Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Educational Reforms

So I got an email from NUS about this petition: 

I signed it straight away and then directed me to write a letter to my local MP. So here's mine. Please sign the petition, you don't have to be a member of NUS to do it.

"Listen to the desires of your children. Encourage them and then give them the autonomy to make their own decision."  - Denis Waitley

My name is Chris and I am writing to you to raise my concerns with the government’s A-level and AS level reform.  I feel my opinion is just as valid as MPs' who claim to know better than students who have first-hand experience with the educational system and process. As you know, from September 2013, the government is reforming A-Levels, with mid-year January assessments being removed; limiting opportunities for resits, with synoptic assessment taking priority.

A mantra that we all have learnt is now being swept aside. What is happening to "if you don't succeed, try and try again"? Why is it morphing into: "do it well the first time or else you must naturally be a failure"? We rarely achieve things perfectly and to our utmost potential the first time. It is true that there are students who generally do well in exams first time round, and achieve highly academically. However, not every single student does, due to natural ability, quality of teaching or external circumstances. But if they are willing to put the work in to do better, I do not understand why they should be held back.

Another point I wish to address is the government's concern of an alleged "retake culture", leading to students being lazy, and not taking their exams seriously as they are safe in the happy knowledge that they can just try again.

This is false. There is not a resit culture amongst the students. We cannot be lazy - if we were, we would not be attending college in the first place (which, as you know is non-compulsory). Furthermore, we have other commitments and subjects to focus on (some students take up to 5 subjects in their first year of college) - and retaking exams relies almost solely on independent study. Due to cuts in EMA, most students find that we have to work to support the cost of their books and equipment, educational trips, travel costs for college and so on, rather than continuously drain our parent's bank accounts. But most of all - we have to pay for our own resits. Few colleges will pay for resits on behalf of students, including those receiving the limited student support funds. Costs range from the lowest at £20 for most subjects (e.g. Biology and Maths) to £50 (Understanding, Written Response and Research in Chinese). You will of course remember that students are unlikely to simply retake a single exam, and the costs will add up.

An additional large problem with these reforms is that there will be a focus on exam skills, rather than testing the knowledge students have gained and their ability to utilize them. I'm sure you will agree that being able to fill in a booklet in a particular way is not the most useful skill. You may be aware that the Russell Group of Universities has a very strong influence in qualifications. They should not and cannot be the only influence. we must look at  the bigger picture - what about employers? Why are their views being overlooked? Isn't education generally considered to be the key to gaining employment?

These reforms are a complete and utter mistake, and a pathetic attempt to prove that "grown ups know best". As I have stated, there are probably a very, very strong problems, and this is probably why Wales and Northern Ireland have rejected these reforms and have a separate exam system instead.

We, as students, are not grade-generating machines. We are not some strange species who must have decisions made for us. We are humans with thoughts, voices and opinions, just like any politician. We are just younger and probably a bit shorter in height.

Speak to the students. Listen to them.

The changes, due to come into effect this from September 2013 are being rushed through by Michael Gove, without full consideration for the impact they may have. If reform is to be taken seriously it must be done thoroughly and in a way that inspires the confidence of the higher education sector, colleges, schools, students and the wider public.

I hope that you will support my views by writing to the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education; by highlighting in parliament the impact of the policy on students and the value of the A-level; and by working with others to call on this policy to be reversed.

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