Scrap Blair not exams

Scrap Blair not exams

Tony Blair has a cheek by saying A Levels and GCSEs should be scrapped.

He was responsible for eroding the standards in schools, so perhaps his latest foray into education policy is his plan to finish the job he began as Prime Minister?

He should pipe down.

The former PM wants exams replaced with assessments.

Oh dear.

Did he not witness the chaos that ensued when assessments replaced exams during the Covid pandemic?

Moderation is the biggest issue.

How would a government moderate every subject?

Each assessment would have to be compared with other assessments to ensure that it met rigorous standards across the country.

This is extremely time-consuming, expensive, and open to abuse.

Some years back – during the Major era – modular GCSEs were introduced.

It became possible under several exam boards to gain a GCSE English pass purely by doing coursework, without exams.

Ten pieces would be submitted during the two-year period in Years 10 and Year 11.

These were marked by the school and some form of moderation took place and grades were given.

This was problematic because well-versed parents could easily assist their son or daughter. Tutors – if parents could pay – were on hand to assist with this too.

It benefited the well off and the poor suffered.

Now we have the internet and there are plenty of companies out there who will literally write it for you.

A student can make a few changes and then hand it in – who would know?

We have already seen a massive grade inflation take place with teacher marking over the Covid period. Assessments would make things even worse.

We must return to the exam system that existed between 1966 and 1984 when only ten per cent of students received an A grade. Today it is well over 30 per cent.

The generosity of governments determines the grades children achieve.

This is an absurd situation and Tony Blair wants to extend it further.

Blair wrote: “GCSEs and A-levels do far too little to meet these needs [preparation for work] and employers are increasingly disgruntled by what they are seeing. A Department for Education survey showed that 44 per cent of employers thought school leavers in England going directly into jobs were poorly prepared for work.”

In my experience what exasperates employers most is school leavers not having a basic grasp of literacy and numeracy. This also frustrates universities which sometimes must put on courses to get school leavers up to the standard they should be at.

Nick Gibb, the former Minister for School Standards, agrees with me, writing: “[Blair’s] report dismisses memorisation, but try simplifying a fraction without knowing your multiplication tables by heart; try writing a report without having memorised the spelling of basic words; try understanding a newspaper without knowing the capital cities of the world.”

This basic knowledge should be central to the school syllabus – with GCSEs and A Levels there to test it. With the results easily comparable.

Blair wants more emphasis on ‘The four Cs’, which is problematic too.

These refer to critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving.

The last time I checked, every human being in the country thinks critically, is creative, communicates with others and problem-solves.

Human beings have been doing this since the beginning of time.

Scientific discovery and human innovation have never stopped and never will.

Interestingly enough, it was a classical education involving mathematics, philosophy, and languages such as Latin that seemed to inspire many of the great thinkers, such as Voltaire. And many great scientific pioneers had a classical education background.

They also learned to debate – termed rhetoric.

They didn’t study the four Cs but their classical education allowed them to ‘think outside the box’.

The responsibility of schools is to educate children in subject areas.

Of course, this involves encouraging children to think and explore – this is a natural human activity, but you do need knowledge too.

It is essential to have a solid foundation in numeracy and literacy – part of classical training.

Teachers should teach content – thinking will happen anyway but is of course encouraged and developed.

As Nick Gibb wrote about A Levels: “These subjects – maths, English, history and geography, the three sciences and a foreign language – form the basis of the curriculum in the most successful education systems around the world. It is simply wrong to believe that they are outdated: they provide the essential building blocks for future learning.”

He’s right.

Exploration and its progressive stablemates are not curriculum subjects – they are activities that should take place within an educational structure.

The problem with the progressive approach is that it makes the four Cs the structure itself.

This is the wrong way around.

For example, a more traditional approach teaches the four rules of number – adding, subtracting, multiplication and division – allowing children to deal with real-world examples.

A progressive approach would throw aside the traditional structure and begin with the four Cs; it starts with the world around us and the techniques of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing are brought in as a result of exploring this world.

The problem with this is that the child often ends up with no grasp of the fact that maths is a system and not an amorphous set of ideas bundled and up and explored randomly.

I liken it to a building site. The more traditional approach takes each element and constructs the building; foundation, building the walls, putting in the windows, attaching the roof and finally dealing with soft furnishings.

The more progressive approach tips out the whole thing onto the building site and starts picking through it trying to construct something with the children in tow.

After knowledge has been imparted, students need to be tested.

This is a natural activity for teachers. They do it all the time to check the child has grasped the technique or understood a process.

The knowledge must also then be tested by formal exams which examine the students more closely.

This system has been in place for thousands of years since the time of the Greeks.

Tony Blair and his cohort of progressives want to re-write history.

We should be focusing on making our examination systems more effective and not ripping them apart with fancy ideas that have already been shown to be defective.

The progressives want to characterise the more traditional approach as the ‘Gradgrind’ curriculum (after the famous Dickens character) but they’re wrong.

I believe in progress too, but we shouldn’t ’throw out the baby with the bathwater’ and that’s what progressives are trying to do.