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The headmaster of one of the North Wests leading independent schools is calling for clarity from Education Secretary, Michael Gove on the subject of GCSE examinations and claims that the Secretary of State still needs to detail how his revised plans for secondary education will shake down and over what timescale.

Dr Stephen Winkley, the outspoken Headmaster of Lancashires co-educational, Rossall School, is worried that after years of tinkering with the curriculum by the previous Government, schools are no nearer to a definitive plan from the coalition and hes concerned that pupils will be confused about what combination of exams theyll be taking. Posting on his schools website blog, Dr Winkley, a former Chairman of the Boarding Schools Association, claims to have some sympathy with Michael Goves position, but is worried that the proposed changes and apparent U-turn from the Government is unsettling pupils.

Said Dr Winkley: I feel deeply ambivalent about Mr Gove, but he certainly knows how to apologise. Indeed, his parliamentary apology was a master class. I accept that either way hes damned: if he sticks to his guns he is arrogant and unresponsive and if he changes his mind (bowing to pressure that the changes were a bridge too far), hes accused of a humiliating U-turn. However, the only thing that matters is not how he is perceived, but what Year 9 pupils in schools must now prepare for.

Children are entitled to know what combination of exams they will be sitting. And of course, what will be the value of those subjects.

The career educationalist went on to criticize the previous governments mismanagement of education, which he claimed included the addition of a large number of academically questionable GCSE subjects, which were injected simply for statistical benefit. He added: The shadowy subjects introduced by the previous government included such things as the NOCN Diploma in Popular Music Practice, which counted for five GCSEs, then there were GCSEs in Wired Sugar Flowers and Call-Handling, which, in my opinion, have no place in the exam hall. I made noises at the time of their introduction but to no avail. However, I can only hope that Mr Goves tinkering at the edges now can at least rid us of such superfluity.

I have colleagues in the profession who believe that the shadowy subjects can often be the salvation of less academically able pupils but I remain unconvinced of their value. However, I acknowledge that we are unable in Britain to accept different strands in education: the academic, the practical, and the vocational, because of hang-ups about comparability and status, which is perhaps why Grammar Schools were abolished. Its perhaps an English disease, since other countries make distinctions easily. Questionable subjects aside though, the only thing Id like to see now in English education is consensus and stability for the sake of our pupils. If we have that I might even put up with Wired Sugar Flowers and Call-Handling.

Published: February 15 2013

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