A change for the better?


While many have criticised the proposals to reform GCSEs and introduce new EBacc Certificates, Karen Sullivan argues that the change will do the profession good.

The proposed plans to overhaul GCSEs and replace them with the new baccalaureate represent a massive change both for pupils and educators. Whatever misgivings we may have about the suggested approach – or, indeed, the need for it – I have no doubt that change will be beneficial for all involved. Why? Because change provides an opportunity for progress and personal growth; it allows us to break bad habits, and adopt new ways of doing things.

I believe that the existing GCSE curriculum has become stale and predictable; teachers must experience something akin to Groundhog Day, teaching the same material over and over again, and marking what are effectively the same essays and tests year after year.

The vast majority of teaching hours in the first years of secondary education revolve around preparing students for examinations that are much the same from year-to-year, allowing students to memorise just a few areas of the curriculum for each subject.

Moreover, breaking courses into bite-sized chunks doesn’t encourage any depth of learning; instead, students temporarily master a small bit of a subject and then bury or forget it as they move on to “learn” the next small bit.

Expecting students to build upon their knowledge and understanding across the year, with the expectation that they will fully grasp a subject by the time the final examinations arrive, is a good idea. 

It’s more interesting for students, who will be able to extrapolate from and expand their knowledge as it builds, and it also means that they are not constantly distracted by a series of examinations that pepper the school year.

I personally love the idea of scrapping re-sits. Even the hardest-working pupils will never give 100 per cent if they know that there is an “out clause” – a second chance. I have heard countless young men and women show little concern for poor grades or even revision – “It doesn’t really matter; I can always re-sit”. If one of the key jobs of education is to prepare students for life, what are we teaching them by allowing them to take a half-hearted approach to their studies? Of course some pupils will do poorly, but they will also learn from their mistakes and develop strategies that will set them in good stead in years to come. 

I have also read that headteachers will be given powers to teach what they like, when they like. Reports have claimed that Michael Gove will abolish the secondary national curriculum and not replace it. “All existing programmes of study will be withdrawn from September 2013,” one article stated.

Educators should be stimulated and excited by the opportunities that this would bring. Freedom to adapt lessons (both their content and the methods by which they are taught) according to the individual needs, interests, strengths and weaknesses of particular classes will enhance the process of learning and make it more relevant for all involved. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you are never going to capture the imaginations and encourage a passion for literature in 13-year-old boys by asking them to relate to love sonnets! This kind of change is positive, even if it does demand a radical rethink and a great deal of input, imagination and work on the part of teachers.

Change allows us to adapt more easily to new situations, and cope better with the unexpected. It makes us more flexible, and allows us to throw open the metaphorical windows and let in some air. Without change there can be no improvement – no opportunity to re-evaluate and develop. And that is what education should be all about.

  • Karen Sullivan is a best-selling author, psychologist and childcare expert.


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