Wednesday, 12 June 2013

D grade for Gove's reforms.

I must admit that I am not an educator so I cannot comment on the full impacts of the proposed reforms but
I do have a few criticisms from my own experience in Education.

The removal of coursework from the examination process is, in my view, a fundamental error for several reasons. The most important is the loss of transferable skills that are needed by individuals in the workplace. Course work and project work is an important skill with sub skills in time management, research skills, editing and even presenting your findings via PowerPoint or written report to your peers. I understand a certain amount of reticence in keeping it as with today's Internet capability there are infinite ways to cheat and plagiarise works than when I was at school, but as I was told all those years ago;

Who are you really cheating?

A further good use is in preparation for University where your Final Year Project is the most important piece of coursework you will ever undertake and, as was the case for me, it can dictate your final grade and maybe the difference between a 2:2 and a 2:1.

Exams are all well and good but they are swayed in the favour of those who can take the pressure, those who may not understand their subjects but are able to regurgitate facts on cue due to good memory and those who are lucky.

Some people cannot cope with exams and are better at project work and taking their time, meticulously preparing their projects or constructing their argument, reading around a subject and truly understanding it or at least, in the case of History, gaining an interpretation of events and backing up their argument. All of these are fantastic transferable skills and those that can demonstrate them but struggle with exams will be penalised where as before they also had their Coursework grade to fall back on if their exams were not up to scratch.

There is always a certain amount of luck with exams too. Sometimes your question comes up and you can score quite well, other times you get something that you either didn't grasp or revise for or you just make a pig's ear of your answer. Take my A'levels for example.

My History A'level was 100% exams and I was predicted a B because I had aced all the practise essays and exam style timed essays and knew a lot of the subject (Russia 1900-1955 and British political history 1900-1990) fairly well. However, fused with a certain amount of arrogance I walked into a paper on British history and fudged it royally. I spent an hour of the ninety minute exam babbling on about German threats to British Imperialism without mentioning India, Ireland, Japan etc... I didn't even address the second essay properly and my grade suffered accordingly. I walked away with a D. So even though I had all of the correct skills and a good ability to do the course, one day dictated my future and it is still a great matter of shame to me to this day.

Can a fortnight of exams be the sole dictation of a child's future?

Now we come to content. I understand wanting to have students read Shakespeare and Dickens. I read Macbeth for my GCSEs and we analysed it to death, I enjoyed the play and knew it inside and out but I was lucky and had a fantastic English teacher. As for Dickens... I am not a great fan of nineteenth century literature, or at least not until my adult years where I have developed a taste for 18th Century Goethe, Schiller and assorted others. Although Dickens and Shakespeare are considered "classic" many people would question their relevance in today's society and for children. There are plenty of excellent twentieth century novels that are worth reading like The wasp factory, Lord of the flies, Animal farm, 1984 or A brave new world - all of them with shockingly relevant socio-political impacts that are relevant today. The same is true with the poetry of Byron and Shelley - What of Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon?

The same is true for the history curriculum that is proposed. It is frightening, as a historian and student of history, that the general public do not know basic facts like when the two World Wars were or how many wives Henry VIII had but how relevant is it?

I like the idea of teaching history as an overall arc from 1066-1945 as nothing happens in a vacuum and you can see all of the influential people interacting and how an event in 1295 might ripple through the centuries to 1481 or beyond and it is fascinating. However History is not about the regurgitation of facts. The battle of Waterloo is not as relevant to British history as it once was nor wars like Jenkins ear. History has moved away in recent generations from Kings, Queens, Lords and Field Marshals to the masses at the bottom, looking at how they lived and how they struggled as it is more relevant to people especially with the advent of the family history. People are more engaged by this than the reign of Queen Anne or the secession question to William IV as it is just not relevant or engaging. I love history, I buy and read a voracious amount of history on many eclectic subjects, I even still write it at an amateur level here but I have serious concerns about this knew move to focus back on History from above.

Ultimately I fear these reforms haven't been thought through and is a return to a level of schooling that Mr Gove may have had when he was at school but any student of history will tell you backwards is not always better - or at least they will at the moment until they get bored of the new curriculum and do Geography instead!


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