Coffee House

Will Labour accept Gove-levels?

17 September 2012

Nick Clegg and Michael Gove will announce their joint plans to reform GCSEs today, a day earlier than they had originally intended. The Deputy Prime Minister appeared alongside the Education Secretary this morning on a school visit, while Gove will make a statement in the Commons this afternoon to announce the changes, which Liberal Democrats are claiming as a victory after the initial row over a possible return to a two-tier system. Clegg told reporters this morning:

‘I think you can raise standards, increase rigour and confidence in our exam system, but still do so in a way which is a single-tier, which covers the vast majority of children in this country. And those are the principles upon which this whole reform will be based.’

Because the details of the new exams – with the exception of a proper name for what are now popularly known as Gove-levels – were given a good hearing in the Mail on Sunday yesterday, the two big questions for today will firstly be whether, in spite of all this healthy proalition agreement, Gove wishes he could have had his way on the system he initially proposed back in June and would like a future majority Conservative government to push reforms even further, and also – more importantly – whether Stephen Twigg will commit to a Labour government continuing the reforms in 2015.


Pupils will only start preparing for the exams from September of that year, which means the first act of any Labour-lead administration could be t scrap them. So far Twigg has said that it is unfair to leak the details of the overhaul while the row over the GCSE English results from this year continues (although Gove would argue that this current row shows that politicians need to jolly well get on with the reforms as soon as possible), and that ‘it is not clear how this new system will ensure a breadth of knowledge and skills and that pupils continue studying English and Maths until age 18′. When that detail emerges, the pressure will be on Twigg to clarify whether Labour is on board with these reforms.

UPDATE, 11.40am: Stephen Twigg has responded to the reforms, and is continuing to warn that they will lead to a two-tier system.

‘The problem with these changes are they are totally out of date, from a Tory-led Government totally out of touch with modern Britain. Whatever the reassurances, this risks a return to a two-tier system which left thousands of children on the scrap heap at the age of 16. Why else are the changes being delayed until 2017?

‘Schools do need to change as all children stay on in education to 18 and we face up to the challenges of the 21st Century. We won’t achieve that with a return to the 1980s. Instead, we need a system that promotes rigour and breadth, and prepares young people for the challenges of the modern economy.’

So that’s a no, then.

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  • Eddie

    The education system has become so dumbed down in the last 25 years, even more so in the last 10-15, and it’s not just grade inflation either.
    I have seen and compared GCSEs and O-levels and the different in academic level expected is stark.
    Of course, try telling that to any parent whose wickle darling has just got their GCSEs. Even usually rational educated people (who actually know in their hearts how dumbed down GCSEs have become) rage and spit at anyone who dares to tell truth to nonsense.
    And how to put the toothpaste back in the tube again and get a truly just system, where the academic are tested and the less academic get good vocational training. They have this in selective school systems in places like Germany and Eastern/Central Europe. The Comprehensive system is an imported American system that was invented for socio-political-racial (not educational) reasons.
    But I make a prediction: no matter what Gove does the education system will still be one great big enormous cock-up in 10 years’ time. It’s British way, innit…
    We badly need a selective school system which gives opportunity for kids from poor backgrounds to reach their potential – like a grammar school system, which worked well. A three tier school system and focus on primary school literacy by experts (not teachers – but one-on-one coaches) is what we need.
    But look at the resistence Gove gets from the deeply conservative teachers’ unions and all the leftwingers. However, I know a great many retired teachers and lecturers who are appalled at the dumbing down – at least half Labour party members, who very much agree with what Gove is trying to do.

  • Malcolm Channing

    Doesn’t matter how you measure a student, it’s not the measuring which makes them grow

    • Eddie

      And weighing a pig won’t make it fatter either.
      However, worth remembering that this sort of managerialism was introduced into schools for 2 reasons:
      1) the influence of business/management courses on everything (usually from the US, and which influence politics massively too, with jargon – ‘hearts and minds’, ‘outcomes’, ‘objectives’, ‘facilitator’ and ‘learners’ instead of teacher and pupils – and actions: and if you have targets, ergo you have constant assessment…)
      2) The loony left teachers and their unions in the 70s and 80s, who, in inner London and the cities, actually abolished just about everything that schools should have been doing: setting homework and end of term/year tests, giving regular standard English lessons, drumming numeracy into kids, allowing competition and selective classes so the bright could learn with the bright etc. The monitoring of schools is a direct result of the irresponsible actions ot the (awful) teacher unions, esp the nutters at the NUT, and their extremely damaging and surreally absurd ‘progressive’ policies.

