Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

O-Level Plans Spark Fears of 'Backward Step' for FE: Fe News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

O-Level Plans Spark Fears of 'Backward Step' for FE: Fe News

Article excerpt

Pupils seen to have 'failed' would end up in colleges, critics argue.

Education secretary Michael Gove's contentious plans to bring back O levels could have major and damaging consequences for the FE sector, college leaders have warned.

For a sector often portrayed by its critics as offering a second-rate alternative to more academic routes, restoring a two-tier system - with about three-quarters of students expected to take a more rigorous O level and the remainder sitting a less demanding new qualification akin to the CSE - will create obvious risks, opponents have said.

Mike Hopkins, principal of Middlesbrough College, fears that Mr Gove's "sheep and goats solution" could lead to students being classed as successes or failures before their 16th birthdays. And many of the teenagers steered down the CSE track would then be likely to end up in colleges.

This is a scenario that is all too familiar to Mr Hopkins. "I was one of those people," he said. "I got three O levels; I was seen to have failed.

"All of a sudden, I'm a senior civil servant and a principal. Most people are capable of doing great things with a bit of support. I don't think it's a good thing to go back to a system from 30 years ago."

While FE and skills minister John Hayes has spoken frequently of his ambition that high-quality vocational options such as apprenticeships should earn parity of esteem with academic qualifications, adult learning charity Niace's chief executive David Hughes feels that Mr Gove's intervention is a step in the wrong direction.

"This might just make things worse," he said. "The impact on learners would be enormous. Schools would have to start setting students differently at 14, maybe even at 12 or 13. The mindset would be completely different. It feels like a backward step.

"We think that GCSE English and maths are critical for all young people at the moment, and this could mean saying that some people won't get anywhere near it. …

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