Michael Gove’s Reforms Delayed Again – Will They Ever Happen?

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Michael Gove’s planned overhaul of secondary education has hit another roadblock, with the news that changes to GCSE and A-level exams are being put back; while a range of subjects were expected to be reformed in time for 2015-2016, this change will now be limited to English language, English literature, and Maths for GCSE until more time can be spent updating other curricula. With institutions such as Lansdowne College continuing to offer high quality post-16 options and assistance with exams, there’s no danger of a complete breakdown in GCSEs and A-levels. However, Gove’s delayed reforms raise questions about when, rather than if they will ever happen.

The original plan made by Gove was to introduce more sweeping changes to GCSEs such as core science, history, and geography for 2015, which are now being downgraded to the core subjects listed above. A-level changes, which involve moving towards summer only exams, are still on the timetable for 2015, but continue to face challenges in terms of the amount of pressure being placed on schools and colleges to adjust existing courses in the near future.

Other problems are being encountered in terms of Gove’s plans to pressurise schools to prevent students from retaking their GCSEs following an early entry in the same subject; the alleged problem with early exams and retakes is that doing the former means that schools are trying to distort league tables, while still being able to rely on a retake to improve on results. Gove wants to eliminate the chance to improve marks on subsequent exams, making it harder for schools to artificially inflate marks; schools are fighting back, though, arguing that mid course changes are disruptive for teachers and students.

At present, it seems like Gove is failing to take into account the needs of schools, students, and teachers in terms of practical reform, and instead wants to push through his more controversial reforms in time for the 2015 General Election; taking this approach could make it difficult for another government to realistically reverse changes. Gove is also taking a hardline stance after losing face over his previous failed efforts to replace GCSEs with tougher, O Level style exams.

The reforms planned by Gove and the Department of Education are similarly experiencing problems as the result of controversies over faith schools, free schools, and academies; the latest example of the poor planning and regulation of free schools is the decision to temporarily close the Al-Madinah school in Derby. Controversies here have included low scores from Ofsted on health and safety and unfair school rules, leading to questions over whether Gove and his department have sufficiently thought through approval processes.

For the time being, it’s likely that Gove’s reforms will eventually happen, and particularly when it comes to making changes to the current structure of exams and courses, meaning that exams will only occur in the summer. The practicalities of carrying out these reforms is under greater scrutiny than ever, though, with chief executive of Ofqual Glenys Stacey suggesting that ‘fundamental work’ still needs to be done to update courses in time for 2015 and 2016.


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