With two weeks left before the EBC consultation ends, John Tomsett calls on the teaching profession to support a new movement with its own vision for education policy – the Headteachers’ Roundtable. This is from the Guardian…
If the health minister of any political colour announced a backward-looking reform to appendix operations which would be hugely invasive and leave patients in hospital for a fortnight – such as I experienced in 1977 – the medical profession would respond with derision. The current proposals to reform the qualification system in England are similarly regressive, and, finally, opposition to them is growing.
On 17 September 2012 I woke to hear the news that Michael Gove was introducing the English Baccalaureate Certificate as an overarching qualification to replace the discredited GCSEs. The announcement had a profound effect on our household, both professionally and personally. As a secondary headteacher the professional implications were obvious. As a father of two sons, one year 11 and one year 7, the personal impact became clear as the details of Gove’s plans emerged.
It was immediately obvious that the GCSE qualifications my year 11 son Joe had spent 11 years working towards were rubbished by the news. By the time I was dressed for work I had worked out that my year 7 son Oliver would be in the first cohort of students beginning the EBC qualifications in 2015.
The headline feature of the new EBCs was the replacement of all forms of current assessment with end of course three-hour examinations. I gained decent grades at O level mainly because of my memory skills. In history I learnt our teacher’s board work by rote and, after a three hour examination, gained a grade B. I learnt nothing more than factual recall. And it is this type of teaching and assessment the current secretary of state for education believes will prepare our children for the future; he couldn’t be more misguided.
Don’t get me wrong; learning knowledge is crucial, but it is not all that matters. History GCSE in 2012 demands a range of skills which need to be artfully synthesised to attain a decent grade. Students have to interpret evidence, make connections between different sources, recall knowledge, make judgements and articulate reasoned conclusions. Today’s GCSE history is a far better preparation for modern life.
The idea of my son Oliver’s future depending upon how well he survives a series of three-hour examinations is repellent. He is a bright but complex character. A range of assessment strategies will help ensure that his talents are recognised. Synoptic, one chance only, three-hour examinations when he reaches 16 will crush his vulnerable spirit. Such assessments will be terminal in many ways.
On a personal level, then, it was very easy to decide to oppose the EBC plans; professional resistance was slightly more complex. For some time after the EBC announcement there was an explicable lack of opposition to the EBC, for two reasons. Firstly, the profession is fighting on so many fronts, including the hugely important English GCSE fiasco, that the EBC is down the list of issues currently troubling headteachers; secondly, the climate of fear in schools has, to some extent, paralysed us.
Yet when all seemed hopeless, Twitter brought together a group of headteachers to mount an opposition movement to the EBC. Six weeks ago a group of us met in the Guardian offices to form the Headteachers’ Roundtable, a non-party political group that wants to influence national education policy so that education policy centres upon what is best for the learning of all children. Within hours of establishing a website –– and the @headsroundtable Twitter identity – we had more than a thousand followers and education ministers from across the political spectrum had moved to meet with us.
The Twitter heads’ six point plan to reform education was widely praised by professionals and parents alike. Over the weeks our support has grown; we now have nearly 5,000 Twitter followers, have met with politicians of all sides, and have published our own consultation on education reform in parallel with the DfE’s EBC consultation. Our document is available on the Headteachers’ Roundtable website, and all stakeholders are invited to respond by 10 December…