Thank You, Michael Gove

Reforms, reforms everywhere, and nothing's getting better.
(Entry for the 'Movellas Gets Political' competition. 1000 words on-the-dot.)

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1. Thank You, Michael Gove

First things first - GCSEs are hard. Yes, nothing but the most groundbreaking of political statements from me, thank you very much. In all seriousness, though, GCSE examinations are tough. A lot of work goes into passing them, and it can affect young people's stress levels very negatively. Even as we speak, I'm having vivid flashbacks to me and my classmates in the library, hunched over textbooks and revision guides, a crazed look in our eyes as we tried to memorise every single solitary piece of information on the page, right down to the punctuation marks.

I'm now an A2 student, but I'm reliving the whole GCSE nightmare through my younger sister, who's currently in Year Eleven. And let me tell you this - I deeply feel for her year group and all the ones that will come after her. Education Secretary Michael Gove is changing things for them left, right and centre - sometimes mid-course - and I can't imagine they'll know what to do or think of their qualifications by the end of them.

When Gove first acquired power, he declared he would change GCSEs. He felt Britain was falling behind in the international stakes, and wanted to change that. He sought a return to the O-level exams of his youth, where success was based on one examination at the end of two years of study and no opportunity for resits, as opposed to the modular system in place when I did mine. This system invloved two examination periods - one at the end of Year Ten and one at the end of Year Eleven, with coursework ongoing throughout the year and the chance to resit a Year Ten exam if it hadn't gone well. This system wasn't perfect - I can remember a particularly ridiculous system in place for English and MFL controlled assessments that concerned sheets of paper with a few words on them - but it worked. The resits were a godsend for a number of my friends, and many of the less academically-inclined students had the opportunity to take subjects like ASDAN and Health and Social Care that placed more emphasis on coursework than exams. Not only that, but the spreading out of the exams across two years just seemed more sensible: it prevented students becoming completely swamped by 30 or so exams in Year Eleven. Now, however, that system is entirely gone - and the steps taken to achieve this has been some of the most cluttered, clumsy, unfocused decision-making I have ever seen.

Firstly, the plan was to bring O-levels back. That went nowhere. The next idea was to implement the English Baccalaureate, a qualification that makes the student study a Humanities subject (i.e. History or Geography) and a foreign language as compulsory subjects alongside the usual English, Maths and Science. That went nowhere. The current system is essentially O-levels again, with all exams at the end of Year Eleven (but retaining the coursework element). This isn't an ideal solution, as I've probably made clear, but it can be made to work. For instance, those students who struggle with English and Maths have the opportunity to sit exams in these in November, with the opportunity to resit if they need to. Well, that's OK, isn't it? At least some allowances are being made for the students who need the most help. That's all right.

No, hang on. That's not what happened at all. That's what looked like was going to happen, but then Gove - quite sporadically - decided that resits would not be included in school league tables. Because, as we all know, school league tables are all that matters. What do you mean, it's the students themselves that matter?! You clearly don't get it. No, the only option is to suddenly and with no warning take this lifeline away, only offering the November exams to the students who will get at least a C-grade pass in them. No arguments - it's the only way! What do you mean, teachers are striking? Why on Earth would they do that when this system is so perfect?

Joking aside, though, I'm really struggling to see this as anything but a betrayal of the youth of Britain. Surely the whole point of schooling is to help children learn as much as possible, in the way that suits them best? But no - this system will only work for the academically able students, therefore polarising the country into those that can play the system and those that will have to try their very best with a system that doesn't accomodate them. It's grossly unfair, and I'm almost certain that an entire generation will now come out of this ordeal with a healthy hatred of the education system, if not the government as a whole. This will no doubt lead to political apathy - something the government are already concerned about in young people. Well congratulations, ladies and gentlemen, you've just made it a whole lot worse for yourselves.

Things are not improving. They are getting worse. Not only are people going to burn themselves out under the stress of so many exams and such sporadic changes, I've even heard that Gove plans to make quote-unquote 'soft' subjects, like PE and Drama, something "less than GCSEs", further increasing bias towards academically able students. Oh, and by the way, some of the most intelligent people I ever knew - the kind who got A*s in Physics - studied PE and Drama to GCSE level. Calling them 'soft' subjects is quite hideously wrong.

The way I see it, there was a reason O-levels were scrapped in the first place. There was no evidence that GCSEs were failing, at least to my mind, and I just can't get over how skin-crawlingly wrong it feels that schools and countries are being pitted against one another like competing businesses. These are living, breathing people you're dealing with - put their welfare first. This system is outdated, outmoded and plain unfair.

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