The race between Natural History and the end of GCSEs

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Despite my confident reporting back in February that the DfE had decided to give the go-ahead for the next stage of the development of the GCSE in Natural History, it seems I was premature.  If DfE has made a decision, it's keeping quiet about it, which seems to suggest that it is still considering its options.  These are limited: turn it down, do nothing, or let the proposal go to the next stage.  It is now over a year since the proposals for the examination were launched, and many months since they were forwarded to DfE for consideration.

The DfE has a truckload of problems, of course: another exams fiasco looms, 375,000 students are currently excluded from schools by the pandemic regulations, there's a plague of mobile phones, the (alleged) problems of (alleged) white privilege are leading to calls for a decolonising of the curriculum, issues loom about who should use whose lavatories, there's a digital divide between families affecting learning, the singing of patriotic songs in schools has (who'd have thought it) proved controversial, there are racist uniform protests – actually these are protests about (alleged) racist uniform rules – and we have falling reading levels at age 11; sadly, the last of these are not alleged.

The secretary of state is widely regarded as wily but not the sharpest pencil in the box.  I winced as I watched him in the House of Commons yesterday.  Even so, making a decision about an optional GCSE is hardly a major problem you'd have thought.  I can only see one ray of light in the indecision: that the DfE is thinking of abolishing GCSEs altogether and so doesn't want to approve a new one.

If so, as I've already noted, I'd support it as I think it's ludicrous that we have an end of education exam at an age when no one leaves the school system.  It's an anachronism.  But, as I also noted, I'm realistic in that it will take years to do this because there are so many well-rehearsed arguments and vested interests against such a move – and not just from within the exams industry.  The DfE knows this, of course.

Like the House of Lords, GCSEs will be abolished some day, and each of these institutions could be said to be in a constant state of unbecoming.   Who'd be a schools minister!

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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