Breathing Space

Anna Tylor

Michael Gove’s climb down over the English Baccalaureate has been widely welcomed, by organisations across education who have a range of concerns about the introduction of a new ways of examining children’s academic abilities.

The government may have brushed this off as a “tweak” to their plans with more rigour planned for the existing system of GCSE’s, but the reality is that this provides a breathing space in a break neck approach to reform which has not taken account until now, of the concerns of professionals. Let us hope that this is the moment.

The speed, at which educational reform has moved over the last couple of years, has been fast paced to say the least, with proposed improvements coming thick and fast. What has always concerned those working within the educational arena is that government listen to our judgements, because while we share an aspiration with government to raise all standards for children, we are uniquely placed in our experience to offer ways and means to do this in a way that government is not.

One of the major concerns that remain, is how government plan to deal with GCSE results inflation without disadvantaging the many children with learning difficulties. Mr Gove’s avowed aim that spelling and grammar be taken into account in the marking of exam papers will severely disadvantage the huge numbers of children with dyslexia or with literacy difficulties whose difficulties teachers often struggle with because of the inadequacies in their own training. It remains the case that by the government’s own research finding, teachers don't feel confident in this area of their work because of limited training input and practice. At the same time Mr Gove wants to see children assessed on their literacy standards, he has taken no strategic lead in doing anything to help teachers improve the situation and it is unlikely that the universities who deliver teacher training will take the lead either as they wrestle with a crowded curriculum.

In his haste to see a sea change for the better, Mr Gove has put the cart before the horse. This retreat from an unpopular plan, is a moment to consider whether it might not be better to do it the other way around and put the horse in front of the cart. If the journey towards improved outcomes is to progress with any pace at all, it would seem sensible to take account of the available evidence and make a plan that starts with a clear vision of high achieving school leavers and a plan that describes how this is to be done, starting with getting all the nation’s children reading and writing. Perhaps this really is the moment to go back to basics.