This is the latest in a long line of educational proposals by an ideologically committed neo-con politician who recognises his time at the top will be brief - and so wants to launch a counter-revolution (and quickly). Now is the time to respond to his proposals to 'restore rigour to the exam system' and explore the ideology that underpins his thinking.
Three key themes underpin the Gove strategy: competition, centralisation and social engineering. These have widespread implications for education and society.
All three themes are underpinned by a clear neo-liberal attitude that wishes to use education as a tool to create the type of society he envisions. This society is a utopia for the few and a hell for the many.
Michael Gove has massively speeded up academisation and allowed the creation of ‘Free Schools’. The aim here is to create a competitive marketplace between educational establishments with the stated aim of driving up standards and providing choice as well as devolving power.
The real objectives here need exposing. At the Leveson inquiry Gove stated that schools in the future “could” be profit making ventures. He clearly hopes to open up the education sector to his friends in the corporate sector. Soon all students will be learning units of education to be processed efficiently and for profit.
In addition, these Academies and Free Schools are removed from 'leftwing' Local Education Authority control and placed under the direct responsibility of the Department of Education. This will allow the Secretary of State to use funding to force schools to fit with the Tories’ agenda, as we have seen in the case of Downhills primary school. Here he is forcing them to become an Academy against the clearly expressed wishes of the local community.
This theme of choice and devolved power can be seen in his recommendation to scrap the National Curriculum. But at the same time, he will be ensuring that the main subjects that comprise his English Baccalaureate at GCSE will be run by one exam board which will essentially be the National
There seems little doubt that these courses will be built around 'facts' and not 'skills' in a way that actually decreases young people’s interest and commitment to education as a good to better themselves.
The really dangerous proposals that link all this together are the ones to create a 'two-tier' education system. Gove has long maintained GCSEs are not rigorous enough and has already moved to take out coursework and the modular system to strengthen them.
Now he wants to scrap them and introduce O-levels for the top 75% and CSEs for the bottom 25%. The O level will be the gold standard that drives up British education whilst the CSE will be a worthwhile achievement. The impact here will be devastating. This needs to be opposed across the board by students, teachers and parents alike.
This idea is essentially social engineering. At age 14, if you are in the bottom 25%, you will be sent off to do CSEs, described by a former Tory education secretary Lord Baker as a 'valueless piece of paper'. This will hit the poorest communities the hardest as a disproportionately high number will do CSEs.
This will also have a regional effect with a band of schools from Hull to Liverpool teaching CSEs. It also ignores the fact that over one third of students in the bottom 25% at aged eleven will move out of that bracket by aged sixteen.
Gove’s aim can be no less than the erosion of any social mobility in modern Britain. He wants to set the future of young people in stone at the age of fourteen.
The real worry is that, as more and more schools are freed from LEA control, the Secretary of State could decide which schools should teach CSEs and which should teach O Levels. This opens up a whole realm of social engineering possibilities for the government and the end of opportunity for many.
These proposals should act as a catalyst to bring together communities across the country against the neoliberal drive in education, linked to the programme of austerity pursued by this government.
Adam Tomes teaches Politics at York College
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