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Gove's GCSE reform u-turn and new National Curriculum

news | Published in TES magazine on 7 February, 2013

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Five vaguely quirky things about the proposed National Curriculum - 08 February 2013

There will be a lot of serious points to make about the curriculum changes once teachers have analysed it fully. But here are five things that are just quirky or curious:

1. It doesn’t mention Hitler anywhere. Of course, it doesn’t need to as he will inevitably be mentioned in history lessons on the Second World War. But conservatives kicked up a big fuss when Hitler and Churchill were not explicitly named in the 2007 curriculum, saying that schools were being forced to “dump” them from lessons. Michael Gove has been banging on about getting Churchill back into the curriculum – and has succeeded – but are we to assume that schools are still being blocked from mentioning Hitler? (No.)

2. It does mention Spencer Silver, the inventor of Post-it notes. He is one of the figures suggested for discussion in the Year 6 science curriculum. Actually, that is brilliant: the story of how his work to create a strong adhesive went wrong, but he then found a use for it on a little bits of yellow paper, could be a excellent lesson not just for science, but for teaching pupils about how apparent failures can lead to success.

3. Teenagers will be taught to Google properly. OK, it doesn’t mention Google specifically. But the key stage 3 computing curriculum specifies that pupils “understand simple Boolean logic (such as AND, OR and NOT)”, “use Boolean logic in search queries” and “appreciate how search engine results are selected and ranked”. Conspiracy theorists may point out that Gove has frequently mentioned Google’s approval of the new computing curriculum, but these are modern skills it is actually very sensible to include. It is surprising how many young people are just as bad as adults at using search engines effectively.

4. No Egyptians, Sumerians or Aztecs. The Greeks and the Romans are still in, but if you’re planning to teach about Egyptian pyramids, hieroglyphs and the yucky processes involved in mummification, you’re out of luck. The heavy weighting towards British history means you can also forget the birthplace of modern civilisation, Mesopotamia. The Assyrians and Aztecs have similarly gone missing since the 2007 curriculum. (The history curriculum for primary would also be livened up with a decent space for dinosaurs – imagine how that would appeal to the target demographic – but historians tend to moan that such prehistory really belongs to paleontology.)

5. We are informed of the meaning of “conscience”. The extensive appendices at the end of the curriculum include a word list for Years 5 and 6, with a conspicuous footnote on “conscience”. “Conscience is simply science with the prefix con– added,” it explains. Without an explanation of what “con” means in Latin, teachers and pupils may be left thinking that the whole notion of conscience is hoax science. And perhaps it is – although that seems a surprisingly philosophical notion for a Year 5 word list.

Michael Shaw

− Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

‘The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing people he didn’t exist.’

Our ever-brillaint behaviour guru Tom Bennett has been having a think about yesterday’s plethora of announcements on the National Curriculum and EBCs - and he’s decided the education secretary is doing a very good impression of the Keyser Soze, the shadowy mastermind from the Usual Suspects. Here’s an extract:

Michael Gove may or may not be the legendary character from Bryan Singer’s 1995 noir thriller (although it would make a magnificent triple-twist) but something similar happened yesterday and I’m still pinching myself to check I’m awake. Everyone thinks Gove has slipped on a banana skin, when in fact, he’s dancing on the top branch of the tree, smacking his undercarriage with abandon, hooting at his nemeses.

− Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Everything you need to know about the new National Curriculum. All in one place – 07 February 2013

The trawling is nearly complete. Michael Gove’s new national curriculum has been forensically read, analysed and chewed over.

TES subject specialists across the land – teachers all – have taken their metaphorical microscopes to the 200-page document. The first to report back was our primary specialist, closely followed by secondary maths, English and science. The others will follow tomorrow.

So we’ve pulled it all together for your delectation. Will this new curriculum really change your life at the chalkface? Take a look at these contributions – they may just help you decide.

We really want to know your thoughts too, so please comment under each article. You never know; a minister or two might be reading them.

Ed Dorrell

 

It’s the accountability measure that’s most revolutionary of all - 07 February 2013

If the idea was that today’s unveiling of new school accountability measures would help distract attention from the government’s embarrassing exams U-turn, then it has backfired badly.

Instead it is the accountability proposals that have been largely ignored. But these rather dry-sounding technical measures stand to make the biggest difference to what is actually taught in state schools.

Anyone who doubts the power of league tables need only look at what happened when the English Baccalaureate measure, focusing on academic GCSEs, was suddenly introduced a couple of years ago.

