Throwaway reforms

17th July 2015 at 01:00

Marty, our head of English, came to see me a little while back with two questions. The first I had been expecting: "Can I have lots of money to buy texts for the new GCSE? We'll need 400 copies of Pride and Prejudice for starters. Hardy and Dickens to follow."

I waited for the second question.

"Can I have a skip?"

All revolutions are defined by what gets dumped in a skip. Marty needed to clear the shelves to make room for the new regulation English classics. And there are three time-honoured options for schools with surplus dog-eared books or outdated clockwork computers: give them to a primary, send them to Africa or chuck them in a skip.

In this brave new world, not only do you need to be white, male and dead to be worthy of study, you need to be British as well. So into the skip goes Of Mice and Men (too American), To Kill a Mockingbird (too American, too female) and Purple Hibiscus (too African).

Marty's visit reminded me that the revolution is beginning to bite. Coursework - and its prim, corseted niece, controlled assessment - are gone. Grade boundaries are higher. You can study only classics from the English canon. Learning about anything written in the US or, God forbid, Africa is an act of subversion. Get your English Baccalaureate passport or be damned.

The last time we tried this was with O-levels. They were designed only for the top 20 per cent of children, and of course not all of them passed. Now it's the whole cohort and off to hell in the Ofsted handcart if you slip below national standards. England expects, and no one will be turning a blind eye.

All revolutions are started by visionaries, people who refuse to bend to the world and instead bend the world to them. We love or hate politicians like this. I respected Michael Gove for his aspiration to make our standards competitive with the world's best, to tackle the underachievement of the disadvantaged and to ditch the condescending low challenge of so-called vocational qualifications. I admired the way he refused to be deflected from his mission.

I fear the arrival of a new education secretary who will change everything again just to make her own mark. I wish that Gove could have been lashed to the wheel for the next 10 years so that he was forced to see through the revolution he'd started and solve the problems he'd unleashed.

For there are storms ahead. In an evolutionary system, change would have begun with raised standards and a different curriculum in the early years of primary to prepare pupils for harder exams 11 years later. Instead, a generation is about to be force-fed through an exam sausage machine for which they have been ill prepared.

Let's go to the barricades to ensure that the very reason we all came into teaching doesn't get thrown into the skip with the John Steinbeck classics.

Roger Pope is principal of Kingsbridge Community College in Devon. Read more from him on page 16

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