From education to employment

Sector criticises ‘ill informed’ O Level reintroduction

“Change for the sake of change” is how Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), described Secretary for Education Michael Gove’s proposal to reintroduce old style O Levels and CSE’s to the current education system, without, she believes, “any evidence to show it would work.”

“It sounds like Michael Gove is making a joke in poor taste at the expense of pupils and teachers.”

By constantly changing the exam system, the awarding bodies, and the number and nature of qualifications available, the government is risking devaluing the entire education system, which leaves learners and education providers without the consistency of education to progress, improve and provide credible qualifications.

Independent education charity Edge debate even the need for a qualification at 16, with compulsory education set to rise to the age of 18, when it is just as important to discuss “other paths to success,” such as vocational training, in order to “deliver the skilled workforce we need for the future.”

Students want more, not less, choice regarding the qualifications available. It has already been stated many times how school leavers are just not ready to enter the work environment due to lack of specific training and even the necessary skills to approach employment.

“We want all children to be challenged,” says  Bousted, “[to] achieve their potential and gain the skills they need to progress in education and get jobs, so support good quality exams. But once again Mr Gove is ignoring less academic children and neglecting vocational qualifications which provide pupils with important skills for employment and life after education.”

Education comes at a price, and students want the best preparation available for whatever career they decide to pursue, whether it is academic or vocational, particularly during a time of astronomical unemployment and price of education. By narrowing the playing field at this early stage, it leaves students with very little chance of making it into their preferred career of choice, and with the task of financing ever more costly further study, to achieve the necessary qualifications.

The possibility of these O levels being developed and delivered by a single awarding body,” The Edge Foundation stated, are “in effect creating national exams determined by the Government of the day”.

Competition between awarding bodies, as with all markets, provides customers with a better service and value for money, the benefits of which are numerous. Jill Lanning, Chief Executive of FAB, asks “why should schools, teachers, learners and their parents not be able to have the benefits that competition inevitably brings – extensive support material, high levels of customer service, maximum use made of technology and above all, choice?”

It is essential for a better education market, especially today, to increase competition, with the right independent arbiter, and provide as many opportunities for learning and therefore employment, as possible.

What will it the re-introduction of O Levels yield? The problem right now is how education can expand to provide for a new wave of young learners heading for unemployment, especially without the funds to do so.

“There is a discussion to be had about the way exam boards operate,” remarks Bousted, “but there could be a huge danger in having only one exam board which dictates what all children in England learn and is subject to the whims of whoever is Secretary of State for Education.”

Education must evolve with our society, and with many students denied the opportunity to work due to lack of skills and experience; it is imperative that the education system resolves to increase opportunity for students to learn these skills and gain this experience through greater alternatives to GSCE’s or O levels, whichever exam system wins this government’s popularity contest.

The next problem is how to give credibility to these qualifications, and gain the trust and respect of customers and of employers, with an education system in constant flux.

Daisy Atkinson

(Pictured: Education Secretary Michael Gove)


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