There was no requirement for schools to take any notice of the EBac as it was not used by the government to measure its official targets. Yet it triggered an instant wave of collective panic among secondaries, which at its extremes saw pupils pulled off GCSEs mid-course and a real narrowing of the curriculum.

Today’s proposals are the real deal and will mean new kinds of official “floor targets” alongside the biggest change to the “headline” measure since school league tables were first introduced in 1992.

Out will go the main benchmark of five A*-C GCSEs (including English and maths) in favour of a points score indicator based on pupils’ achievements in eight qualifications.Because points will be awarded for every grade, schools’ “excessive focus” on pupils on the C-D grade borderline should end.

Read more here.

William Stewart

− Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

What’s in a name: Are today’s EBC changes really a full volte-face? - 7 February 2013

There can be no hiding Michael Gove’s humiliation today. Just 24 hours after setting out his case against the “educational establishment”, the education secretary has been forced to bow to their demands and abandon his flagship policy to replace core GCSEs with English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs).

But look at what is being proposed instead and you begin to wonder whether the Conservative Party’s former golden boy could have spared himself some of his current embarrassment.

Revamped GCSEs will see a reduction in coursework, with the qualifications assessed by linear exams taken at the end of two years. “Bite-sized” modules will go, there will be harder questions and the new qualifications will be measured against international benchmarks.

Does that sound strangely familiar? Well it should, because the points above were to be the key features of EBCs. In fact, leave aside the dropping of exam board franchising plans (which we will come to later) and the majority of the EBC scheme appears to remain intact.

One can only speculate about the internal coalition machinations that may have led Mr Gove to drop the EBC name - the decision that gave maximum prominence and negative publicity to the changes he has had to make. But it is only a name…

Read more here.

William Stewart

 

Just what IS happening? An EBC bluffer’s guide - 7 February 2013

Luckily for you, the editorial team here has this morning created a EBC bluffer’s guide to Michael Gove’s avalanche of announcements and u-turns.

 

Wales’ Labour education minister basks in glory of Gove U-turn – 7 February 2013

It is safe to say that Wales’ Labour education minister Leighton Andrews is feeling a little smug today following the U-turn over GCSEs in England.

Last week the Welsh Government announced that it would not be following Westminster’s lead in scrapping GCSEs following a major review of qualifications last year.Not only would it keep GCSEs, it announced, but it would also introduce new GCSEs designed to improve literacy and numeracy.

Mr Andrews has frequently pitched what he argues is his considered evidence-based approach to policy, in direct contrast to what he paints as Michael Gove’s ideologically driven stance.

This morning he took to Twitter in triumphant mood, tweeting: “So, apparently Michael Gove is going to adopt some Welsh policies today.”This was a reference to the fact that Wales already uses the “value added” measure of performance in eight GCSEs per pupil in its secondary schools banding system that Mr Gove now plans to use in league tables in England.

But just to set the record straight, Mr Andrews also tweeted a picture of the Independent’s front-page headline on Mr Gove’s “humiliating U-turn”, saying: “I just want to make it clear that I am not gloating. In any way, shape or form. Honestly.”

Darren Evans

− Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Gove scraps plans for GCSE overhaul amid league table and National Curriculum shake-up - 6 February 2013

Education secretary Michael Gove has performed a dramatic U-turn on his plans to replace GCSEs with controversial English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBC), it has emerged.

The shock move has been welcomed by heads’ leaders and is being announced at the same time as changes to the national curriculum and accountability measures which will see the end of the five A*-C GCSE including English and maths GCSE benchmark.

Mr Gove has also abandoned his plans to introduce a franchising system that would have given single exam boards exclusive rights to offer each EBC subject in an attempt to end competition among them, allegedly ending “the race to the bottom”.

TES predicted the embarrassing reverse on the EBC and franchising policy last month. But it is still expected that exam boards will have to bid for a licence to run exams in each subject.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, said: “It is good news. It is pleasing that they have listened to the weight of opinion and evidence that has been put before them. It is also important to make sure that all the subjects that make a broad and balanced curriculum are adequately catered for. That is a positive step forward.”

GCSEs will stay but will be radically reformed from 2015, with the first exams to be sat in 2017.

Under the new plans:

*Exams will be linear and taken at the end of two years, with the end of bite-sized modules

*Extended writing questions will be introduced to subjects such as English and history, with more problem-solving in maths and science;

*All pupils will answer the same harder questions

*But the very brightest, on course for A grades, will be expected to take more challenging extension papers in maths and science

Mr Gove is also reported to be unveiling a new “knowledge-based” National Curriculum. It will include a focus on multiplication tables and mental arithmetic in maths; grammar, punctuation, spelling and pre-20th Century literature in English; and a clear chronology of British and world events in history.

