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Heads voice strong criticism of Gove reforms

21 June 2013


THE head teachers of two high-performing Church of England secondary schools have strongly criticised reforms to the 16-plus GCSE examination announced last week by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove (above).

Under the new rules, due to come into force in 2016, pupils' GCSE grades in the core curriculum subjects would depend on their performance in three-hour-long exam-inations at the end of their course. Marks given for coursework would no longer be taken into account. The current grading system would also be extended, to allow for more discrimination between top grades.

Andrew Wilcock, chairman of the Association of Anglican Secondary School Heads (AASSH), which represents about 200 C of E comprehensives and academies, said that the new rules were unfair. "By having everything resting on a final exam, candidates who find these difficult are put at a disadvantage."

Mr Wilcock, who is head of Bishop Ramsey School, Ruislip, recognised by OFSTED as an outstanding teaching school, also challenged the view that more top grades had been awarded in recent years because exams were getting easier. "Standards of teaching have risen, and we should expect exam results to reflect this."

Nick Taunt, a former AASSH chairman and head of Bishop Luffa C of E Teaching School, Chichester - one of the most successful comprehensives in the country - was also critical of the proposals. "Educationally, there is little credible evidence that simple terminal exams will broaden what children are taught, or make their learning more inspiring."

Successive governments had hijacked the exams system to serve as a measure of school success, he said. "This twin role forces schools into making children take subjects that may not be suitable, but are good for league tables, and narrows what is taught into what can be tested. Mr Gove's proposals will do nothing to alleviate this problem, and are likely to exacerbate it."

The proposed changes, however, were welcomed by the Revd Richard Peers, the head of Trinity School, Lewisham, a voluntary aided comprehensive in south London. The majority of his 600 pupils are from Caribbean or African backgrounds, and almost 30 per cent of them qualify for the Government's pupil premium to help schools counter disadvantage.

But since a new "grammar-style" regime was put in place four years ago, the percentage of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs at Grades A-C with English and Maths had risen from 27 per cent to 69 per cent.

Mr Peers said this week: "The new exams will increase opportunities for extended writing, and enable children to show their possession of core knowledge. That is good for social cohesion. A single point of assessment at the end of the key stage will help children focus their learning."

The introduction of the new rules will create further problems for religious education, which is currently outside the core curriculum, and will continue to be examined under the current system. The Church of England's chief education officer, the Revd Jan Ainsworth, said: "Our concern is that the reforms will be an opportunity to look hard at RE, and devise a curriculum and examination that helps young people develop a high level of religious literacy."

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