Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Exams as rationing life chances.

I am off this afternoon to an NUT protest outside the Department of Education against the GCSE marking fiasco.

I'm tempted to say that Education Secretary Mr Bean Michael Grove is just the nerdy kid who was bullied at school and is now getting his own back. Although rather than climbing on to  the library roof with a sniper's rifle, he is taking pot-shots at the futures of a generation. 

But rather more seriously - the Tories have been bleating about GCSE 'grade inflation' for several years now.  They may be  hiding Pontius Pilate-like behind the examing body - but in fact their opposition to year-on-year progress in exams  reveals the underlying narrow and nasty elitist nature of their attitude to education. They claim  that exams are too easy and that kids are overly spoon-fed in preparation for them.  Balanced peversely  at the same time  with  an obssession with targets and league tables, and scare-mongering about standards of teaching.

So they have come up with the simple solution of just shifting the grade boundaries in the middle of an academic year.  Or as one headteacher interviewed by the BBC put it  - they brought on smaller goalposts in the middle of the game - to the extent that the same mark that would have earnt a C pass in January didn't in June.  

As someone who has gone back to school after a thirty year gap, I've seen the new culture in schools: And this 'over-coaching'  is actually just another way of talking about a more inclusive approach to exams, and education in general.

When I was a kid no marking schemes or success criteria were made explicit to us. We were jsut told to just do the we could - and pretty much  left to  ourselves to figure out how. Only  a minority of us - assuming we got the chance in the first place to sit the O levels that the Tories like so much - got to figure this  out for ourselves, either  by good luck  or good judgement. Against this the modern practice of setting indvividual targets and explaining success criteria  is nothing more than an attempt to create something like a level playing field.

In contrast to this, the current exam fiasco looks - and arguably the whole public exam process in general - looks like an exercise in rationing: 

Rationing of access to further and higher education, to genuine apprenticeships in proper trades, and to the job market in general. Because ithe magical  five A-C's at GCSE are rapidly becoming the passport without which kids at the age of 16 are going to be consigned to a lifetime of casual McJobs. And when times are tough, tightening up on rationing for the masses is just the natural thing to do. If you're a Tory.

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