Still a far cry away from freedom

29th June 2001 at 01:00
A HALF-WAY house that does not go far enough towards the freedom offered by a baccalaureate system is how headteacher Malcolm Noble describes the Government's 14 to 19 "revolution".

He likes many of the proposals put forward by Education Secretary Estelle Morris and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority chief executive David Hargreaves but sees some contradictions - such as keeping a post-16 A-level "gold standard" while trying to boost staying-on rates.

The head of Bexleyheath school, a suburban 2,000-pupil secondary in Kent, said: "The Department for Education and Skills' favourite phrase is 'step change' so we are obviously moving to something - probably a baccalaureate system."

He predicts GCSEs will become modular, with students following customised courses at schools and colleges. But modular means more exams, which is why he thinks Professor Hargreaves is looking at teacher assessment rather than key stage tests.

Assessment to inform learning, not exams to put in tables, should be the focus, according to Andy Potts, English teacher and head of sixth form. And lessons needed to be learned from the AS-exam experience.

"It has narrowed not broadened students' experience. At this time of year my top English students would go on a month-long Shakespeare study course. They can't this year because they have to start second-year A-level courses."

He welcomed government aims to boost staying-on rates but said the system militated against it. "At GCSE we still talk about A to C grades and even though it's 13 years since O-levels were scrapped," he said.

The long-term consequences of government reform will mean a leaving age of 14 with a legal insistence on education and training of some kind until 19, according to Mr Noble. As more students are exempted from the national curriculum, disapplication must be presented as more than a way out for the disaffected.

And it must be made easier for students to opt out.

Time is precious for a head who has embraced other ideas in the Green Paper - the school is about to be rebuilt in a private public initiative and a private public partnership will bring a new all-weather pitch.

"Heads do not have time to be filling in some nonsense to send to the Department for Education and Skills about why a student is not doing German," he said.

Julie Henry

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