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Headteachers fear return to O-levels will create classroom divides in Greater Norwich schools

PUBLISHED: 06:30 22 June 2012

Education secretary Michael Gove

Education secretary Michael Gove

Headteachers have voiced fears that ditching GCSEs in favour of O-levels and CSEs would create classroom divides in schools around Norwich.

Leaked plans of education secretary Michael Gove’s intentions to overhaul the exams system and abolish the national curriculum from September 2014 emerged yesterday.

But education leaders warned the changes could bring back bad memories of 1980s’ education when students were made to “feel like failures” if asked to study the easier CSEs instead of the tougher O-levels.

The timing of the leak has also been regarded as insensitive, with thousands of pupils preparing to sit their GCSEs.

Victoria Musgrave, Wymondham High School principal, said she felt “extremely sad” as many people still “bear the scars” of the split caused by O-levels and CSEs.

She said: “It seems to me that this would be a retrograde step. What useful purpose will it serve?

“Mr Gove talks about raising standards and we in schools know that this has been our focus over many years and every time we do what we are bidden, the press have a field day stating ‘examinations are getting easier’ and headlines like ‘dumbing down’, rather than commenting on how hard both students and staff are working.”

Rob Anthony, senior associate headteacher of the Hewett School, Norwich, said it was “right and proper” to review the ways examinations were done - but in a sensible manner with proper consultation.

He said: “It’s reported we are going back to O-levels and CSEs. I remember them as a young person and people doing CSEs felt like they were failures and not worthy of O-levels.

“I am concerned about some aspects while some things are great. I like the idea of getting rid of a national curriculum and freeing things up. That’s a positive.”

Mr Gove was last night facing a major backlash from teachers and politicians over his controversial plans.

Earlier yesterday he was also hauled before the Commons to answer an urgent question on the shake-up.

Defending his plans, he said: “The truth is we have a two-tier system in education in this country. Some of the most impressive schools have already left GCSEs behind and opted for more rigorous qualifications like IGCSEs.

“While there were undoubtedly improvements in our schools and by our teachers over the course of the last 20 years, those improvements were not sufficient to ensure that we kept pace with other jurisdictions.”

The end could also be nigh for the national curriculum. Schools that have become academies have already enjoyed more freedom in what they teach.

And Rachel de Souza, principal of Ormiston Victory Academy, in Norwich, said she also supported attempts to bring back “respect and rigour” into the examination system.

She said: “We do want an examination system and qualification system that’s the best and most respected in the world. Certainly it always was but recent international surveys have shown we are slipping down, for example we were eighth and are now 28th in mathematics.

“I do think something needed to be done.”

It is also suggested exam boards will be picked to set tests for individual subjects, rather than three or four competing to offer different exams.

Former maths teacher Simon Wright, Norwich South MP, said he supported reforms which will improve standards for every child.

The Liberal Democrat said: “We must raise aspirations for all children, which is why every child should have the chance to achieve good qualifications.

“What we must not do is return to a two-tier system of the past which let down too many children and put barriers in the way of their future opportunities. Every child must have the chance to succeed.

“We must avoid creating a huge amount of upheaval in the education system for no real gain. Reform needs to be managed carefully and driven by evidence.”

It also remains to be seen how businesses will benefit from a different approach of teaching children.

Rob Whitwood, of Norwich-based Inspired Change, already works with schools to teach pupils business skills.

He said: “At the moment there’s an appetite in vocational training and giving people skills beyond academia.

“I find it strange to see something put out there to raise standards of academia. It seems a big shift of attention.”

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