23 Jan 2013

A very ‘Govian’ proposal for A-level reform

Is “Govian” a word? Obviously it’s not but I think it ought to be.

For today’s A-level reforms, announced by the secretary of state for education are, well…very Govian.

Full of talk about “deeper understanding” of subjects and “advanced problem solving”, there were few surprises. So many of his reforms tend to be backward looking – a return to traditional values and virtues, as he might put it himself.

So, the man who wants primary school children to go back to reciting poetry by heart, now wants A-level students to be tested in one big, sweat-inducing set of exams at the end of two years of study.

We already knew that re-sits were going to be scrapped under his changes but today we learnt that the AS level would no longer be a “stepping stone test” with results forming part of the final assessment. It will now be a stand alone exam.

Just as Mr Gove’s reforms throughout education take a familiar pattern so too, do the criticisms that follow. Naturally teachers – who are engaged on a war with Mr Gove on so many fronts – have attacked the proposals. No great shock there.

More worryingly perhaps are the critics who emerged as the day went on.

Social mobility concerns

The University of Cambridge, not an educational institution lacking in rigour one would have thought, issued a statement strongly attacking the changes.

It said deleting AS exams at the end of year 12 would “jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access to the university.”

It went on to argue that these results were “especially useful in giving talented students from low participation backgrounds the confidence to apply to highly selective universities”.

Will it bother Mr Gove? There’s a strong argument that it should. He has made clear throughout his tenure as secretary of state how much he believes in the transformative power of education and the role it should play in social mobility.

But will it change his mind? Unlikely.

U-turns are just not very Govian.

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