“Time to tackle the dumbing down” is the new slogan promoting the Tories’ latest attack on education. The introduction of the English Baccalaureate to replace GCSEs will drag education back to a two-tier system – dividing students by class and ‘intelligence’.
Gove claims a new system is needed because currently too many students are getting too high grades and achievement levels are increasing each year. He blames exam boards competing and giving schools too much information about what will be on exam papers and students not completing their own coursework.
If that’s true, why not nationalise the exam boards into one single board under the control of students and education workers – those best placed to measure educational achievement.
And if competition amongst exam boards has been such a disaster how is allowing competition amongst schools going to solve the problem?
The reality is that the Tories have a plan for education – and it doesn’t have students’ best interests at heart. The scrapping of EMA, the reform of teachers’ pensions and the introduction of private schools funded by the taxpayer (academies, free schools) all serve to increase the control of British bosses over our education.
They want to choose what we learn, how we learn, and indoctrinate us with the attitudes and values that suit them. They are making education for profit, not knowledge.
The Tories have already shown their contempt for young people, when they decided to fail tens of thousands of GCSE students this summer so they could look tough on ‘grade inflation’.
Rather than the current module-based exams with some being taken at the end of year 10 and some at the end of year 11, all exams would be taken at the end of the final year.
This prevents students from being able to take resits and also massively increases the pressure during exams season at the end of year 11. Not only will all the exams been taken at once but unlike in GCSES where in some subjects a percentage of the final grade is from coursework, particularly in more vocational subjects such as health and social care, the EBC will be 100% exams.
One key area the EBC will affect is those with dyslexia or other learning difficulties. The British Dyslexia Association said an emphasis on exams rather than coursework and the breaking of two-year studies into smaller units and the extra stress associated with once-and-for-all exams could disadvantage candidates with some learning difficulties. The changes would also damage their chances of going on to higher education.
With all this change going to happen you’d assume the English Baccalaureate would go through some serious piloting before being introduced into schools permanently, but oh no it is likely to go ahead initially in English, Maths and Science from 2015 without any conventional pre-trials. It seems that, Ofqual, the exams regulator, has quietly abandoned a promise to ensure that all major exam reforms are piloted in advance. A spokesman simply says: ”Due to concerns that pilots can stifle innovation and the length of time required for meaningful pilots to be undertaken, [the piloting principles] were not taken forward.”
It seems that young people’s education simply isn’t important enough to spend time getting right before they’re just thrown in at the deep end.
Schools for students – not for profit
Education is one of the last areas of the economy not run in the interest of private profit. Part of the bosses’ solution to the crisis is to open up new markets to invest in. This is why the Tories are desperately rushing through new laws which give businesses the right to run schools, hospitals and public services.
But the biggest barrier to education marketisation is the students and staff themselves – those who will be funnelled through a superficial, stripped-back education industry and those who are expected to work in it.
This explains the attempt to reform pensions and break the monopoly of state education. The new pensions will make workers work longer and receive less. The introduction of academies and free schools gives bosses the ‘right’ and incentive to profit from providing education.
Privatisation, new exams, higher fees; all have the aim of gradually eroding the ability of state schools to function outside of the market. Directly by buying schools, or indirectly by influencing government policy in smoky backrooms, employers will gain extensive powers to dictate the kind of education they want working people to have.
Reform of education is a permanent task of any society. But we think if ‘reform’ means ‘improvement’ then that can only come with greater investment. This investment should be under the control of education workers and communities – those who know best what their educational needs are.
We have to be clear that these reforms are not about providing real apprenticeships, giving young people secure futures, but transforming the school system into another tool to discipline the working class. The bosses’ vision for education is one which imposes flexibility, insecurity and division as facts of life, which future generations will learn from their first day in school.
We oppose the English Baccalaureate. Exams and education should be managed by teachers, education workers and students themselves.
We are fighting for free and equal access to education for all who want it.
The November 21 demonstration and Global Education Strike give students a great opportunity to re-kindle the flames of revolt.
Our education is not for sale!