Headteachers in the region last night said Michael Gove’s exam reforms risked “demoralising” students and teachers alike by failing to recognise young people as individuals.

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The education leaders warned ignoring those youngsters not suited to a single, terminal exam, would mean some teenagers, no matter how able, would miss out.

Secretary of state Mr Gove yesterday confirmed details of the exams overhaul that was first suggested earlier in the summer as thousands of teenagers took their GCSE assessments.

The reforms, which aim to end years of “dumbing down” claims, will see all young people from 2015 working towards the English Baccalaureate certificate.

Courses in English, maths, science, humanities and a language, will be graded based on a single exam taken at the end of two years’ study – with the first taking place in 2017.

Fears of a two-tiered system, like that of the former O-levels and CSEs, were allayed by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg who is thought to have battled with the education secretary to ensure the new system would “raise the bar without shutting the door”.

And Mr Gove insisted the new arrangements would be accessible to all, with less able pupils able to take the assessments at the age of 17 or 18 if teachers could show they were not ready at 16.

But last night headteachers in the region disputed that and said the decision to revert to a single terminal exam would put high-level qualifications out of reach for many.

David Brunton, principal at City Academy Norwich, in Earlham, called the new system “demoralising” and said: “I think we’re in danger of creating second class citizens.

“We’re looking at one method of examining knowledge, skills and understanding when people – not just young people – have a much wider range of intelligences that just regurgitating information on paper once every few years.”

Penny Bignell, headteacher at Cromer Academy, added: “Taking the assessment all at once is very harsh and will have a huge impact on students’ success and their confidence.

“I think coursework is an essential part of exams. We don’t spend our lives sitting in halls taking exams. We do spend our time writing reports and doing projects. We need to look at the skills we need for our lives.”

Nicole McCartney, principal at one of the country’s most improved schools, Ormiston Venture Academy in Gorleston, said the “all or nothing approach” would be unfair to many students who worked incredibly hard throughout the year.

“I have students who are young carers, I have students who are being looked after by our child protection officer. What about if those students have a bad day?” she said. “Why are they trying to make things difficult for our young people?”

Old Buckenham High School headteacher Peter Whear said he could only see Mr Gove’s plans further disadvantaging less able pupils and insisted the more “rigorous” system demanded by so many could work hand in hand with more flexible assessment methods.

“Terminal exams will suit those who are able to rote learn large amounts and regurgitate from memory,” he said. “That’s a very valuable skill. But it doesn’t always go hand in hand with good types of learning. We’re seeking to encourage our youngsters to develop their skills and develop other skills that employers are very keen to see in people.”

But while giving his speech to the House of Commons yesterday, the education secretary urged his critics not to adopt a “fatalistic” view of the changes.

“Some will argue that more rigorous qualifications ... will inevitably lead to more students failing,” said Mr Gove, who admitted different arrangements would need to be made for courses like art or design and technology, which did not lend themselves to single exams.

“But we believe that fatalism is indicative of a dated mind-set; one that believes in a distribution of abilities so fixed that great teaching can do little to change them.”

Despite their concerns about the proposals put forward by Mr Gove – who yesterday launched a consultation – many Norfolk headteachers acknowledged that reform of some kind was needed to address shortcomings in the current system.

Ian Clayton, principal at Thorpe St Andrew High School, in Norwich, said he would welcome the end of a culture where re-taking exams had become the norm for many and a system where schools no longer felt the need to be “chasing league tables”.

While Melvyn Roffe, principal at Wymondham College, said taking time to bring in a new system would at least avoid the “retrospective changes” which took place during English GCSE assessments as exam boards sought to make the assessment more rigorous – without telling teachers.

Headteachers also welcomed news that a single exam board would be responsible for delivering a subject, making the system simpler and less expensive for schools. Mr Gove said the move would end the “corrupt... race to the bottom”.

Last night South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who sat beside Michael Gove in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon having recently been promoted to the front benches as an education minister, said: “This is a very positive development; we have launched a consultation today and I look forward to hearing a wide range of views.”

14 comments

  • sinlge exclusive exams have not worked in the past. I know lets make the same mistakes again and again. Gove is a Joke

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    Farquarson-Smythe

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • The teachers are only worried as it will show them up for what they really are. Useless !.

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    "V"

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • I can see the scenario at a post-eBacC job interview: Question: Tell me about the effect of global warming on the Amazon's flow rate. Answer: Er, could I look it up on GoogleBingFirefox? What is the Amazon anyway? Comment: I had lots of course work for my School Certificate (pre 'O' levels). My teachers made sure I not only knew sufficient facts but also understood them and could use them in the appropriate context, as well as answer the questions in my various exams. It's high time folk stopped making excuses and accepted the challenges ahead.

