Opinion: Michael Gove’s plans are a disaster for schools

Credit ITN

The publication last week of the All-Party Parliamentary Select Committee’s damning report into changes in qualifications at 16, signals a step-change in attitudes towards Michael Gove’s so-called ‘Education Revolution.’

The report makes for unsettling reading from a Liberal Democrat point of view.  And even Tory MP Graham Stuart, Chair of the Education Committee warns:

We have serious concerns about the Government’s proposed timetable for change. Ministers want to introduce a new qualification, require a step-change in standards, and alter the way exams are administered, all at the same time. We believe this is trying to do too much, too quickly and we call on the Government to balance the pace of reform with the need to get it right.  

The Government of which we’re part, far from ‘letting teachers teach’, has plunged schools and colleges into accelerating chaos. Why the rush? Introducing several fundamental changes at the same time, to a tight timetable, by 2015, jeopardises the quality of any reform and threatens the stability of the wider exam system.

I don’t want my nephew, currently in Year 7, used as a guinea pig for a botched ‘revolution’ – his future is too important.

Certainly, GCSEs need “significant improvements” to restore public confidence, for example, putting an end to re-sits and competition between the exam boards, which, combined with accountability pressure on schools, has an adverse effect on standards over time.

But has Michael Gove made the case that the GCSE brand is so discredited that it is beyond repair?

What about the enormous impact of Gove’s new English Baccalaureate Certificates? If rigour is so important to ‘restore’ confidence why are some subjects being excluded from the ‘improvements?’

Why are arts subjects, some humanities and technology subjects being forced by Gove to remain as GCSEs? This makes no sense except if aiming to create a two-tier subject system.

In a recent open letter to David Cameron, 22 Professors of Education warned that the focus on a small number of English Baccalaureate Certificates will “grievously affect the contribution that our education system makes to both the cultural life of the country and to the creative and innovatory development of our economy.” The Education Select Committee report concludes:

We are…very concerned about the potential impact of the English Baccalaureate Certificates on subjects outside the English Baccalaureate, which will be left with “discredited” GCSE qualifications for some time. We question the extent to which it is possible to “upgrade” some subjects without implicitly “downgrading” others. The proposed reforms may undermine parity of esteem between different subjects, and between academic and vocational education, rather than do anything to reinforce it.

Gove wants to divide and rule: to split the most academic from the rest through a return to a narrowly configured core curriculum, with few choices on offer in humanities and no arts.

In an extraordinary comment related to the abolition of GCSEs in ‘core’ subjects before the National Curriculum Review is completed, Gove told the Select Committee that,

Coherence comes at the end of the process.

This breath-taking assertion doesn’t inspire confidence in the life-changing plans for children Gove is ramming through. After all is coherence achieved by accident or design?

Perhaps most damning of all is the impact of the Government’s plans on disadvantaged and lower ability pupils.

The committee found “no evidence” that the proposed EBCs/GCSE split in the curriculum will tackle under-achievement or narrow the attainment gap between the richest and poorest students – at least, no more effectively than the current system.

What is Gove going to do about the 40% or more of children who do not go to university?

Why is he unclear on how ‘harder’ exams are going to help these children achieve?

It’s time the Liberal Democrats came clean on Education – are we going to continue  supporting a set of incoherent plans, which create a two-tier system of examinations, with a set of unclear outcomes for pupils, particularly the socially disadvantaged?

Gove’s plans are a blueprint for disaster. Liberal Democrats must call a halt to this experiment with our children’s futures.

* Helen Tedcastle is a member of the Shrewsbury and Atcham local party

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60 Comments

  • Tabman – it’s from 1998?? Are you sure you’ve copied the right link?

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '13 - 10:00am

    @ Tabman

    Thanks for the link but it’s not relevant to the debate on Education so I’m not sure why you posted it in this thread?

  • Julian Critchley 5th Feb '13 - 10:57am

    Nice article, Helen. The problem with any article on the damage Gove is doing to our children’s education is not where to start, but where to stop. You could write books on it. Nevertheless, you’ve picked up on a key underpinning problem – there is no coherence, there is no consistency, and there is an appalling lack of concern or thought given to any but the most academically able children.

    There are many things about this Tory Government which the LibDems in Parliament should be ashamed of facilitating, but the free ride given to Gove’s slash and burn policies is very high on that list.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '13 - 11:05am

    @ Julian

    Thanks for your comments. Yes the difficulty was in what to leave out!

    My main concern is the ‘radio silence’ at the top of the Liberal Democrats regarding what is unfolding at the Department for Education.

  • Richard Harris 5th Feb '13 - 11:10am

    As with so much discussed on this site, the parliamentary Lib Dems could stop it tomorrow but choose not to.

