Spotting the silver lining

12th October 2012 at 01:00

The great English GCSE debacle of 2012 ranks as a low point in not only the hopes of our students, but in the life of this teacher. Months of controlled assessment resits, exam resits, revision classes, timetabling, lists of pupils with English but not maths, lists of pupils with maths but not English, tears of pupils who don't want extra English, angry parents on the phone; I could go on and on, but it might get boring.

And where did it get us? They only went and changed the goalposts, deeming thousands of pupils underachievers. All that work for nothing.

Then a mysterious thing happened. Our education secretary announced that GCSEs were to be scrapped, just a month from the biggest scandal in their history. Coincidence? Much easier to persuade the public to accept a new system when the old one spectacularly failed only this summer, don't you think?

That said - I'm going to whisper this - the English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC) may not be such a bad thing after all. There, I said it. Of course there are disadvantages that will have to be addressed carefully, both in the classroom and hopefully at ministerial level. But somewhere, within the heart of darkness, lies a shard of sunshine. Pupils will learn the art of preparation, independent enquiry, drafting and redrafting. But more than that, they will learn that there aren't lots of chances to achieve your goals in life, unlike the current merry-go-round of opportunity. They will learn that when you have a goal, you work towards it, you have a chance to achieve it and you do your best to succeed.

The argument that pupils will have no idea where they are on this journey is complete claptrap. This is where assessing pupils' progress will be paramount. Where are you now? Where do you want to be? How are you going to get there? They will practise skills that help them boldly go into the ever-changing workplace. They will be at the forefront of their own learning, not merely stowaways on the SS Assessment.

We may even have the time to explore concepts covered in the exam in the IGCSE style, as opposed to the ridiculously tight controlled assessment schedule. In English, pupils lose six weeks of teaching time to controlled assessments. That time is a gift; that pupils may get time to reflect on their learning is a bonus.

How much of a bonus will depend on the questions the all-new monolithic exam board sets. I would urge Michael Gove to consult teachers and create exams that promote the analysis of problems and synthesis of solutions, as opposed to the memory-based, learning-by-numbers direction critics have rightly feared the EBC could take.

The race to the bottom between competing exam boards will be nullified and parity between schools should be at the centre of the new system. Endless resits will be a thing of the past and all that time and energy can be put into - what is it called? Ah yes, teaching.

In the face of this reform storm we must remember that we do this job to make a difference in young people's lives. It would be easy to lose sight of that, just as the policymakers often seem to. But we know what matters and we know we must do what we do best: teach.

Amy Winston teaches English at a comprehensive in the West Midlands.

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