Dear Mr Gove ….

As a parent and an educator I am bit thrown by your haste to overhaul the educational system of exams. As a parent of a child who has just started out on her GCSE exams I am keeping an eye out on some of the changes you are making. I am a bit more concerned for my youngest who starts high school next year as to what choices lay ahead for her.

You see for me I think you are a bit short sighted. In your haste to raise standards you seem to have run roughshod over those who are the executors of such systems such as head teachers and teachers alike, as well as raising anxiety levels for governors and parents. Not only that but I think there are some great flaws in your thinking. Allow me to expound on these if I may.

Comparison
You and your department have bleated on about other systems of education and their league tables. Notably Finland and Singapore stick out like a sore thumb. The thing is this. Finland pride themselves on an equal system. No uniform. No fee paying schools. No league tables. We are far from that here. Their whole thinking and culture around education is different. Teaching is not as highly valued, sought after or equally remunerated and seen as prestigious in the UK as it is in Finland. They have a lot less hangups around social mobility. Singapore the other country you are enamoured with has often been cited as churning out exam passers. Risk averse students who are in very much a two tier education system.

We honestly can’t waste our time comparing ourselves to other nations without looking at all the factors that make them successful whether cultural, social classing or educational options open to students. In the same manner we can’t just go and cherry pick from these systems and think that we can just apply that element of their system to us and think it is going to work. History teaches us that will never work.

Arts and Sport
Not all students want to go to university. As an educator who supports schools by providing programmes around learning and career planning it is so important to ensure that students get a wide breadth of options available to them, both academic and vocational. It is very interesting that you placed a lot of emphasis on getting more students into STEM subjects but seem to dismiss that art and design go hand in hand with the expansion and attraction of students to science, maths, engineering and technology subjects. One of the ways we encourage youngsters to embrace STEM is by highlighting role models such as Leanardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, who married tech and design to less known models such as game company legends Jude Ower, Mitu Khandaker and Amy Hennig. How can we continue to do so if art and design are pushed to the back of the agenda?

The same thing is around sport. We have just come off the back of supporting an amazing year of sport in the UK. We constantly hear of the sporting success through the collegiate systems of America and Australia. The beauty of such systems is that much of their sporting teams are built on a college system that supports both sport and academic prowess, but again we don’t place half as much emphasis on students being able to pursue sports through school as a viable career path.

I raise only two subjects but there are so much more that get pushed to the wayside in pursuit of this holy grail of the Ebacc.

Social Mobility
A lot of my colleagues in the education space believe, and rightly so, that educational achievement is one of the keys to social mobility. Whilst I am skeptical of this, recognising that across the board it takes more than education, it is indeed a great incentive for students who want a better working life. I wonder however if you realise the importance of this by again reinforcing the system of streaming. Each year through live workshops and online I encourage young people not to just be satisfied with a foundation level. Now on the one hand I have been frustrated by the amount of young people who have felt they have got a pass, when being awarded a D to G grade in their GCSE. This is nonsense as employers don’t see it as a pass. Indeed in a youth forum in Parliament a couple weeks ago a young lady expressed her concern that she couldn’t even get a job in McDonalds as she only had one C yet felt she had 8 passes!!

The thing is this though, by reducing the amount of students that can actually achieve the highest grade which students do you think are going to benefit most? Those in independent and top grammar schools or those in academies and other state schools? Do you see where I am going here?

Relevance
The biggest issue I find in talking to students, parents and teachers is the relevance of why students need to study. For me schooling is a combination of learning and thinking skills for young people to become citizens and in preparation for the world of work. Going back to this system of final year exam cramming will produce great league tables but once again, and am sure many employers will echo this, a raft of young people who have exam savvy (in the main) but have no wider skills or relevance as to why such an exam matters in the grand scheme of things. If anything the Department of Education has a duty to ensure that not just schools and parents but essentially students know what relevance their exams have in this grand scheme. Yes “rigour” is great and a superb method of getting students to think wider, but in a three hour exam???! Coursework allowed slower learners and those who are not just “exam performers” to grasp concepts along their journey. I applaud the removal of courses that don’t benefit the students who are pursuing further and or higher eudcation or which bear no relevance to future employability but I do worry that your passion to look outside (Finland and Singapore) or backwards (O Levels/CSEs) has actually hampered what could have been somewhat of a milestone in educational reform. Instead of looking within at the wider picture of what our education system is there for, I think that by focusing outside you have missed a trick. And a very big one too.

I applaud your bravery but bravery does not neccessarily mean it is right. I fear that you have perpetuated even more of a two tier society in your desire to jump up the OECD performance tables. If you are right then I will tip my hat to you but right about now I remain to be convinced.

Yours faithfully
David McQueen
Parent, Educator and Concerned Citizen

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