Yesterday, Gove announced the revamp of the GCSE. We can now see the detail, although many of us anticipated the “content” (what an apt word!).
It will be really interesting to see how teachers and learners, and schools, respond to this new challenge.
There is no doubt, with an emphasis on terminal written examination, the skills neessary to pass these exams lie in the academic domain: detailed recall, articulation of knowledge in written format, abstract cognitive manipulations… If these exams are “done” well (really well, and by “done” I mean in terms of detailed specification, marking criteria, content, aims and objectives), I can see how preparation for A-Level, and then Further/Higher Study, is fully and nobly supported by these changes.
However, I am also concerned that a curriculum aimed fairly and squarely at an academic elite will fail to “light up” the learning journey for many in the system.
We grow and change: the journey from concrete thinking to abstract manipulation is well described by the likes of developmental psychologists like Piaget. One thing they will all agree on is this: higher order cognitive function is not switched on like a tap at 15 years old. Some have it by 12- some by 18; others will never develop it.
For some pupils, the learning journey up to the age of 16 needs to be centred fairly and squarely in the concrete world, building functional, real-world thinking, enabling and supporting, for example, the english and maths of everyday life and work. With this broad, solid platform, progress to more abstract thinking does indeed become more probable.
A really significant study from America has made me think: Large swathes of the post-16 learning community will never ever use, for example, the “higher algebra” taught in High Schools. The will need maths for sure, but will need to apply fundamental mathematical operations, rigorously, regularly, and in combination, in unfamiliar settings and to solve unprepared problems. The study illustrated that, in the dash to cover “higher order” maths because the syllabus demanded it, some learners did not get the appropriate exposure and immersion to these building blocks, and so failed to build their maths abilities on firm foundations.
We learn in different ways, at different rates. I would far rather re-invent an examination process around these “facts”, and steward the learning journey, than put a stake in the ground, defining the finish line, then rank everybody on a 1-8 scale based on how close they get to it.
Visit newqualthinking.net for a different take on the examination process.