Exam Reform in the Spotlight

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Submitted by Martin Dore on Sat, 10/05/2014 – 11:37

At the start of the next school year, new specifications will be unveiled for reformed GCSE and A Level exams. These will bring with them high-level risks for the exam system in England driven by seriously questionable assumptions by Michael Gove and his allies. As the Education Select Committee is to hold an investigation into 15-19 exam reform, it is time to scrutinize the reforms.

The new SOSS pamphlet EXAM REFORM – UNRESOLVED ISSUES focuses on key issues for immediate consideration. The underlying philosophy needs more debate than it has received, appearing to be driven by an intention to turn the clock back to the 1950s. The immediate need is to decouple exam reform from the timetable currently driving the system towards first teaching in September 2015, for Mathematics and English GCSE. The majority of A Levels are also scheduled for September 2015 apart from A Level Mathematics and Languages.

The current priority is to subject the changes in the pipeline to proper scrutiny. It is remarkable that the proposals are not to be trialled, tested or piloted in any way. Given the problems thrown up by the 2001 A Level and 2012 GCSE reforms, piloting is the minimum required to restore public confidence in exams. The philosophy of returning to end of course exams with no resits purely on the basis of memory test timed exercises risks producing an alienated generation. The National Union of Students is among many opposed to the reforms.

The issues are particularly acute for Mathematics and Science. Contributions from Dr Sue Pope of Manchester University, who is chair of the general council of the Association of Mathematics Teachers, and Professor Margaret Brown, of Kings College London, highlight the problems for Mathematics. These have consequences for science which are yet to be fully assessed.

The pamphlet is available, price for one copy £2 (inc p&p), from VIEWPOINT PO Box 3599, Stafford ST16 9RD. Extra copies are £1.25 each for 2-5 (inc p&p), 6 and above £1 each (inc p&p). Cheques to be made payable to SOSS (Symposium on Sustainable Schools). Please enclose an email address if you wish to be informed of future initiatives.

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