I turned 18 last week, I finished A-Levels on Monday, and I'm going on to university in September. I'm a student, and have been for the vast majority of my life. My entire childhood has revolved around getting the grades to go onto the next stage of a torturous obstacle course of exams and, yes, coursework. And I've worked hard, really, very hard. I've found it hard. The two years prior to me writing this have been absorbed by reaching for that very last exam on Monday. Since Year 7, I have had the idea that grades equate to intelligence shoved into my way of seeing the world. Since Year 7, I have been steered into the direction of a top university, and the only way to reach your goal, and that perfect career, was to get those As in that Additional Science exam, in that English Literature exam, and in that Mathematics exam. Since Year 7, I have been indoctrinated to believe memorising that one more equation makes me more qualified to become a physician or teacher than the peer who wrote E=4 instead of E=5 because he didn't go over it, repeatedly, the night before.
Since Year 7, I have sat at least thirty individual exams.
Very rarely in any of those exams, or the period I spent revising for them, did I feel my or any of my peers' potential were truly being tested. Whilst applying knowledge takes skill and, yes, intelligence, my ability to memorise a 10 foot timeline of Tsarist Russia or the Cold War was me sitting there looking over arbitrary numbers and dates, not in the least absorbing the events those numbers represented. No. The only time I felt my intelligence being tested was writing up that month long coursework on Nazi Germany last year, or analysing the results of various science experiments over a two month period in Year 11. It was over those extended periods, instead of a two hour timed exam consisting of four essays on American Politics, that I felt I was really getting a taste of what it meant to explore the subject I was being taught. In that regard, the comments made by Gove, stating that students are made to study merely chunks of a book or subject are true. So, if Gove can see that, if Gove can identify the problem with the arbitrariness of the current system, why has he proposed an alternative that would merely enhance that arbitrariness? Replacing coursework and modular exams, something that splits a very huge amount of information into bite-able chunks, with one ruthless exam at the end of two years has the markings of a man that has no idea, no experience, of what it means to be an ordinary student.
Furthermore, not only does this enhance the problem that typically comes with standardised testing, but it impacts those schools at the lower end of both overall results and subsequently those that are in poorer areas that have suffered most from government cuts. Preparing for an exam doesn't take intelligence, it takes resources. Resources to memorise, to test yourself, over and over and over; it takes adequate classes and investment from both staff and student, and when you're in an environment that typically comes with an inner city school (mine was in a very low-income area), that perfect climate to learn all the necessary skills, and the genuine motivation needed, is never truly achieved. This has, of course, been made worse under austerity measures, with the next generation seemingly the most victimised. The reforms, as ever with this government, would favour the haves at the expense of the have-nots.
Now for Gove to demand such students to give up a 'culture of resits' and 'dumbed down exams' to instead weigh their entire future on end-of-(two)-year exams alone while also cutting the meagre resources they have to be able to do that is paradoxical and indifferent; and those two words seem to sum up the switch-back ride we have seen Gove take over the past few months.
For Gove to sit there and demean my achievements, consistently; now with GCSEs but also with AS and A2, over the last ten academic years of my life, and to say those A grades are nothing more than an indication of simplified exams and unnecessary coursework is truly sickening and disheartening. There is not one student who can honestly say that they have not experienced the stressful symptoms of low self-confidence and sheer panic in light of any type of compulsory or further education, be it SATS, GCSEs or A-Levels.
Occasionally you will see an A-Level student look back in hindsight at those taking GCSEs and laugh at the supposed simplicity of it all, but a friend of mine accurately pointed out on Twitter that, "Education is accumulative. The next level is only possible if you've done the previous one." The difference with Gove is, he's barely experienced any level of modern education at all, and he hasn't even got the hindsight of that A-level student that demeans GCSEs with the knowledge of already having taken them. He doesn't view it as a step-by-step progression, he views it as a set of tests that one must continuously pass or instead be proven as a product of a 'culture of (insert classist or condescending word here)'
It is true that GCSEs, and indeed A-Levels, need reform; as aforementioned students are made to learn mark schemes, not subjects. But Gove's constant belittling of the past generation, and introducing even more statutory alternatives in the form of even stricter standardised testing, is a huge and profoundly damaging step backwards, an attack on the young and the poor and those that strive to take a place in the worst economic climate we have seen for many decades.
I won't be listened to, this article won't ever be acknowledged by any person with the power to make positive change, and the overly simplified, condescending lies and fabrication, as ever, will prosper. But note this: none of us students, Mr Gove, have your back. You are an enemy to us and to progression.
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