  • >As with so much discussed on this site, the parliamentary Lib Dems could stop it tomorrow but choose not to.

    How many of them actually have skin in the game? we know Nick Clegg doesn’t…

    What really irritates me is that a basic eBacc qualification that was awarded to those who achieved C or higher grades in 5 core GCSE subjects in a single exam season, actually had a lot going for it and I doubt would of received much real resistance.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '13 - 12:03pm

    @ Joe Otten: ” If we grant that the EBac adds rigour to Maths and Science etc, this is a good thing, and if other subjects come later, that is also a good thing.”

    Why do you assume that Gove’s understanding of ‘rigour’ is what we need? If there is a lack of challenge in GCSE for the top 5% of pupils, believe me, that can be rectified in the assessment criteria for GCSE quite straightforwardly. Gove’s understanding of rigour is a content-laden linear model of assessment based on O Levels. I did O Levels and they were a memory test – the children these days are tested far more ‘rigorously’ over a range of skills than I ever was in 1982.

    ” Really? This is saying that we shouldn’t improve assessment in Maths because it is unfair to Music. I really don’t know where to begin in condemning this attitude.”

    I think if that was the implication of those words, then I would agree with you but I don’t read it in the same way. The committee are questioning why Gove wants ‘rigour’ in some subjects but is perfectly content to leave other subjects as they are. This is going to lead to an inherent inconsistency of standards across the curriculum. Why not raise the ‘standards’ in all the main curriculum subjects – all children get the same standard then.

    I’m a little surprised that you approve of Gove’s comment on coherence coming at the end of the process. Schools are in turmoil at present over the enormous changes he is expecting to be delivered – how is this a good thing to put teachers and pupils through ?

    My nephews are both good at maths and Art – they are less good at languages and History – under Gove’s proposals, they won’t stand a chance of leaving school with an EBacc – this will lessen their chances of going to university, even if they prove to be talented and creative artists/designers – is this fair?

  • Julian Critchley 5th Feb '13 - 12:11pm

    @Joe

    The ebacc doesn’t add any rigour to anything. The GCSEs remain the same exams. There is a separate plan which is to remove the competitive exam board situation and grant “franchises” to exam boards for different subjects, so as to reduce competitive incentives to reduce difficulty.

    So there’s no change to what students actually learn within these subjects (at least, at present – God knows what Gove will invent next week). The change is purely that schools now have a powerful incentive via league tables to force more students into Ebacc subjects, whether or not those students are able to access the subjects, and whether or not they have any interest in those subjects. There are a lot of students who are inspired and motivated by art, or music who will find themselves denied those choices to be forced into history (I speak as a Head of History). Similarly, there are a lot of students who would obtain real benefits and employment chances from a vocational course in childcare or tourism, who will instead be denied those opportunities because they’ll be shoved into a French lesson which they have no interest in.

    I know that some others, like Matthew Huntbach, have said that they hope that schools will continue to do what’s best for their students, rather than focus solely on league tables. But given that the headteacher’s job, and the school’s OFSTED grade, are now heavily dependent upon results and league tables, then I think you’d be hard pushed to find such a school. Moreover, if you work in teaching, you may have heard of the organisation “PiXL”. This is a government-approved training company who give endless courses to school managers on how to prioritise those students whose results will have greatest impact on league table positions. Hundreds of schools pay to attend these courses. Only yesterday, in my school, I was at a meeting in which the timetabling deputy was considering how to strip another lesson from the arts subjects to give to me for history in KS3, solely because of the Ebacc. This isn’t a theoretical debate – it’s having a very real impact in schools already.

    League tables are everything. They drive curricula and they drive pedagogy.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '13 - 12:48pm

    @ Joe Otten:

    Not at all, your comments are welcome!

    ” I can’t escape the impression that Gove is being condemned for both a) doing the wrong thing to “core” subjects and b) not doing the same thing to other subjects.”

    He is being criticised for creating a dual or two- tier system – we Lib Dems have always been against artificial barriers being put in place or structures, to lessen achievement and re-enforce failure.

    Gove is not wrong to want high standards – any teacher worth their salt, strives for this on a daily basis.
    The question is how best to do it? Do to build a system designed to help the most academic get to university or do you structure it so that the talents and worth of young people with a mix of academic and creative potential is recognised equally?

    The really destructive element of Gove’s plan is the way that he has rubbished GCSEs in public only to keep them for Music, RS, Art and other subjects – while he loads all the rewards onto a narrow selection of humanities and languages like Latin.

    Music is not intrinsically easy neither is Art or RS, actually. I want my nephews to have confidence that their talents and achievements are recognised in the system – and not sneered at by those who happen to have a flair for all ‘facilitating subjects.’