In computing, references to how technology has changed lives will go, but children from five will be taught how to be safe online. There will be less emphasis on using simple software packages and more on practical experience of programming languages and understanding the fundamental principles of computer science. Primary pupils will be expected to design and write computer programmes.  

In science there will be more practical work and emphasis on maths. Evolution will be compulsory for primary pupils for the first time.  

William Stewart

− Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Whoosh! Is that Usain Bolt or the Olympic legacy vanishing into the distance? It’s hard to tell – 6 February 2013

Education secretary Michael Gove is used to being persona non grata among school staff these days, but when it comes to PE teachers and the schools sports community his name really is mud.

Today is the first day of Youth Sport Trust’s annual conference in Telford in the West Midlands, and Mr Gove’s name has been taken in vain more than once by disgruntled headteachers.

The Olympic legacy – ensuring that the excitement of last year’s Olympic Games is translated into active participation in sport in schools – is the main thrust of the conference. But Mr Gove’s decision in 2010 to scrap funding for school sport, just 18 months before London 2012, has caused many heads and PE teachers to feel this is one game they can never win.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments during the festivities – pointedly singling out the so-called underperformance of state school kids – also didn’t help the government’s popularity with this sporting crowd.

Indeed, few delegates here are holding out hope for anything more than a few crumbs from the ministerial table when an announcement is made imminently about funding for school sport.

While we wait to hear what this will amount to, the feel-good factor of the Games seems a distant memory, at least among heads. Here’s hoping the Olympic legacy doesn’t end before it even begins.

NB. At least the TES knows the value of state school sport - just look at this fabulous feature we ran last summer, interviewing the PE teachers who inspired Mo, Jess and Brad.

Richard Vaughan

− Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

Gove dismisses Ebac opposition as “like the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey” – 5th February 2013

As my colleague Joseph Lee has previously pointed out on the FE Focus news blog, Michael Gove is at his hardest to pin down when he’s using progressive language to attack his progressive enemies. It is this strategy that has left his Labour opponents floundering all too often during this parliament.

This evening he has delivered another speech that fits into this meme. Mr Gove has just explained to the Social Market Foundation – a right-leaning thinktank – that opposition to the English Baccalaureate (Ebac) accountability measure is tantamount to calling for a return to a Victorian class-based society.

The education secretary retrospectively introduced the Ebac – which measures how many pupils receive GCSEs in English, Maths, a humanity and two (or more) of the three sciences – in 2011. To say that many in the world of education, including those in the independent sector, were not happy was an understatement. And the Labour party reflected this in its opposition, too.

But here’s a snippet of how Mr Gove dismissed their arguments this evening:

The current leadership of the Labour party reacts to the idea that working-class students might study the subjects they studied with the same horror that the Earl of Grantham showed when a chauffeur wanted to marry his daughter.

Labour, under its current leadership, wants to be the Downton Abbey party when it comes to educational opportunity. They think working-class children should stick to the station in life they were born into: they should be happy to be recognised for being good with their hands and not presume to get above themselves.

And here is where shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg and his team come unstuck, because they never really seem to have a response to this critique. And it’s why Mr Gove wins so many of the battles for headlines in the mainstream media, too.

But it’s not as if this strategy is new – the education secretary was at it long before the election. Surely that’s long enough for Labour to have thought of a decent riposte.

Ed Dorrell

 

How to make CPD as sexy as Destiny’s Child – 4 January 2013

Beyoncé, The X Factor and jokes about bedroom antics are among the kind of topics you might expect to see trending on Twitter. A teacher development event, not so much.

But last Friday, a gathering of teachers in a conference room above the ExCel Exhibition Centre in London was one of the most tweeted-about topics in the UK.

The event was a TeachMeet, where teachers get together in their free time to give presentations on approaches they have found to work in the classroom.

These grass-roots events have been growing in popularity over the past five years, with teachers in different parts of the UK organising them over Twitter, then holding them in schools, pubs and even cabins on the London Eye.

The annual TeachMeet at the BETT education technology show, however, is usually the year’s biggest, and the 300 free tickets to the event were snapped up by teachers in a matter of minutes.

