27 September 2010

League Tables; not just important for football clubs

My daughter has now reached her last year of primary school and so a couple of weeks ago we attended an open evening at our local school. This is the school that my son has recently left, so you would think that I would know it reasonably well. I thought I did but it seems that certain changes have been made recently with no consultation with parents.

We were enjoying a wonderfully hilarious presentation by members of the History Department when a nugget was slipped in regarding the whole of the Key Stage 3 now having to be covered in just two years because ‘options’ were now being made to start at the beginning of Year 9 rather than Year 10 previously. I’ll explain, ‘options’ are the subject choices a child makes for their GCSEs, so as GCSEs are normally taken in Year 11 and are a two-year course, they have been since forever, made at the age of 14 or the end of Year 9; third year of secondary school in old money.

When I got the opportunity I asked the teacher who was accompanying my group around the school, who is also what is now called a Subject Leader rather than Head of Department, as to why options had been moved forward a year and did he not think as I did, that 12/13 was rather too young to be making choices that had massive repercussions for the long term future of the individual child. His response was that some students found the two years insufficient time to attain a decent grade in their chosen GCSE courses and this change would therefore allow those students to fulfil their potential with less stress. Additionally, more able pupils would be able to take all of their GCSEs in Year 10, which would then enable then to take further GCSEs in subjects that interested them in just one year in Year 11. Some students would also be able to take AS levels a year early.

Having had some experience of GCSEs in the past two years I responded to the teacher by pointing out that what I could see happening was that all students would take their examinations early and those who did not make their target grade would then be forced to take and retake the examinations again and again until targets had been reached, thus inducing paranoia and stress and boredom. I added that precious few students would actually be able to take advantage of taking subjects that interested them in just one year and all the school seemed to be doing was extending the GCSE curriculum to three years by the back door. I know that my son got incredibly bored going over the same material in lessons time and time again for the benefit of those who hadn’t understood the first three or four times around, much to his detriment. The teacher was a little taken aback, I could see the thought ‘she’s rumbled us’ written all over his face. He responded by saying that they were only doing what lots of other schools were doing.

It crossed my mind that this change was all about league tables but I had other things to think about until that is I read THIS in last weeks Guardian Education supplement. Seems I was right. Is this what league tables have forced us into? That we now speed through three years of curriculum studies in two years, force children to chose subjects that will have a direct bearing on what A levels they may wish to take and therefore in turn affects the choice of course for university at a ridiculously young age of 12 or 13 and then allow a leisurely 3 years for a GCSE course in order that a school can boast ‘best GCSE results ever!’ and offer increasingly amazing percentages of those students who obtain five or more grade Cs, including maths and English because that is what is recorded in the league tables?

Speeding through three years of curriculum in a mere two also means that the vast majority of students will only study a foreign language for two years at secondary school and other subjects such as History, Geography, Music and so on, will suffer the same fate.

This is narrowing our children’s education even further. All we are doing is churning out children that are eventually taught how to get a grade C in a public examination. We are not educating them in any broad sense of the word. We reap what we sow. It’s a pretty sad picture when I look ahead.