Tuesday, 3 April 2012
Back to the not-so-attractive future with Michael Gove
So Education Secretary Michael Gove (above) wants universities to play a key role in setting A-Levels. Alongside all his other wear-a-blazer-and-learn-Latin blasts from the past, this is one of the most nonsensical.
It's not necessarily all that bad idea to involve dons in setting A-Levels. They know where their disciplines are going. They have fresh ideas, and do new work. They might ginger things up. They know what they want to see in their prospective students - and A-Levels are to some extent a gateway to higher study.
Not all A-Level students will be applying to university. They certainly won't all go to the 'elite' (and self-appointed) Russell Group universities that Mr Gove wants to be at the forefront of this new process. Their input won't always be the most appropriate.
And it's not as if universities are not busy. With all the research and all the undergraduate teaching they've had to do to 'deepen' and 'widen' their appeal (despite being one of the most successful part of the economy, and running surpluses most of the time), they're frantically over-driven and time-poor places at the moment. Ask most lecturers what they think of this new plan, and they'll say: 'and just when am I supposed to do this? In my sleep?'
Most important of all, we've been here before. Oxford, Cambridge and London used to have lots of input into A-Levels. They don't now, because it was thought important to professionalise the process, involve people who actually know about teaching pupils in schools, and experts in pedagogy who understand how teaching and assessment fit together. Universities do understand this, but not necessarily for younger people at a much more formative stage of their development.
In the end, the idea will get a big raspberry from everyone concerned - yet another untested, untrialled big bang from the same coalition government that gave you the Higher Education funding system and the NHS 'reforms' that are proving so popular and so successful.
Good luck with this one, Secretary of State. You'll need it.