As at many TeachMeets, the atmosphere felt closer to a stand-up comedy club than the average Inset. In part, this was because everyone was there of their own free will, but also because there was plentiful alcohol and jovial heckling.

Teachers who had volunteered to speak were selected at random to give their short presentations by a digital fruit machine projected on to the main screens.

Many of their talks were, unsurprisingly, about the new technology they had used in classrooms. One exception was the presentation by Henry Stewart, a business and economics teacher at the Royal Masonic School in Rickmansworth, who made an impassioned case for the Post-It note, suggesting that teachers should get pupils to write out their knowledge of a topic on one of the sticky bits of paper at the start of a lesson and then again at the end.

Earlier on, host Ian Usher (by day an ICT coordinator for Buckinghamshire Council), bounded on with excitement to announce that the hashtag, #TMBett2013, had become one of the most talked about in Britain. “We’re trending behind #TakeThat and #WhatToSayAfterSex!” he said.

Of course, the kinds of teachers who go to TeachMeets are also those who are prone to tweet, and the room was awash with people on iPads, phones and laptops busily updating colleagues who could not attend. Teachers Mark Waldron and Stephen Lockyer even pitched a campaign to “Bring A Teacher to Twitter”, or #BATTT, to spread the benefits they believe they have gained from the social networking site.

Although TeachMeets began as a UK phenomenon, the approach is attracting increasing international attention. Among the speakers at the BETT TeachMeet was David Obst, who had travelled all the way from Germany to take part, having encountered many of the UK teachers on Twitter.

Meanwhile, all the money raised from a raffle at the event went to the parent-teacher association of Sandy Hook school in Connecticut, US, whose staff had been in online contact with organisers of the London TeachMeet – another sign of how the internet is bringing teachers together in unprecedented ways.

NB Artists were sponsored by TES to take “visual minutes” of the TeachMeet. Take a look here.

Michael Shaw

− Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

 

School architecture in the age of austerity is unlikely to win any design prizes – 4 February 2013

The contrast with the architectural glitz of the New Labour educational era could not be more stark. The first contracts have been signed to build a handful of the government’s “austerity schools” under the new school building programme, and it is safe to say they are unlikely to win any design awards.

The £100 million worth of contracts will lead to 15 schools being rebuilt or refurbished: nine in the North East and six in the Midlands.

The schools will be built under the £2.4 billion Priority School Building Programme, which replaced the vast £55 billion Building Schools for the Future scheme.

Over the past decade and more, schools have become prominent fixtures in the shortlists for building design awards.  Evelyn Grace Academy in South London, for example, won the Stirling Prize, architecture’s answer to the Man Booker Prize, in 2011.

But Michael Gove’s school building programme comes with new design guidance for school buildings. Gone are the so-called “palaces of learning”, in favour of “no-frills schools”.

It interesting to note that one of the most celebrated of these architectural “icons” was Sir Michael Wilshaw’s Mossbourne Academy, designed by international architect Lord Rogers. The chief inspector for schools was very clear about the importance design had played in the success of his school.

But as part of the coalition’s measures to cut the cost of an average secondary school building by 30 per cent, architectural flourishes such as curves are banned, as are glass walls and even folding internal partitions.

It will be interesting to see how construction firms McAlpine and Wates, who won the first new contracts, will meet the requirements to build schools on ever tighter budgets.

They shouldn’t expect too many award nominations, however. And that, it would seem, is just the way Mr Gove would want it.

Richard Vaughan

− Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think
 

Geek chiç at the BETT show – 1 February 2013

Criticising education technology is an unusual move to make on the main stage of an educational technology trade show. But the rules are different if you are the TV scientist Professor Brian Cox, who brought a certain stardust to the second day of the BETT show in London. Asked what educational technology he would like to most see in the classroom, Cox replied: “I would replace it and put the blackboards back.”

The comment was met with applause from the 1,000 teachers crammed into the arena in the centre of the vast Excel Centre. They were the lucky ones - hundreds more had tried to get in, but had their entry barred by G4S security staff, perhaps better used to gig-goers and sports fans than teachers on a day out of school. Cox had explained earlier that he used very little in the way of graphics and PowerPoint presentations when he taught university students.

As well as facing questions from the audience about teaching and science, there was an inevitable one referencing his time as a keyboardist with the band D:Ream: “Is it still mathematically provable that things can only get better?” one teacher asked.

“It’s mathematically provable that things can only get worse - it’s the second law of thermodynamics,” Cox replied.

