The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

A Tear For The Education System

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 31, 2009 @ 08:15

Perhaps this scale of complexity makes sense to someone, but not me...

Perhaps this scale of complexity makes sense to someone, but not me...

There was a story in the Guardian yesterday a few days ago how the government’s new fangled diploma qualification, a “better” alternative for those less academically inclined, have turned out to be “too hard”.

It’s enough to make anyone weep.

What a shambles the education system in this country is now. Endless “reform” and the exam culture have destroyed any semblance of point to what we put our children through.

Diplomas were first suggested by the excellent Tomlinson Report. The government had commissioned Mike Tomlinson to investigate the post-14 education system in light of continued accusations of narrow curricula, falling standards and teaching to the test.

He came up with a very radical solution, which was, in effect, to subsume the current bizarre arrangements of GCSEs, AS-Levels, A-Levels, NVQs, Key Skills and a multitude of other qualifications into a new National Diploma. The diploma would now be the qualification of choice. Earned at 18, it would consist of four years study, though its modular nature would mean a great deal more flexibility for schools.

The idea worked because it would pull together all these silly qualifications, many of which have been sadly undermined by years of abuse, into one national framework for the first time. It would give vocational subjects the equality they deserve, as a Diploma could be earned by achieving the necessary credits and criteria, regardless of which subjects or disciplines the credits come from.

It would also have the useful result of demonstrating that education should not be considered complete for some people at 16. Now you could only get your qualification by sticking it out.

The Diploma had the support of the teaching unions – vital to secure implementation – and the universities, who thought it would help them differentiate between students better than the present system. Amazingly, it also had the support of business, which had deemed that the Diploma would bring a better focus to the skills required from employers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t have the support of the only people that matter: the government. In the run up to the 2005 election, Labour didn’t want to be seen as being too radical. On the other side, the Tories were whinging about wanting to preserve the A-Level “gold standard”. Suddenly, Labour were on the wrong side of the PR battle, wanting to remove such a marvellous “gold standard” is apparently not what the country wants to hear.

After the election, Labour decided Tomlinson had some good ideas after all. They implemented the diploma system anyway. But in such a way that they were doomed from day one. Tomlinson only worked as a package deal. Instead, Labour brought in diplomas but only for vocational subjects.

The result: a total mess. Yet another qualification. The continued demise of the GCSE, leading to schools offering International GCSEs and Baccalaureates.  Which are yet more qualifications, promoting more confusion and making it impossible for employers, colleges and universities to compare standards.

Worse, the new qualification they have introduced is stillborn. By making it look like it’s only for the thickies, it hardly encourages uptake. Having more things for teachers to learn before they can even begin to teach it is not good either. And such a half hearted implementation will surely make students and teachers alike think: “Why study something that may be obsolete in just a few years?”.

But then to build the diploma in such a way that it’s actually much harder than the qualifications it is supposed to be equivalent to, thus adding to the unfathomable web of different qualifications, all at different levels of difficulty? That’s shambolic and unforgiveable.

In some ways, it can be likened to an attempt to build a free market in the education system. Choice and competition.

And that is why it’s a failure.

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One Response to “A Tear For The Education System”

  1. Liberal Eye said

    Hear! Hear!

    The alphabet soup we now have serves no-one (with the possible exception of ministers who gain from sowing such confusion that their incompetance is disguised).

    The supposed ‘gold standard’ is reduced to a ‘brass plated standard’ that may look vaguely gold-coloured but is in fact totally counterfeit. Just like NuLabour in fact.

    However, rebuilding the school system needs to start with the objective – ie what students will go on to afterwards – otherwise we are indulging in ‘producer push’ and that never works.

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