Chris McGovern: Gove plays into the hands of the Left by sustaining the GCSE monopoly

‘Freedom’ is, generally, seen as a rather important foundation stone in our liberal democracy. It underpins most other values that we hold precious. How disturbing, then, that in the wonderful world of education, ‘freedom’ is very much off the agenda. All schools, for example, including those in the private sector, have virtually no choice over which public examinations pupils are entered for at age 16.

The discredited GCSE exercises a monopoly. Some schools, including many in the independent sector, have tried to by-pass it by choosing the slightly more rigorous International version – the IGCSE. This loophole has now been closed. The Government has just announced that from 2017 the IGCSE will no longer count in the school league tables. It will join the index of forbidden exams, alongside the ‘gold-standard’ GCE O-Level.

Education Secretary, Michael Gove, seems to think that the newer and tougher GCSEs he is bringing in, with an ultra high grade, will regenerate our degenerate examination system. Rather than allowing different examinations to be in competition, such as GCSE and O-Level, and letting the best emerge, he has decided to strengthen further the GCSE monopoly.

This means he is just strengthening the collective hand of the educational establishment that has hijacked the exam system and that largely opposes his ideas of rigour. At the margins we may see some change, but behind the ‘window dressing’ the edifice of the failed examination is likely to remain.

This lack of freedom in the examination system is matched by a lack of freedom in most other areas of our education system. The educational ‘Death Eaters” from Ofsted aka Azkaban (“Harry Potter”) effectively enforce a single ‘best practice’ that explains why our schools are where they are today.

Yesterday, I spoke at a conference on Higher Education alongside the ‘Fair Access’ Tsar, Professor Les Ebdon. What struck me is that, actually, ‘Fair Access’ means unfair access based on what is described as ‘positive discrimination’ to cover up the failure of many state schools.

Within this gloom there is one small sign of hope. Academies and free schools open up the possibility, however small, of some beneficial change. I am not an uncritical supporter of these establishments. In particular, I am concerned about the amount of bureaucracy that has been foisted on them and the high cost of dealing with it. Of concern, too, is the unwillingness of many of these schools to take full advantage of the freedoms they have over setting their own curriculum.

Too many are simply ‘playing safe’ with regard to Ofsted and following the National Curriculum. Nevertheless, this new model for state school opens up, at least, the possibility of some change.

For Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary, and ex-public-school boy from north-west London, free schools are nothing more than a “vanity project for yummy mummies in West London.” No! How ignorant!

Does he know anything about free schools? The only difference between free schools and academies, which were first introduced by his Labour Party, is that free schools are set up from scratch rather than being converted from existing schools. And are they all in affluent west London? Far from it! Burnley, Sheffield, Hull, Birmingham, Doncaster, Bradford, Thurrock, Blackburn, Tower Hamlets and so on!

Many in both the political and in the educational establishment seem to object to the notion of ‘freedom’ when it comes to schools and to schooling. They preach freedom but practice authoritarianism. This is gross hypocrisy.

Dante reserved a special place for such people in his eight circles of Hell. They are forced to walk around the circumference of Hell wearing golden robes that are lined with heavy lead, the symbol of their hypocrisy. One day, that eighth circle is going to be so full of educationalists and politicians that it will be a very crowded place.

Chris McGovern
  • Chalcedon

    Why not reintroduce O levels for the bright and CSE for the not so bright? Or is that too judgemental in separating the sheep from the goats at 16?

    • Jen The Blue

      Absolutely. But most of the Conservative party has been so infected with this left wing disease…”the every one’s a winner” sickness……that it will never happen.

      As an maths teacher I can say that the current GCSE in maths is practically a mathematics free zone compared to the O level. The modern A level is also mortally reduced because of the GCSE lack of content.

  • channel.fog

    When a Conservative says ‘freedom’ they only mean the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor, nothing else.

    • Jen The Blue

      You have completely lost me there. If you are saying that Gove has made an error and all schools should be free to use the O level, then yes, I agree.

      If on the other hand it is some just some leftist nonsense that doubts the bona fides of the right then you are of course, writing utter twaddle.

    • SonofBoudica

      Like millionaires Miliband and Clegg you mean?

  • Alison

    Chris, could you just clarify? Private schools still have the freedom to do the IGCSE, O level or anything else they choose, but they just won’t count on the league tables, right? If so, does that really matter? Parents choosing private schools don’t just look at league tables, do they? If GCSEs are recognised as inferior, then offering only superior qualifications would set a school apart, wouldn’t it?

    • SonofBoudica

      I agree, but it seems to be a move politically motivated by the DofE to disadvantage those who opt out of GCSE as parents would want to know why it’s league table result has slipped and some may not be satisfied.

  • timbazo

    It was the competition between different examination boards that made GCSEs easier. The boards had an incentive to offer easy exams: the easier their exams, the more schools used that board and the more money that board made. Competition between different exams (as opposed to different versions of the same exam) would, I suspect, lead to something similar. Boards offering different exams would spend a lot on PR highlighting the value of their qualification in the media, while at the same time telling schools how to game their exam.

    • SonofBoudica

      I think that wise employers, when looking at educational history, would quickly understand which exam results gave a better indication of educational attainment.

      • jameslc

        That is not what happens, which is why many schools will pick the easiest boards.

  • jameslc

    The effect of competition and market forces in education is that bad exams drive out good.

    • SonofBoudica

      Interesting. How?

      • jameslc

        As others have said, the way that exam boards compete for customers is by making their exams a little easier than the competition.Schools, which are driven by their league table positions, tend to choose the easier boards.

  • SonofBoudica

    “Professor” Les Ebdon’s rise is real proof of mediocrity being introduced across the education sector, including Higher Education where Micky Mouse Universities award Mickey Mouse degrees.

  • PC

    I do not understand this. Who seriously thinks that the IGCSE is really more demanding than GCSE? People think it is because it has many of the characteristics of the old O level, but isn’t it likely that many schools (especially independents) have embraced it because it enhances their position in the league tables. I cannot think of any school that would, in the current climate, adopt an examination because it was harder!
    Oh, and that goes for the IB as well.

  • derekemery

    All educationalists are left wing. You have to be to get the job just like at the BBC. They want to be able to tinker will exams so they can get the results they want. The problem with gold standard GCEs that very few would be able to pass because the standard was so high. Some GSE O level questions are now A level questions such is the dumbing down.
    I suspect that the percentage who could hope to pass the IGCSE will be too low from many schools and it would highlight them as low performers. That’s not what education is about. It’s about looking as good as possible.