Once again, the bespectacled reform-happy juggernaut that is Michael Gove has attracted near-universal criticism this past week. The secretary of state for education has not only been accused of running smear campaigns against political doubters via the Twitter account @toryeducation, but also undertook a spectacular U-turn on the proposed English Baccalaureate scheme.
The scheme had been intended to introduce more rigorous qualifications to replace the current “dumbed-down” system. The proposal was met with popular criticism on moral and political grounds and condemned by Labour, the Lib Dems, and exams regulator Ofqual. In a speech to the Commons on 7 February he admitted that his plan to replace the GCSE entirely was “a bridge too far”.
Instead, Gove now plans to refine the existing familiar GCSE system by “restoring rigour” to the examinations progress. Greater depth of understanding in the core subjects of English, maths and the sciences, and a reduction in the time spent on other subjects such as music, drama and physical education. Gove also plans to scrap the modular, two-tiered, semi-coursework based nature of existing qualifications, in favour of a system which advocates an entirely linear framework with singular examinations at the conclusion of each course.
While it is refreshing to see Gove becoming less pig-headed in his policy-making, his overarching goal is much less than radical than he would have us believe. Removing the modular aspect essentially removes more chances for students to achieve, especially those who are less academically gifted.
A poor performance in one exam leaves no contingency for pupils to recover their grade. This, coupled with Gove’s plans to reduce time spent on arts subjects, has led to concerns of a narrowing of the curriculum, further marginalisation of creative subjects and a lack of diversification in pupil aspirations. Ed Miliband criticised the plans as “squeezing creativity out of the curriculum”, with general Labour opinion noting the lack of vocational improvements and apprenticeship opportunities.
Gove has managed to lose all credibility. His claims that he was inspired by Jade Goody and her educational “failings” are in poor taste. Espousing Goody as some sort of working-class hero highlights how painfully out of touch he is with the plight of working class students.
The scrapping of the EBacc does mean a retention of the recognition of the GCSE brand, something which the International Baccalaureate has struggled with against the long standing A-level. Yet the proposed curriculum changes are Jurassic in their nature, and it is difficult to see how they will create universal, equal opportunity for all.