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14.11.12

Gove wants challenging exams and information memorising

Education secretary Michael Gove is to outline the philosophy underpinning his planned shake-up of GCSEs and A Levels, describing the benefits of more challenging tests.

In a speech titled ‘In Praise of Tests’, to be given to the Independent Academies Association, Gove will also say that external tests are more fair, and can avoid under-marking of work by ethnic minorities.

According to extracts of the speech provided by his department, Gove will say: “Exams matter because motivation matters. Humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges. And our self-belief grows as we clear challenges we once thought beyond us.

“If we know tests are rigorous, and they require application to pass, then the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavours and deeper learning.

“Only when facts and concepts are committed securely to the working memory, so that it is no effort to recall them and no effort is required to work things out from first principles, do we really have a secure hold on knowledge.

“Memorising scales, or times tables, or verse, so that we can play, recall or recite automatically gives us this mental equipment to perform more advanced functions and display greater creativity.”

Discussing the dangers of using internal marking, he will add: “With external testing there is no opportunity for such bias – the soft bigotry of low expectations – and tests show ethnic minority students performing better. So external tests are not only a way of leveling the playing field for children of all backgrounds they are a solvent of prejudice.

“We know that happiness comes from earned success. There is no feeling of satisfaction as deep, or sustained, as knowing we have succeeded through hard work at a task which is the upper end, or just beyond, our normal or expected level of competence.

“For all these reasons exams pitched at a level which all can easily pass are worse than no exams at all. Unless there is stretch in the specification, and application is required to succeed, there will be no motivation, no satisfaction and no support for those who need it.”

He added that rote learning must be supplied with a good understanding of the context, and meaning to the facts being committed to memory.

“Rote learning, say, names of cities and rivers for its own sake is not very good. But having them on a map with a historical context or something like that the students will see why they're important and learn them better.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Image c.  Regional Cabinet under a Creative Commons 2.0 Licence

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