  • Peter Watson 5th Feb '13 - 12:49pm

    @Joe Otten “If we grant that the EBac adds rigour to Maths and Science etc, this is a good thing, and if other subjects come later, that is also a good thing.”
    I would grant no such thing. What on earth does “rigour” mean in this context and is it the be all and end all of an education system?
    I have seen nothing in Gove’s proposals to make me believe it can ensure children are better educated with more knowledge and understanding of the subjects they are being taught. How can it possibly be an educational improvement to retain the same curriculum but simply replace coursework and modular study with a single handwritten exam after two years?

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Feb '13 - 1:48pm

    Julian Critchley

    Similarly, there are a lot of students who would obtain real benefits and employment chances from a vocational course in childcare or tourism, who will instead be denied those opportunities because they’ll be shoved into a French lesson which they have no interest in.

    You don’t think there’s some benefit in someone who aspires to work in tourism having a little bit of basic history knowledge, a little bit of basic geography, and at least some understanding that not everyone in the world speaks English?

    I actually think there is some benefit in keeping children on all-round study until the age of 16, and not letting them drop subjects they find “difficult”. Sometimes we need to struggle with things we find difficult, it is part of becoming a rounded person. I know I myself am very glad to have been forced to study English literature at O-level even though as a nerdy science oriented 15 year old I hated it at the time.

    Tourism strikes me as a good example of something where to properly appreciate what might be taught in a vocational qualification, one needs a bit of context. I am concerned that putting children into this sort of thing, who have very little general knowledge of the world around them, means they pick it up as some sort of rote-learning of what to them is as abstract as anything else. They know the words, they can recite the definitions, they can reproduce them in an assessment – but they can’t actually relate them to the real world. I say this because it is what I see in students in my own discipline who have come up through a “vocational” qualification background where if you look at the curriculum of the vocational qualification it looks quite good and relevant. There is something of a “Chinese room” issue here (look it up on Wiki if you’re not familiar with the term) – a readiness to assume purely mechanical processing means some deeper intelligence.

    It seems to me that children need to be given some sense of their position in time and space, i.e. history and geography. This is needed all the more now when their lives are so dominated by the artificial worlds of the
    entertainment industry. They need something beyond that to help them break through.I feel VERY strongly that someone who is ignorant of basic history and geography is very much at the mercy of the mind-control people who run our world these days. I don’t think History and Geography to GCSE level is to be considered so advanced that it’s beyond most young people.

    As I’ve said, and you’ve acknowledged, the problem is really league table mania – which itself comes from a lack of understanding of basic statistics. Just because we have a crude measurement of performance in the core subjects as one figure we can use in assessing schools does not mean we should treat it as the only one that counts. My understanding is that the EBacc is the equivalent of 5 GCSEs, which seems about right – give the children a choice of the other 3 (or is it more these days?). Look – suppose a school comes 5th in the borough league tables when had it pushed and abandoned decent teaching of all but the EBacc subjects it could have come 3rd, does it REALLY matter? I can see the worry in a school bumping along the bottom, but schools in the middle? Isn’t the obsession with the exact placing just part of this mentality you are trying to oppose when you criticise Gove’s attitude to education? Is it beyond the capacity of the Heads of all the schools in the Borough to show a bit of guts and gumption and come together and agree “NO – we WON’T play this silly game – we won’t all try and out-compete each other on the exact EBacc score to the exclusion of every other educational consideration”? I’m not here suggesting breaking the law, not saying don’t participate in the EBacc, don’t return the figures, don’t teach what the law obliges you to teach. I am suggesting you all see each other as colleagues rather than rivals in a game you are being forced to play.

    As I’ve explained many times, underneath I can see some value in what Gove is trying to do here. It meets concerns that people like me in my former role as a university admissions tutor have expressed about children, particularly form lower socio-economic backgrounds, taking a mixture of subjects that would disadvantage them later on, in part because they simply lacked the knowledge to appreciate the value of more abstract subjects, but in part also because league table mania when the points were calculated in a different way encouraged it. Of course, Gove is a disaster for what I would ideally want, he is going about it in such an arrogant and illiberal way that he is damaging the very case I’m trying to make in suggesting there is some rationalism underneath it all.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '13 - 2:21pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach: “I actually think there is some benefit in keeping children on all-round study until the age of 16, and not letting them drop subjects they find “difficult”.”

    Completely agree, to this extent – children of all abilities need challenge and need to be stretched – how far and how fast is up to the teacher and department to develop with the children they have.

    Yes, children should not be allowed to opt out of subjects which would be ‘good for them’ but lets claer up ssome urban myths – most children ie: 95% will take a combination of GCSEs so a less able pupil will take English Maths Science, a humanity, practical and creative subjects. So getting onto to Tourism – not a subject I have ever come across at school although it is popular in FEs – it is not likely or probable that a young person wwill go through their education without taking something hard.’ What they may do is supplement their smaller number of GCSEs (say 5 – 6) with a vocational course, while the most academic – you or I – would take all academic (7 or more) with one or two creative GCSEs.

