Head attacks the reforms of ambitious Gove

THE head teacher of an independent school has launched a stinging attack on Michael Gove’s exam reforms, claiming the politician is more interested in becoming the next Tory leader than in education matters.

Jonathan Taylor.
Jonathan Taylor.

Jonathan Taylor, the headmaster of Bootham School in York, has called for the education sector to be given the same autonomy free from political interference as the Bank of England.

He spoke out as pupils across the region discovered the results of their A-level and As-levels. which are sat in the first year of sixth form.

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Mr Taylor criticised Mr Gove’s plan to abandon AS-levels and also the pace at which he is attempting to push through reforms.

“He is bringing about change after change and you do feel that it is because he wants to be the next leader of the Conservative Party after the Prime Minister rather than because he is interested in matters of education.

“He has alienated the profession and anybody who voices criticism of his reforms is called ‘an enemy of promise’. I am speaking as an independent head but I know colleagues in the state sector who are tearing their hair out.”

Mr Gove is planning to scrap AS- levels and is also attempting to reform GCSEs to make them more rigorous. Although Mr Taylor welcomes the idea of fewer exams he believes government interference is creating unhelpful instability within the education sector.

“A more radical reform would be to take politicians out of education and leave it in the hand of the profession.”

Commenting on the decision to scrap AS-levels, he added: “It’s true that the current system of endless exams throughout a student’s A-level course means that exams and results seem to be the only thing worth talking about, but the alternative now proposed is just a step back into the past.

“The 2015 proposal would result in narrowing of choice with students unlikely to embark on a course which might result in failure. In fact, the old system was just that – narrowness and failure – with no stepping off points and no credit for a subject started but not completed to the bitter end.

“I am also concerned that the abandonment of the AS-exam at the end of the first year in the sixth form will result in universities being forced to make offers based on GCSE grades; it’s acknowledged that GCSEs are not the best indicators of intellectual ability – let alone of future potential – especially for boys.

“What we need in this country is a proper respect for the professionalism of those in charge of education, and less political interference aimed at headline grabbing.

“It is a curious fact that the Bank of England is given respect and autonomy over setting interest rates, in spite of the country having suffered one of the worst financial crises, and yet the education sector, which has seen constant improvement, both in terms of individual performance and in terms of numbers accessing higher and further education, is not afforded even a modicum of the same autonomy.

“We need the equivalent – an ‘Education Bank of England’.”

Mr Taylor also voiced concerns about the number and scale of exams carried out in this country and the exam boards’ ability to accurately mark them.

He said: “Until the marking of exams is sorted out any exam reform is built on sand. It is no good tinkering with the super structure if the foundations are not in place.

He said he did not want to undermine the achievement of his school’s students but added that Bootham School always stressed that exams are only a part of a pupil’s education. Bootham School is an independent Quaker School in York which was founded in 1823.