26.10.07, Comment, Change Yet Again?

Diplomas, already? I smell a rat! If the government fails to get the results it has boasted it will in GCSEs and the rest, then we change the goal post yet again and introduce Diplomas on a graded scale. When I was doing first year algebra, the teacher used to say you can’t mix apples with pears. So we won’t easily be able to compare results across the board in the future as we used to be able to and vaguely can today, so here we will have another educational conjuring trick – ‘con’, by the way, is short for conjure!

In the 30s I sat University matriculation, which was accepted as a yardstick of ability, not just as a university entrance qualification. Since then there have been the High School Certificate, GCSE, A Levels, the Baccalaureate in some schools, and now Graded Diplomas are being proposed. The dictionary definition is ‘ a document conferring some honour or privilege, as a university degree, etc.’ – inferring a standard equivalent to an honour or degree, not just a yardstick. Anyone who has sat on an employment board, or in fact attended one, will recognise the value of a record of ability, often overvalued against experience. The problem for the people interviewing, under this latest change will be the need for a guide through the ramifications of educational history to sort the relative merits of the various school-leaving certificates that they’ll be faced with, including the Diplomas, The latter seem as if they will be able to be cobbled together, by the pupil, from a random selection of subjects under the heading of diploma. Where standards in the 3 Rs will come into the reckoning is not clear.

I have always subscribed to the principal of ‘if it ain’t bust, don’t fix it!. I bet if you took a poll of grammar school and secondary school teachers concerning the need for another change, you would get a resounding ‘No!’ This idea seems more complicated, which means more paperwork, more time and, for what end? All we need is to know, is the young person reasonably bright, educated to the standard required, and capable of filling the job or college place she or he seeks. Marks in properly set exams should tell us that, irrespective of the overall structure of the examination system, so why change it again? In the Navy, we were simple lecturers, teaching the hardest, the most disparate, and in some cases the desperate, crafty men. We permitted them to take written material into the exam room. We did not allow talking. The exam questions ran from easy to very hard, with more questions than could be answered in the time. The students were made aware of our strategy, which was basically that time spent looking things up was time wasted. We marked the papers and then gave the best 95%, and graded the rest down. This system had to be and was simple and foolproof.

I have been a technical teacher in the Navy, Soph was head of department in a secondary school,, and we are appalled that another pointless change is being engineered which will make little difference in the long run, whether teaching standards continue to fall or not. In some cases I think the syllabus is of a higher standard than necessary, perhaps driven by the higher standards of the universities. When I employed graduates, I found their knowledge of advanced design was considerable, and their knowledge of basic principles lamentable. The scope of a university is a guide to the aspirations of the teaching staff. Human nature being what it is, I suspect it is more interesting and rewarding intellectually to teach and experiment at the cutting edge, rather than with bread and butter issues. If I am right, perhaps a new look at standards and how they are fairing and why, instead of possibly finding ways of hiding deficiencies when they become apparent would be more praiseworthy.

Categorized as General

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