for secondary education must look to the future and not be based upon a return to the divisive two-tier system of O-levels and CSE’s.
He said: “It is time that the thinking behind the way children and young people are educated moves into the 21st Century.
“The days when a purely academic background was sufficient to equip students for the outside world are well and truly gone.
“We need an integrated 14-19 system of education which has, as a first principle, equality of access and an entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum where all subjects are valued.
“The lesson surely for Michael Gove is to listen and consult in a meaningful fashion on the national curriculum.
“Failure to do so will result in the nonsense that has just happened, with GCSEs being lambasted as not fit for purpose one minute, and in the next proposed as the way forward.”
Mr Reynolds feels that, as the innocent victims of the political in-fighting, it is the pupils themselves who are long overdue an apology.
He said: “The really sad thing is that while the Government has been arguing about the benefits and shortfalls of the current education system, they have shown complete disregard for the young people who are currently preparing to sit their exams.
“The Labour Party has already called for Michael Gove to apologise to parents and pupils and I would endorse that call whole-heartedly.”