UK Education Expert Criticises Government’s Science Exam Changes

Sir David Bells calls for independent commission for Education. Picture by Florian Scholz

Sir David Bells has called for an independent commission for Education. Picture by Florian Scholz

If you are thinking of moving to the UK to study in one of its istitutions then it is helpful to have an understanding of who is who, who is doing what, and, of course, what is what in UK education.

So, let us start with Sir David Bell, as he has recently been in the news and his comments may be intriguing to those interested in the UK education exams, particular GCSE’s and A-levels, and actually, his recent comments relate to the UK education system as a whole.

You may have heard of Sir David Bell before. He is currently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading and has previously been Permanent Secretary at the British Department for Education. Before that, he was chief inspector of schools at the Office for Standards in Education. So, to sum up, he is an expert on education in UK.

Recently, he has called for an independent commission for education, which would advise on the curriculum and assessment, after a proposal was put forward by Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulations) to alter the way Science is examined at GCSE level.

In response to this suggestion by Ofqual, David Bell has said the following to the main UK papers:

“I worry, as many others do, about education policy being constantly at the behest of five-year electoral cycles and ministerial whims. There is a move towards independent commissions in areas such as transport and energy, the same should apply to education to prevent going “back to square on in schools policy after every single election”.

He continues:

“Teachers need to be insulated from the day-to-day vagaries of the political system because teaching practice, knowledge and skills evolve faster and more organically than Whitehall can possibly direct.”

These comments were made as part of a wide-ranging speech that he gave at the Association of Science Education’s (ASE) annual conference, which was recently held at Reading University. They have been spurred by the proposals made by Ofqual last month to mark teenagers’ Science practical work separately, which would would not form part of the overall GCSE science subjects.

David Bell suggests that these proposals are a “highly dangerous experiment” which come from failing to listen to informed opinion. He commented:

“It sends out a message that hard-nosed practical skills are not valued equally to theory.

Meanwhile a spokeswoman for the Department for Education highlighted that there was already an independent exam regulator and that changes in qualifications drew upon expert advice.

“Our plan for education will ensure all pupils leave education with the knowledge and skills they need to access a wide range of jobs and succeed in a competitive global market.”

The debate continues.

The BBC and Guardian have reported on this story.

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