Government education secretary of state Michael Gove’s controversial GCSE revamp has been met with concern from some head teachers on Merseyside, with one claiming that confidence in the exam system is at an “all-time low”.
John Clark, headmaster of the independent Birkenhead School, says that the timing of Mr Gove’s announcement could not have been worse, in the wake of GCSE grade boundary shifts leaving some students with marks not reflecting their performances.
Mr Clark told JMU Journalism: “It’s disgraceful that bright, hard-working kids should be exposed to the randomness of the exam system in this way.
“I think that lots of heads are worried not so much about the changes but the fact that they haven’t sorted out the exam system before introducing the changes. We have a flawed exam system and the flaws are systemic, and until they sort out those systemic flaws, they’re going to be building their new house on sand.”
Mr Clark claimed that the marking system meant that in one GCSE science module, some year 10 students actually got higher raw marks on an intentionally harder paper than the previous one, yet were awarded lower grades.
He also questioned Conservative MP Mr Gove’s decision to examine students solely by a single exam at the end of the GCSE years.
“They’re supposed to be better for the high achievers and more inclusive for the lower achievers, but I don’t know how that would be possible with just one exam,” said Mr Clark.
“I think everyone’s a bit exam-change weary. It would be nice if we had an exam that worked rather than constantly changing the system.”
Concerns over the inclusivity of the new system were echoed by Liverpool Community College principal, Elaine Bowker.
Ms Bowker told JMU Journalism: “My biggest worry about the changes is that they won’t promote parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications.
“In fact, if you look at the Liverpool city region, the jobs that are going to be created with the growth of the port and Liverpool Waters are Level Three or Four technical jobs. Vocational and technical qualifications are going to be very important. My worry is that this may not value both routes to employment and higher education.”
She added: “I think it’s important that the students have good advice and guidance on the full range of qualifications that are available to them.”
Ms Bowker believes that the single exam system may divide opinion amongst students, saying: “It’s a different way of learning. Some students prefer a modular approach but some do actually like a final examination. I think if I were to ask the students then probably more of them would prefer modular.”
The Liverpool Community College principal also said that despite the government losing confidence in the GCSE examinations, students taking the qualifications in the five-year term before the new system is implemented should not be discredited.
Ms Bowker said: “They will have worked really hard and they’re very credible qualifications and they’re worthy. The students deserve the credit for the effort they’re putting in.”