This year’s BETT, held in the Excel Centre for the first time after two decades at Olympia, has already attracted more than 30,000 visitors to wander around its 700 or so stalls.
Other speakers included Ian Livingstone, the games creator who helped persuade the government it should make computer science part of the English Baccalaureate. He urged teachers to ensure the subject appealed to girls as well as boys - “Make it chic, not geek”. Professor Cox, of course, proves it is possible to be both.

TES will be streaming a live lesson by Professor Cox on February 6.

Michael Shaw

Gove needs teachers to prove him right – 31 January 2013

From the end of automatic pay rises to Ofsted calls for longer hours and reports that government is preparing to wage war on its unions, the teaching profession could be forgiven for sensing a certain lack of confidence in its collective capacity to deliver.

In fact, as the Commons Education Select Committee’s report on English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs), published today, makes clear, Michael Gove actually believes teachers are about to surpass all previous expectations and demonstrate a superhuman ability to improve results.

Most headlines this morning have focused on MPs’ scepticism about of the coherence of the exam reform. But the report also highlights the education secretary’s little-noticed faith in England’s classroom troops.

Widespread opposition to ministers’ original suggestion for a new two-tier exam means that the plan is that all pupils who would have taken GCSEs will be entered for their replacements.
But EBCs will be harder, with standards that the government says will be “beyond the minimum levels which are currently required to achieve a C grade at GCSE”.

Despite this toughening up, it expects even more pupils to pass EBCs than got through GCSEs. “It would still be something we believe all children with a good education should be able to achieve,” the government consultation says.

So tougher exams, more passes, but also an end to grade inflation. As one member of the select committee put it to Mr Gove: “How can anybody design an exam system or an exam that is simultaneously more difficult and has more children succeeding?”

“Because they are taught better,” was the education secretary’s reply.

He went on to cite better teacher recruitment and “weaker teachers” being “moved on”. Even so, it is a very tall order. In its report, the select committee warns that experts fear that trying to achieve it will lead to a “fudge” in standards.

But that kind of fudge is exactly what Mr Gove wants EBCs to rule out. Which leaves him wholly reliant on the ability of the much maligned teaching profession to prove that his plans can work.

William Stewart

Eton makes government squirm with pleasure and sponsors new state boarding school – 31 January 2013

David Cameron and Michael Gove will no doubt be delighted today by the announcement that Eton College is to sponsor a new state boarding school.

News that the Prime Minister’s alma mater will be the sole educational sponsor is just the publicity coup needed for the government’s campaign to export independent sector lifestyle choices to the masses.

Eton says that Holyport College near Maidenhead will be “modelled on an independent boarding school”, with a house system and homework on the premises for everyone, not just boarders. There will even be a “Christian ethos”.

It gives no word as to whether the school’s pupils – 20 per cent of whom “must be eligible for the pupil premium” – will have to don the famous £130 tailcoats worn at Eton. But the school is state-funded and boarding bursaries will be available, so expect parents to be queuing up for the planned 500 places by 2020.

Holyport will be the second free school in Eton’s crown – it already co-sponsors the London Academy of Excellence sixth-form college in Newham, East London, which provides local teenagers with a springboard to elite universities.

Eton is keen to show that this project is inclusive and a key aspect is the school’s aim to take on some of its predicted 225 boarders from local authority care or at risk lists.

Eton headmaster Tony Little previously expressed concerns about dropping vulnerable children directly into the rarified surroundings of Eton, but this state-funded satellite seems a middle way.

Campaign groups such as the Royal National Children’s Foundation have been calling for an increase in boarding for vulnerable children, so they will no doubt welcome the move.
The State Boarding Schools’ Association is also expected to get behind another addition to its fold, but it will no doubt continue to call on the government to develop a coherent national strategy for state boarding, rather than maintain its current piecemeal approach.

Melvyn Roffe, head of Wymondham College in Norfolk, complained recently that two-thirds of the country’s 38 state boarding schools had not received funding for building projects for at least two decades. Holyport College aims to be socially inclusive but with all the benefits of Eton’s educational expertise and the stamp of private school kudos.

However, one wonders to what extent Eton will influence the new school: will Holyport flourish on the back of Eton’s name by attracting the “right” sort of families, or because of the facilities, staff and leadership it offers? Or will it simply make Eton look a bit less exclusive by reaching out to the impoverished state sector?

We look forward to watching the project unfold. Let’s hope it is a case of not just “Floreat Etona” but Floreat Holyporta.
 
Irena Barker

− Don’t be afraid to tell the blog’s editor Ed Dorrell what you think

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