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    deRupeForte

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • The things that demoralised my kids when they took GCSEs were the hours of moronic course work in subjects the school had made compulsory, such as CDT, when they could have been taking another academic subject; an IT teacher who knew less about IT than they did; an Eng. Lit. syllabus which meant they were required only to read a couple of chapters of assorted set books and study selected scenes from Shakespeare but spent hours on poems by minor " ethnic" poets- and a management team which thought it ok to use unqualified lesson supervisors and non specialist supply teachers as long term replacements during the final GCSE year. GCSE course work meant hours of desk top publishing quality work of humdrum academic content. When I was at grammar school we banged out essays in exercise books and spent more time on each subject eg Henry V at O level but we had to read Henry IV 1&2 before we started the course! And I know that the double science award gives nothing like the preparation for A level sciences that the old GCE single sciences did. It is not just the exams which were the problem but the whole GCSE set up.

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    Daisy Roots

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • ..... Question: Tell me about the effect of global warming on the Amazon's flow rate......Answer...To date France has absolutely no offshore wind turbines..... Sorry, my science teacher was off on a career break when we were doing global warming, and our sports teacher gave us some leaflets on French wind turbines because he was from France.

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    Rhombus

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

  • .....Fears of a two-tiered system, like that of the former O-levels and CSEs, were allayed by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg .....So Clegg doesn't know that GCSE's are already a two-tiered sytem, ask any teacher. Many schools enter their cd borderline students for the foundation GCSE which is 'informally' known to nudge the odds in favour of a C grade. The downside is that results are capped at C grade, so bright students (wrongly?) entered for this level cannot reach their true potential. Come on Clegg, why not learn about the two tier system we already have in this country before having fears about one.

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    Rhombus

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • The problem is its all gone silly, our exams are just a joke and the system needs a big overhaul. I am in my 40's and we sat O levels and CSE's andd yes there was two tiers but those who had the ability had the chance to use it. The current system is a joke and it needs sorting that why we have fallen behind in the stat's tables. Perhaps some of the problem is some and I say some of the Teachers are not up to it and that a classic example of the system not working. Lets have a change and try and make it work instead of this watered down system we have at the moment that is letting our children down

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    Sweet cheeks

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • The problem is its all gone silly, our exams are just a joke and the system needs a big overhaul. I am in my 40's and we sat O levels and CSE's andd yes there was two tiers but those who had the ability had the chance to use it. The current system is a joke and it needs sorting that why we have fallen behind in the stat's tables. Perhaps some of the problem is some and I say some of the Teachers are not up to it and that a classic example of the system not working. Lets have a change and try and make it work instead of this watered down system we have at the moment that is letting our children down

    Report this comment

    Sweet cheeks

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • Well done Popeye for pointing out one of the big stinks of GCSEs. I am still trying to fathom quite how a couple of new academies in Norfolk ( one in particular) have been able to make silk purses so very quickly. Since new blazers don't do much to brains I have come to the conclusion that smart use of exam boards, exam types and the foundation and intermediate bracketing has been involved. When schools did not have to include the number of A or B grades in their statistics, sacrificing the kids who might just have got an B if entered for the higher level, to guarantee a boost the A to C statistics was bound to happen.

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    Daisy Roots

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

  • The problem is its all gone silly, our exams are just a joke and the system needs a big overhaul. I am in my 40's and we sat O levels and CSE's andd yes there was two tiers but those who had the ability had the chance to use it. The current system is a joke and it needs sorting that why we have fallen behind in the stat's tables. Perhaps some of the problem is some and I say some of the Teachers are not up to it and that a classic example of the system not working. Lets have a change and try and make it work instead of this watered down system we have at the moment that is letting our children down

    Report this comment

    Sweet cheeks

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • Already, by Labours reaction we can see the perpetual motion by political parties at work, each and every one of them undermining schools and universities with their moral brigades and lifestyle related changes, as night follows day. The constant interruption of education by political dogmatists, regardless of need for reform, is keeping schools busy with perpetual change, but not with educating pupils. Children need routine and qualitative continuity we are told, so when will the constant disruption of schools and universities stop?

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • Having a joke of an "examination" system that guarantees, by hook or by crook, that nearly everyone gets a pass is at last being ditched. A single terminal examination will sort the lazy teachers out from the good and it will also sort the very bright students from the also rans. The excuses the academics are coming up with to protest against the changes proposed by Michael Gove are really pathetic.

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    BG

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

  • I was astounded having read a very knowledgeable TES forum on Maths GCSE that even a grade A student could struggle with AS level maths (I wonder what the attrition rate is?). GCSE marking schemes have certainly flattered schools and given too many able students a poor run up to A levels. I don't blame the schools for this, and I don't even blame the exam boards, the focus should be on OFQUAL for allowing this farce to happen.

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    Rhombus

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

  • Some of the comments on here defy belief or are from people who don't have children in the current education system. My eldest daughter is currently at University having gone through the GCSE system which stood her in tremendous stead for organising her own work and carrying out independent study - something invaluable in the workplace. My own eductaional background (the old 'O' level system) was to have facts constantly drummed into you in order for you solely to pass a 3 hour exam. Many friends who were academically very bright were not good at exams which altered their whole future. It's incredible that we should even be thinking about this retrograde step. Worse still my youngest daughter (if this goes through) will be in the first guinea pig year to face the new exam and if the Government changes at the next election it might be changed again or not pursued!!!

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    Lord Horn

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

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