Atten-shun! Teaching isn't like the military

3rd December 2010 at 00:00

I am in my 21st year as head of mathematics. I have seen changes in examination structures from GCE O-level (a "linear" exam for the top 20 per cent) to CSE (for the remaining 80 per cent), GCSE (linear), GCSE (linear with coursework), GCSE (modular with coursework) and the current GCSE (modular without coursework).

It seems that Michael Gove would like us to go back to somewhere near step one.

It is breathtakingly arrogant for a small team of very clever politicians (almost all educated in very privileged settings) to overturn (rapidly) developments that have evolved in schools foreign to their own experience, against the advice of headteachers and practising teachers.

In mathematics, the achievements of a modular curriculum at A-level and GCSE comfortably outweigh its limitations. It has encouraged most children to achieve more than they would have done in the face of terminal exams at the end of a linear course. We have nearly 200 sixth-formers embarking on A-level mathematics or further mathematics in Year 12. Not all are suited to it and not all succeed, but modular courses give them the best chance of doing so.

If Michael Gove is not resisted, this increased take-up will be short-lived, with obvious consequences for universities and the economy. In the past, we have often seen very able children coming out of "terminal" linear GCSE exams in tears, having faced a very negative experience because the examiners had miscalculated the degree of difficulty of their questions.

One of the strengths of modular mathematics courses is that pupils have the opportunity to build up confidence and competence. If they need to resit modules, does it matter if, as with driving tests, they achieve the required standard eventually?

Brian Wilkinson, Head of mathematics, St Aidan's CofE High School, Harrogate.

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