  • Paul

    What is the point of Clegg? His legislative ideas boil down to Lords reform, a mansion tax and AV and now he just petulantly throws his weight around whining about Tory initiatives and throwing a spanner in Gove’s works.

  • itdoesntaddup

    Many children derive little or no benefit from being incarcerated in schools beyond the age of 16, especially if they have already been well taught to elicit the best of their academic abilities. They would do much better for their lifetime chances and earnings to get on and enter the world of work, via apprenticeship if need be.

    The idea that taxpayers should fund schools as part time (term time only) daycare for potentially unruly teens who are not learning and instead risk disrupting those who are is truly one for the Labour dinosaurs.

    In just the same way, many professions were open to school leavers with 2 A levels in the past – when A levels were much more rigorous exams. There was no need to go to “university” to qualify for these jobs.

    It’s time we looked at education from the point of view of productivity – teaching pupils much more quickly, so they need spend fewer years in the education system to achieve their academic potential. Result: lower cost, yet more effective education, and more lifetime earnings for those not out of the top academic drawer. Lower dependency ratio. Less government spending. More tax revenue. There truly is no downside.

    • james102

      You would need to look at it from the consumer’s point of
      view rather than the producers. As we have seen, with the fuss about limiting
      foreign students, this is a very difficult thing to do.

      Education is a massive industry with producer interests, if
      you reduce the numbers of students you will need to reduce the number of
      teachers and lecturers.

      • itdoesntaddup

        There is no immediate need to reduce the numbers of teachers. Many of our youth have managed to come through the education system without picking up the skills they should have done: let teachers be used to provide remedial education, for it is far better to do this than consign so many of our youth to a scrapheap of a life on benefits.

        Then we have the inescapable increase in the numbers of children of school age, thanks to immigration.

        The age profile of teachers is such that many will be retiring in the next few years, so if anything the pressure will be on to maintain recruitment – even if we do improve productivity.

        • james102

          With such a failure rate it might be best if we did reduce
          the number of existing teachers.

          The problem seems to be a mixture of the recruitment pool
          (straight from university) and the politicised nature of the training which
          does not seem to be evidenced based but rather reliant on the fashionable
          theories that are dominant at the time.

          • itdoesntaddup

            Of course, some lecturers can be employed Chinese style – re-educating teachers away from the Marxist doctrines they imbibed in their PGCEs….

            • Eddie

              The thing is, that could well be a good idea. Having done a PGCE, I can tell you that almost all educationalists are barking mad leftists, obesessed with political correctness and spreading the new religious cult of diversity and ethnophilia as far as possible in their mission to brainwash children to share their prejudices, and that anyone who believes as I do in selective education, selective schools, an education based on knowledge, academic rigour and exams (which is what they have in the traditional systems in France, Germany, Poland, Russia, China etc) is treated as some kind of dangerous heretic.
              The madness of the UK’s politically correct school system just has not happened in much of mainland Europe (sadly we aped the US-style mixed ability comprehensive mess of a system): in France, in Poland, everywhere, all teachers of all political opinions will support selective schools, traditional knowledge-based lessons in language, maths, national history and culture (NOT Mary bloody Seacole three times a year!). That is why those Polish plumbers are numerate and literate and know how to work: they go to selective schools aged 13, the grammars for the academic, the vocational schools (which also teach basic maths etc) for the non-academic. It is a system that works and that we used to have: we should have reformed our selective system and not scrapped it.
              I admire Gove – he has guts to take on the unions and the parents (who are to blame here, because they all want their wickle darlins to get 12 GCSE A stars – for a level that 30 years ago would have been studied at grammar schools at age 13/14). How to put the toothpaste back in the tube? How to have grade deflation and a return to rigour?
              I fully expect Gove to be lynched by outraged mummies and daddies one day, and then we can get back to showering thickos with A grades and letting China (with its rigorous education system) take over and enslave the world…

  • mountolive

    So Twigg gains insight in a jar of clear liquid? Says it all, really.

  • BigAl

    ” lead to a 2 tier system” The usual response from Labour – a soundbite rather than a policy. We will sleep walk into another Labour government unless these meaningless comments are challenged properly by the media, particularly the BBC (joke).

