By @NicDakinMP - 18th September 2012
Ofqual and the Government are obsessed with controlling statistics, not controlling standards, writes Nic Dakin MP ahead of his adjournment debate.
With a lifetime's worth of experience as an English teacher before entering Parliament, I have seen the teaching of English in our schools change drastically over the years, just as today's world is transformed from the world of 1988 when the first cohort of students took the then new school leavers' exam, introduced by a Conservative Government.
In my opinion, the easiest exam to prepare young people for was O level English Literature. The exam that gave the most perverse, unfair outcomes for kids was O level English Language. I can say without hesitation that GCSE English has always been a far more demanding exam for students than its predecessors, but it was always undoubtedly fairer. That is until now when a Government obsessed with ideas rather than realities is presiding over monumental injustice to pupils who sat their GCSE English Exam this summer.
At its heart, the GCSE English fiasco this summer is not about Ministers and MPs or exam boards and technicalities.
It is about something a lot simpler than that, but is also far more important. It is about whether the assessments given to young people this summer were fair or not.
Based on the evidence we have uncovered so far through Ofqual reports, leaked letters to exam boards, and Select Committee hearings, one thing is obvious: Ofqual and the Government are obsessed with controlling statistics, not controlling standards. They simply do not care about the impact their decisions are having on the lives of young people who sat that exam this summer.
And why does this matter? It matters because GCSE English is a progression qualification. It makes a difference to individuals' lives – what they do next where they go next? It matters because we have a duty to young people to ensure these assessments at 16 are fair. Research from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) shows that those affected are disproportionately from areas of high deprivation, ethnic minority groups, and come from poorer families. It affects worst those that need Government help the most.
The media focus has been on the unfairness to the 133,000 students missing out on a C and having to adjust their careers accordingly. But I know as a former Principal of a Sixth Form College that those students getting a B instead of an A will also be disadvantaged next year when they apply for higher education. If this injustice is not reversed it is likely to have a long term impact on the social mobility of all the students affected. It will limit their choices. Whilst the Secretary of State and the regulator obfuscate – appearing more interested in covering up and protecting themselves than ensuring young people are treated fairly- those young people, their families, and their teachers continue to suffer.
Michael Gove has fluctuated between being bullish and sheepish. It is time now for him to stand up for fairness for our young people and ask Ofqual to instruct the exam boards to give pupils in England the fair marks that the Welsh education secretary has ensured for pupils under his jurisdiction.