Okay, this is the time where I don my serious face.
As I’m sure most, if not all, of you who are students in secondary or comprehensive schools will be aware of the current plans of the British Government to effectively remove GCSEs from the education system in England and replace them with the English Baccalaureate.
This, of course, follows from the current government’s stance to ‘toughen’ education up, as they are, somehow, of the view that the current exams that I sat just last year are too easy.
Can I just say that, since only a few mere months ago I was a GCSE student, that GCSEs are not ‘easy’ or ‘soft’. In fact, most of the teachers I spoke to about exams when I was a (hot) mess of worry, stress and caffeine said that the exams that I was then sitting were quite a bit tougher than the exams that they sat when they were my age.
These teachers I talked to were, of course, post-O-Level students. Because it wasn’t that long ago when we were, once again, under the rule of a Conservative government and the education of this country was based on a two-tier system. You either qualified for the O-Levels, which would enable you to achieve acceptable qualifications and go to uni, get a job, do things in lifeâ€¦ or you were, basically, cast aside by Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government by being put in the lower tier.
But, I am happy to tell you, for anyone that is now emotionally devastated by the Dark Ages mentioned in the above paragraph, that the O-Levels are now dead. Finito. Replaced by the all-together fairer and happier GCSEs, which enables all students in the UK to attain qualifications without being barred by age-old social and class barriers into accessing the higher grades.
Of course, you could now argue that in our current British society – with a big old ‘thank you’ to New Labour – the ‘class system’ does not exist anymore. For the simple reason of the once rigid social and class barriers of working, middle and upper classes are now as traversable and accessible as an open shop.
A child born in a stark, poverty stricken working-class background can now ‘ascend’ to the middle classes and above with hard work or, if you’re really lucky, winning the lottery. It can also be argued that, of course, the upper classes no longer exist. They are as dead as the dodo. Gone is the time where the Upper Classes ruled society, like Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. Celebrity is now, it seems, the new upper class, the new monarchy for our increasingly fame, sex and money-obsessed society.
Sorry, back on topic. Back to education.
My basic point is, that upon the introduction of the GCSE, the social and class barriers of British society became almost non-existent. Through education, people could become whoever they wanted or wished to be. And that’s quite lovely, isn’t i?.
But hold, why is Michael Gove, the current government’s Director of Education and all around goose look-a-like, so hell-bent on changing the current exams in England from the GCSE to the English Baccalaureate? Which doesn’t really sound like an important exam, it sounds more like a really long and boring academic book written by Jane Austen.
While this English Baccalaureate seems like a pretty new, posh, academic big deal it seems to be nothing more than the return of the O-Levels, except just under a different name. Because the government thought that we, apparently, wouldn’t notice them trying to once again tier our country’s education system where those of a higher social class and wealthier background will be looked upon better than those who are not.
Can I just, first of all, state that I really am not a big ‘political’ person. Hey, as long I’m not prejudiced against, being attacked in the street, taxed to holy high hell or at a serious disadvantage in society, then I am pretty much happy.
But, what I’m not happy about is the government’s crusade to seemingly toughen up Britain’s education to compete with other countries. This does, quite clearly, seem to be David Cameron playing the ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ game with, instead of toy cars or trust funds, they’ll be waving Britain’s exam results in France’s face going ‘Ha! Look at them apples, French!’
But, this is the bit I really don’t understand, for years – and I mean years – the pass rate for the GCSEs have continued to rise year in, year out. More people than ever are passing, meaning that more people got the right qualifications to get a job, thus helping put money into the giant piggybank we call our economy and overall making things really quite good for Britain.
Now, is this just me or does the fact that exam pass rates were increasing not signify that we British kids were actually doing alright? No? Because this whole argument – which could have really been ended had all the teachers gone ‘No, don’t mess with the exams, you must never mess with the exams and lives of our precious, precious students.’
It has resulted in, essentially, a line being drawn between the education being received in England in Wales.
This all stems from the controversy of the marks given to pupils – myself included – when they sat the 2011 summer English Language and Literature GCSE, with reports coming in that the exams had been marked incorrectly. The English government decided not to re-mark the papers but Leighton Andrews, Wales’ Assembly Minister for Education, decided that every single pupil’s paper should be re-marked, which really caused quite a fuss.
It was, in part, what started this whole ‘new exam, new start’ talk which ended in the creation (or regeneration) of the English Baccalaureate. Leighton Andrews either a) really cared about the education of Welsh pupils or b) wanted to show Westminster that he does things his own way.
And now, thanks partly to this decision, while English students will, in a few years, no longer study GCSEs, us Welsh students will continue to study and sit GCSE exams when the exam is already defunct in our neighbouring country. To the universities, colleges and employers of the future, this means that they will probably end up seeing a divide; seeing those students with good GCSE grades and students with good E-Bac grades.
It causes quite a problem for people my age and beyond who will now have to go through life with a set of qualifications which, no matter how excellent they may seem, may or may not be seen as a ‘failed’ exam in the UK. Which is not just a huge shame, but a huge disappointment and letdown on behalf of the government.
If they did, really truly, care about the future employability of the children of Great Britain, then surely it would be worthwhile to actually sit down and re-evaluate and improve the GCSE qualification, instead of chucking it out and starting again, just like it was a simple blip on the drawing board. But it’s not, the GCSEs signify decades of hard work, not just from students but from teachers as well.
In one fell swoop, the government has decided that this legacy means, actually, nothing. When it does. It really, really does. And I’m disappointed in the Welsh government, too.
It’s almost as if they’re putting their pride before their people. So what if the children of Wales will, technically, get a second class education? So what if their job prospects are ruined for life?
And this is a country that, according to Plaid Cymru, will fare well when it is made independent? A country’s government who puts its pride before its people, trying to stand up to Westminster, is a government that really needs to look at the tatters of a nation-wide education system that, down to a few men, now seems to be ruined.
In this present state, it would seem the Welsh Assembly is not even fit to govern Wales. A bit harsh, perhaps, but the point still stands. Lives should not be changed – or ruined – simply because an Assembly Member decided that they will make a point to not be bullied by Westminster. Who, in fairness, have governed our country since they invaded us. They kind of own us, guys. Come on now.
Wow, I got a bit passionate there didn’t I? But my point still stands. If something is not done soon by either the Welsh or English governments, we could see the education system of this country divided, weakened and – worst of all – based once again on a returning class system of a time bygone.
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