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Abbott hits back over GCSE reforms

CHANGE WILL COME: GCSE qualification system is under review

LABOUR POLITICIAN Diane Abbott has distanced herself from Michael Gove’s GCSE reforms after the education secretary expressed adoration for her support of the changes in the House of Commons.

The Department for Education (DfE) last week announced it would be introducing changes to the qualifications system in order to raise standards in education.

Among the proposed changes is replacing the alphabetical grading system of A* to G with a numerical system of one to eight.

The reforms, expected to come into effect by January 2015, also included scrapping modular coursework to put greater emphasis on essay-style exam assessment.

The benchmark for top marks will also be raised, Gove said.


OPPOSITION TO REFORMS: Diane Abbott

This could have implications for many pupils of African and Caribbean heritage who, at present, are collectively performing below the national average.

GSCE figures for 2011/12 published earlier this year, revealed only 54.6 per cent of black children currently achieved five or more A-C grades, including the core subjects of maths and English.

REFORMS

Introducing the reforms in the House of Commons last week, Gove told MPs: “We need to reform our examination system to restore public confidence. Young people in this country deserve an education system that can compete with the best in the world – a system that sets, and achieves, high expectations.”

He added: “[The] reforms are essential to achieving that goal. By making GCSEs more demanding, more fulfilling and more stretching, we can give our young people the broad, deep and balanced education that will equip them to win in the global race.”

Abbott first appeared to support the reforms, but later distanced herself.

She said she was “not supporting Gove, aligning herself with him, or vouching for the detail of any of his reforms.” Instead, she said her comments in Parliament simply supported the “principle of educational rigour.”


AT THE FORE: Michael Gove

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington underlined the importance she placed on the exam results. She said: “I owe everything in life to my string of A grades at O and A-level and my Cambridge degree.”

UNPOPULAR

She added: “Gove must be the most unpopular education minister since records began with the education trade unions.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, was critical of plans to abolish coursework.

“If there is to be reform of our examinations system it needs to be on the basis of proper in-depth discussion with the profession, informed by the best of all practice internationally,” she said.

“A terminal exam is not necessarily the right way to examine all subjects in all circumstances.”

Blower added that her union wanted “a longer consultation period to achieve a consensus on what we all want – the best possible exam system in which the greatest number of young people engage”.


HEADTEACHER: Patrick Cozier

Patrick Cozier, headteacher of Highgate Wood School, north London, gave a cautious welcome to the reforms, but said he did not think black children would necessarily be unfairly disadvantaged.

The 41-year-old, who has been headmaster at the successful school for seven years, told The Voice: “The new reforms are a ‘mixed bag’ in the sense that some changes are welcomed, but not all.

“I welcome the reduction of coursework and controlled assessments on the whole… However, I am disappointed with the demise of modular exams. The idea that cramming two years of work into terminal exams at the end of the course is the best way of testing students is an ideological and historical perspective that is not based on proven educational research.”

He added that he was “in favour of change” but would welcome an opportunity for “dialogue with ministers about what sort of change is needed.”

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