Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gove europeanises GCSEs

His Grace likes Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, and is broadly in agreement with his proposed reforms to GCSEs for all the stated reasons (which His Grace will not repeat here, for he really can't be bothered).

But two aspects of yesterday's announcement are rather irksome. Firstly, to move away from historic English 'levels' ('O' or 'A') toward a Baccalaureate is to adopt a decidedly European, if not especially French term for the new English qualification. 'Baccalaureate' comes from baccalauréat or baccalauratus, and is the term used in many international schools to refer to the qualification which precedes higher education (ie A-level): it marks the successful end of secondary education. It is confusing to adopt the term for education which finishes at 16, and puzzling further that it may be divided into individual EBacc certificates, which separately will not constitute the English Baccalaureate, but will still be termed Baccalaureate certificates.


So are the Secretary of State for Education and the Deputy Prime Minister, at least on a point of grammar. For in their jointly-written justficatory article for yesterday's Evening Standard, they said:
And both of us agree there is much more to do. Structures developed in the past and attitudes that have grown out of introspective debates need to be challenged. Policy-makers have tended to waste time arguing about when we should select students for particular paths in life instead of giving every child the tools to choose for themself.
His Grace is rather shocked that such a howling offence against English grammar could have got past two Oxbridge graduates and their SpAds, not to mention the sub-editor at the Standard. And this, from the Department for Education, which is about to tighten the 'good grammar' requirements with the EBacc which certainly used to exist for O-levels but which became incrementally otiose for many GCSEs (not to mention the teachers).

But even this ignorance is not as bad as the confusion which reigns on the Labour benches. Stephen Twigg opposes reforms to the examinations system, even though something obviously needs doing to combat the grade inflation, declining rigour and stalled social mobility that characterised their time in government.

When Labour were in power, the percentage of GCSEs graded A*-C soared from 54 per cent to 69 per cent. But these results were not matched in international league tables, as 15-year-olds in England fell down the rankings from 7th to 25th in reading, 8th to 27th in maths, and 4th to 16th in science.

Despite all the evidence showing that GCSEs have become discredited, the Shadow Education Secretary said the Government should ‘shelve’ its proposals.

Michael Gove said of Stephen Twigg: "The Honourable Gentleman was faced with his own test today. He was faced with an opportunity to embrace reform that this side of the House has outlined and he flunked that test. There will be an opportunity for the Honourable Gentleman to re-sit this test. There will be an opportunity during the consultation that we have for him to rethink his blind opposition to this progress.

"I hope that we can count on him to reflect on the decision that he took today and decide that he will join this side of the House in delivering better, more rigorous and more inclusive qualifications."

Alas, this will never be forthcoming from Stephen Twigg, who must be one of the most ill-reasoned, ineffectual and inconsistent shadow education secretaries of modern times.


Blogger John M Ward said...

The Shadow Education bod just doesn't twigg it, does he?

18 September 2012 at 10:31  
Blogger The Way of Dodo the Dude said...

Poor souls! Do forgive them the slip. I mean, they might have been sexist, thereby commiting a greater liberal 'sin' against the great god equality.

18 September 2012 at 10:35  
Blogger outsider said...

Your Grace,
The British words are matriculate/ matriculation, which described the system before we had GCE, the system before GCSE.
Matriculation is in effect a broader Advanced Level.

In my view, however, the prime purpose of GCSE Ordinary level is not to select or grade for further education but to supply each child before they leave school (at 16 or later) with the knowledge they need to be a good and active citizen.
Equipping people to earn a living may be the single most important element but teaching people their own nation's history and culture, equipping them to be a responsible voter in local, national and EU elections, to be a juror, to have moral and ethical values, to have some understanding of the UK and EU legal and constitutional systems, and to travel in their own country and abroad should also be part of this test. Being able to express yourself clearly and make a presentation to colleagues has become more important.

Hence "O" levels should be like the driving test. It does not matter how long you take as long as you get there in the end.

18 September 2012 at 10:52  
Blogger Matt A said...

What is unclear to me is when these new exams will start. Will my son, who is 11 and just started secondary school, sit these new exams or the GCSEs?

18 September 2012 at 11:05  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

I would be happy just to have teachers reintroduce the use of the letter 't' in to the English language.

18 September 2012 at 11:44  
Blogger Little Black Sambo said...

"Themself"? Is that a word?

18 September 2012 at 12:00  
Blogger tory boys never grow up said...

Rather than picking on Gove and Clott's grammar, perhaps the more fundamental point is they really didn't explain what they are proposing and what the changes will mean to teachers and children in practice. Instead they just presented us with a meaningless collection of soundbites and appeals old Tory mantras.

There are things that are wrong with current education, but there are also others which are good and have improved in recent years. I thing I would trust teachers (and that would include the head teachers at my children's school who have a wide range of personal political views) to discriminate between the two rather than some rather desperate politicians.

18 September 2012 at 12:35  
Blogger tory boys never grow up said...

Matt A

You child like one of mine will be among the first to take the proposed new exams. Wouldn't it have been nice to have seen what would be on the new syllabuses and what had been removed, how teaching methods are intended to change and other specifics rather than Gove and Clott going back to school?

18 September 2012 at 12:39  
Blogger Gareth said...

Given the widespread proliferation of the third person plural as an 'inclusive' option in modern English usage, it seems a bit pedantic to complain that it is an offense against English grammar.