    If we want to bring tiers into it, there must be about 10 and not the simple 2 that Twiggy refers to!

  • andagain

    “Pupils will only start preparing for the exams from September of that year, which means the first act of any Labour-lead administration could be t scrap them.”

    Then they will have to replace them with something else.

    It would seem simpler just to progressively gut the new exam, just like GCSE’s.

  • Eric

    Perhaps the delay is also to allow time of the Teachers to sit the ‘O’ level exams in 2014, in English, Maths and their subjects, so that they can prove their abilities to their employers (that’s you and me).

    • Amergin Selby

      Rather silly comment, really. Can do better.

  • Eric

    Oh, I see. So Clegg is reserving a negotiating concession for a lib-Lab coalition in 2015.

  • Triquet

    The whole teaching methodology has to be changed over several years. It’s not unreasonable. It takes “young persons” (to use the hilarious PC term) and teachers a while to get used to the idea that assessment will be by examination and not by multiple choice modular tick box wotsits that can be resubmitted until you get a cigar..

    • Amergin Selby

      Another silly comment by some one who never had to do it.

  • james102

    Rigorous examinations will show the fallacy of proportionate outcomes.
    You are missing the point about equal outcomes.
    Unless scores are seen to be equal across groups then it is taken as evidence of discrimination.Direct,indirect or institutional.

  • Eric

    Does it really take so long (3 years) to re-introduce ‘O’ levels to be sat 2 years later. Where is the urgency to turn this country around? How grindlingly slow can our administrators be?

    • IsabelHardman

      In this case, the delay was one of the conditions demanded by Clegg rather than anything to do with the speed at which Whitehall gets around to implementing reforms.

      • Nicholas

        Then the media should be demanding to know why this was a condition. Clegg should be asked directly to explain why he wants to delay improvements to our examination system. To what purpose (we can all speculate)?

        • james102

          Because these proposals will undermine the whole basis of social policy that the left has introduced. As I wrote earlier these proposals clash with the equalities agenda which is based on a fallacy. You also have the feminisation of teaching which has favoured course work rather than examinations.
          Clegg is simply kicking this into the long grass as it can’t be sold to his party members.

          • Amergin Selby

            I accept exams as a measuring device, I used to like to take exams, it always felt like unwrapping a Christmas present when the adjudicator said, ‘turn over your papers. You may begin.’ It was exciting.
            Having said that I also recognise that there is a case for modules and continued assessment for getting a fuller picture of a child’s progress.
            The problem is finding a way to amalgamate such and eliminate ‘cut and paste’ and ‘parental input’

            • james102

              I would not disagree but don’t think teachers can be trusted
              not to find a way of inflating course work marks.

              It is the equalities agenda that these proposals will collide
              with. Once the results start to disfavour one of the protected groups there
              will be all sorts of investigations. Current orthodoxy does not allow for
              ability ranges to be other than equal across all groups regardless of how
              contrary to common sense this is.

            • Nicholas

              That’s ok when teachers are concerned with education rather than left-wing brainwashing on behalf of the political party and/or union they are activists for.

        • Amergin Selby

          ‘ we can all speculate’ – and do.

          • Publius

            Then while you speculate, Amergin Selby, I would prefer to return to a tried-and-tested system that both worked and conformed with common sense.

            But of course this is already happening by those who have the choice. They are abandoning the discredited system and choosing something better.

            Only those who are forced to accept the domination of the producer interest are left with the cruel leftist joke of GCSE.

            Do they still read Animal Farm in schools? I imagine it would be rather embarrassing.

    • Eddie

      It would take longer if Stephen Twigg were in charge: he’s the one who was arrested for being drunk and disorderly – AND abusive to police officers – in North London a couple of years ago.
      Ain’t Amnesia a wunnerful ting?…
      Hypocrisy ain’t too bad neither, an no mistake! Any teacher in the same position would have been suspended, probably sacked.
      Mind you, the British education system only sort of makes sense when one is pissed as the proverbial fart, so perhaps we could turn it into a GCSE subject? Add ‘Drinking Studies’ to the non-subject curriculum? Projective vomiting, Kebab racing, relay mugging and a slag derby could be added to Sports Day (though I believe in many parts of our diverse and vibrant cities, they already are!)

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