An interesting news item that popped up alongside the weather eccentricities of our countries yesterday was the news that Education Secretary Michael Gove wants universities to play a large part in the setting of A-level examinations. As things stand, the Department of Education outlines the structure of A-levels and sets subject-specific criteria but Gove has said, “In future, I do not envisage the Department for Education having a role in the development of A-level qualifications.” He added, “I am particularly keen that universities should be able to determine the subject content, and that they should endorse specifications, including details of how the subject should be assessed.” Naturally, the two partisan newspapers are taking particularly opposite stances. The Telegraph call it “excellent” in a comment piece while The Guardian have criticised it both as trying to return to the past at the detriment to the future and as introducing a new kind of class warfare. The Independent merely points out that the exam regulator backs the proposals.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where decisions like this should be made. Is the Department of Education too far removed from both schools and universities to have an idea? Well, then, perhaps having academics involved in the process is a good idea – they know the skills needed for students to survive in university and it’s been well-documented that they aren’t arriving with the correct skills and knowledge. Where do schools and colleges fit in? There you hit the stumbling block because if you exclude them altogether from the process then the actual teaching may become a nightmare. There’s nothing worse in a classroom than a teacher attempting to convey something they don’t feel relevant to anything. The last thing I feel we need as a country is more fragmentation between ‘departments’ (for want of a better term). More and more it seems than everything operates in a vacuum where external factors are considered superfluous. I sound like a broken record, I’m sure I mention this every week. But, then, it’s obviously something that keeps returning to me!
We need collaboration, not all-out warfare. Every policy announcement these days appears to be followed by a ‘defence’ from those affected. In this instance, Christine Blower, head of the National Union of Teachers, expressed disappointment that they were not consulted prior to the announcement. Every press release is followed by political point scoring (from all sides). The actual mechanics and arguments surrounding the announcement are lost in the political tornado.
What are my personal feelings on A-level examinations? Well, I’m all for stepping away from government control in this instance. I think people on the front line should have a say in examinations because they’re the ones who really know what’s going on. However, when I say ‘front line’, I mean everyone on the front line and not just a few elite universities.