A much more elegant way of constructing the sentence would have been: "giving all children the tools to choose for themselves."

18 September 2012 at 12:48  
Blogger David B said...


'Himself or herself', or for that matter 'herself or himself', would be rather clumsy as well as, whichever order were used, giving potential anti-sexist zealots grist for their mills.

Gareth's option seems better, but perhaps 'themself' will become the new orthodoxy in time.

As an aside, I am sorry to report that my wisdom will be denied to this blog for a while after tomorrow, though I hope for only 5 or 6 days.

I shall be confined to hospital, and enquiries reveal that there will be no WiFi facility.

I'm further distressed to find that Health and Safety dictate that I won't be able to charge my phone or my new tablet, bought expressly in anticipation of hospital, and stocked with books, music, a couple of talking books and a few hundred of my photos.

I shall have to rely on friends to take them home to charge.

Chargers are apparently thought to be potentially dangerous to health, though I rather take the view that it is an unintended consequence of some ill thought out safety legislation.

At least after my operation I shall be well placed to discuss the respective merits of the colon and the semi-colon, since I am due to lose about half of mine.

David B

18 September 2012 at 13:29  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

David B:

I hope that the doctors will be skilled and your recovery will be swift and without complication.

18 September 2012 at 14:13  
Blogger Enemyof the State said...

Twigg is famous for being a homosexual. Other than that one is hard pressed to cite any contribution he has made to the body politic.

18 September 2012 at 14:20  
Blogger John Chater said...

David, there is no health and safety law preventing you from recharging your phone, etc, in hospital. I'd say bring them in and plug them in and, if challenged, ask to see the actual policy, which in all probability will not exist. If anyone quibbles, mention 'patient choice' – nowadays this usually has them running for the sluice room. More importantly, though, best of luck with your operation and recovery.

Enemy… can you be famous for being a homosexual? More to it than that I would hope.

18 September 2012 at 14:53  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

18 September 2012 at 15:24  
Blogger David B said...

Thank you Belfast

John Chater, from what I gather from my conversation with the staff nurse this morning there is no problem with using mobile phones or tablets, but the chargers are subject to PAT testing.

I've had a quick google, and it seems that they are indeed so subject.

Further googling revealed that a company called Hospedia had lobbied against the use of mobiles in hospitals.


I shall look further


18 September 2012 at 16:03  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Good grief ! Those international ratings are shocking, what !

Damn socialism insisting we are all the same, when quite clearly that’s not the case, nor will it ever be.

The schoolboy is the laziest individual you will come across. One recalls the blood draining from this mans young face when the school masters reminded us that O level exams were mere weeks away. You got down to a bit of work then, because if you didn’t you ended up with NOTHING !

Now that every idler is assured of a piece of paper almost by just turning up, nobody studies anymore. And said piece of paper is, as a result, so worthless, you’ll never be asked to present it to any employer.

18 September 2012 at 18:16  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

David B. One’s best wishes to you in your forthcoming adventure. Let’s hope Hospedia doesn’t make a small fortune out of your stay. A salutary warning to all as to how private enterprise ghouls view the sick as a captive money making opportunity. Worse than the blasted solicitors who ring you up offering to sue anything and anyone who caused you a bad day (Hmmm. Must do something about them upon coming to power..). And God help us all if the NHS is ever dismantled…

18 September 2012 at 18:17  
Blogger Berserker said...

If Henry the Eighth had written the Evening Standard article he would have used - themself.

The dreadful - themselfs could well have been used by Good Queen Bess.

What gets me today is the death of the adverb with ly endings. Not just hoi polloi but their betters who should know better are equally as bad. If I was a child writing an English paper today I would be wary of using the correct adverbial form because the teachers and examiners might mark you down.

18 September 2012 at 21:30  
Blogger non mouse said...

Your Grace, this makes me feel very ill indeed: and very, very, glad that it will affect no youngsters of mine.

But before it affects anyone, it's time someone rid us of these troublesome europuppets.
But fast.

We need to tell them that the game is over. We have no more grist for their mill.

18 September 2012 at 22:33  
Blogger DerekS said...

And the paragraph in question began with a conjunction. But then so did one of HG's sentences.

18 September 2012 at 22:36  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

כל טוב ... be well, David B, and may you have a quick and full recovery.

19 September 2012 at 04:11  
Blogger David B said...

Thanks for the good wishes.

David B

19 September 2012 at 23:58  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Hark! Our David B (a.k.a. David;) stirreth, השם‎ בעזרת...with Almighty's helpful nudge.

No malingering or dawdling about now, David. Execute a dawn raid on a power plug down the hall, charge your weapons to capacity and back to the fray. With your semi-colon and your consumables capacity halved, you are the future, the prototype of the New Man, the poster child for the reduced, sustainable lifestyle. And your friends and loved ones will love and bless you all the more as they help themselves to the unfinished pints and the bangers-and-beans you'll be leaving on your plate.

20 September 2012 at 13:24  
Blogger David Lindsay said...

Michael Gove, Lightfingered Laws, and Dirty Betty.

Tells you all that you need to know about this Government's interest in state education.

Not so much a Department, more a dustbin.

20 September 2012 at 22:35  

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