Feature: No more RS A Level?

A couple of weeks after Michael Gove admitted that he hasn’t done enough for RE and just as the OfSTED report story is fading from view, yet another demoralising potential catastrophe for RE emerges.

Recent plans to address the inadequacy of funding for A Levels, which has led to a collapse in entries for the IB Diploma, have been so badly thought through that they threaten the survival of our subject post 16.  Extra funding per student will be given, enabling full-time students at FE college or in a state school sixth form to take more than three A Levels, but only if students take four “facilitating subjects”, as defined by the Russell Group and, naturally enough, not including RS.  

Leaving aside the gross misinterpretation of the Russell Group’s statement which seems implicit in this policy and what it says about Gove’s skills in critical thinking and analysis.  Leaving aside the fact that Oxford, Cambridge, Leading US Universities and most employers disagree with the Russell Group in terms of the exclusion of RS, which is, we learn today, the number one subject taken by PPE undergraduates at Oxford.  Leaving aside the utter hypocrisy of Gove saying that he hasn’t done enough for RS, while faced with a angry RS-sympathizing audience, while he was cooking up the death of the subject in the car on the way home, please let us focus on what is more important.  

The measure is dressed up in the clothes of protecting Further Maths from the designs of “unscrupulous” Headteachers who want (actually have been forced) to axe unpopular subjects so as to make ends meet.  Nevertheless, the effect of this policy (at least as it is described in the TES) will be to narrow the range of options post-16 in all state funded schools and colleges to cover Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature, History, Geography and Languages (read a Language) only.  If students choose any other subjects, or choose to study fewer than four subjects, it will, in effect, mean that schools and colleges lose over a thousand pounds per year per student.  Tell me that managers aren’t going to force students to choose four “facilitating” courses and shove their desire to be more adventurous out of the window?  

Of course, this will enable Gove to deliver substantial savings to the exchequer post-election and once the ring-fence has been lifted in one way or another, as we know it must be.  A Level sets of 30+ are on the horizon, along with the death of discussion work, practical experiments, detailed marking – and pretty much everything that makes sixth form study worthwhile.  Nevertheless, are we willing to let the consequences of this funding policy to go unnoticed and unchallenged?  Will we teachers roll over, meekly saying thankyou for a bit more of the money to do what we have to do, and not make everybody realize that the results of Gove’s back-of-envelope policies will be to create a generation of totally apathetic school leavers with no passion for learning and no skills for the workplace either.  

What makes Great Britain great?  You won’t find many people focusing on the outstanding numeracy of our workforce or how suited our young people are for data-entry.  Rather, employers from around the world see the UK as a hotbed of creativity, a place where scientists can communicate with the public, where engineers apply their skills to real-life challenges, where journalists uncover injustice without fear or prejudice, where artists thrive and innovate and where a lot of people carve out careers in industries which weren’t invented when they were at school.

How do we keep our edge for tomorrow’s world?  Well, I’ll hazard a guess that it won’t be by forcing a nostalgic vision of 1940s education onto 21st Century kids, without even pretending to offer the academically bright ones the chance to attend selective schools and the practically capable ones the chance to be properly trained to a trade.  It won’t be by writing off the majority of young people as failures and failing to inspire any of them with the joy of learning.  It won’t be by badmouthing teachers and blaming schools, by pandering to right-wing pensioners and alienating young people and their parents.

How does what Gove offers differ from shoving all kids into exam-factories based on failed secondary-moderns, regardless of their needs or aspirations?  One size does not fit all, even if it would be cheaper if it did.  It is as if the UK, acknowledged as a leader in fashion, is choosing to model our education system after an XL unbranded white T shirt.  OK they only cost £2 each – and in a way they go with everything – but really putting everybody into identikit blank shrouds doesn’t make them more fashionable or more flexible, it makes them feel alienated and angry and makes them lose hope.  Also, spare a thought for the people who make the £2 T Shirts, or who will have to teach the budget curriculum.  They don’t have great working conditions and their products are not known for their quality!

Without allowing young people the opportunity to specialize, focusing on their interests and aspiring to a particular course or career from 15 or 16, they don’t achieve and they drop out of education.  Of course that is probably what Gove wants.  He mocks the 50% University target and has done precious little to support alternatives.  If young people drop out of college or sixth form or decide not to go on with education it saves him money and ends up being somebody else’s problem.  Yes Iain Duncan Smith might complain, but he has a plan to stop under 25s getting benefits, so he will soon shut up.  

Please.  Don’t let this ill-thought through policy take us further down the line to writing off the next generation and turning our country into a failed state!  Spread the word, write to your MPs and protest in what ways you can.  You never know, perhaps it might make a difference…

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