    With Gove’s plans, all children will be channelled into the academic sphere bar the least able. Practical subjects, some academic humanities and the arts are being left as GCSEs (after Gove has told the world that they are useless qualifications) – please explain to me how that can be fair or rational for anyone but the most academic kids?

    We really have to look at the bigger picture here – qualifications are not just there to get children to a Russell group university – some subjects outside the EBacc are not going to harm the life-chances or abilities of a young person to perform at university (Music, RS, Art, Design) – this is a nonsense, yet this is the zeitgeist in Gove’s department.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '13 - 2:23pm

    @ Matthew

    Apologies for typos in the previous post – I was rushing.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '13 - 4:27pm

    @ Joe:

    I stand corrected – the Secretary of State does not explicitly use the word ‘useless.’ I am certainly not trying to do the qualification down indirectly!

    Please do draw your own conclusions on Mr Gove’s opinion of GCSEs and indeed the entire system, which I acknowledge is needing some reform (as stated in my article) but not wholesale revolution:

    Quote from The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/ebaccs-set-to-replace-gcse-exams-says-gove-8144880.html

    To quote Michael Gove:
    “After years of drift, decline and dumbing down, at last we are reforming our examination system to compete with the world’s best.”He added: “The GCSE was conceived – and designed – for a different age and a different world.”

    I don’t think he is giving exams which will remain in non-EBC section of the curriculum a ringing endorsement, no matter how one spins it! His remarks have done much damage.

    By the way, as someone who has taught GCSE since 1989 and has seen how it has evolved , it is clear to me that the tweaks by Labour in 2000 were detrimental ie: re-sits and modules plus 100% coursework options.

    I would ‘reform’ the GCSE by ending modules and re-sits and ending competition between exam boards and the link between them and performance tables. This reform is manageable and will be effective in ironing out concerns people may have.

    Certainly it is right to give parents information on performance – I acknowledge Simon McGrath’s point – but as Julian said, the performance tables are driving the curriculum and the new plans simply push that idea even harder.

    This is not sound educational practice in my view – it will not improve teaching or learning in the classroom.

  • Julian Critchley 5th Feb '13 - 5:10pm

    @Matthew

    “Is it beyond the capacity of the Heads of all the schools in the Borough to show a bit of guts and gumption and come together and agree “NO – we WON’T play this silly game ”

    Matthew, I wish you were right. But you will be very hard-pushed to find (m)any schools which do not see themselves as in competition with other local schools. The last 25 years of education policy have been designed specifically to create this “market” in education. League tables, OFSTED judgements, CVA, parental choice, specialist schools, EAZs, Academies, Free Schools – all these policies have been based on the idea that the main determinant of educational quality is pressure from competition. What you describe is very much the situation which most teachers, and indeed most headteachers, would love to see. But what teachers would like, is not remotely considered when politicians sit down to invent education policies. Quite the reverse.

    In terms of the rest of your post, Helen has answered it pretty effectively. All students do study a broad-based curriculum to the age of 14. But I think it is very difficult for people who were academically able, such as yourself, to understand how different the school experience is to a student who is not academically able. The problem with the sort of “American Dream” stories of rags to riches and succeeding through personal effort which we are bombarded with, is that they tend to be stories of how able people overcame problems. Some people find problems insurmountable. A remarkably large amount of anyone’s intelligence is effectively determined by the age of 3, and if someone has, through no fault of their own, lived through circumstances which mean that they have only limited mental agility, literacy, numeracy or analytical skills, then it simply isn’t the case that “Sometimes we need to struggle with things we find difficult, it is part of becoming a rounded person.”. I know you mean this in the nicest possible way, but I put it to you that, on a national scale, you are well above average intelligence. Which means that struggling with something you don’t like or find difficult presents you with surmountable problems. For those at the other end of the scale, it presents them with a recipe for guaranteed and repeated failure.

    The best example I can give of how hard it is for an academic person to understand a non-academic mind is for those people who have tried to teach their young children maths. At some point, you’ll have sat next to them, as they incorrectly guessed the wrong answer to a simple sum they got right twenty seconds ago, and you’ll have thought : “Why don’t you understand this? It’s simple ! Gaaaaah!”. We literally cannot understand why they can’t understand it. The good news about young children is that their minds remain fairly elastic, and most will gradually work out ways, although any parent knows that there’s still some real “magic” about how suddenly things click. The bad news is that by the time a child is of secondary age, it is much, much harder to increase that understanding.

    When idiots like Gove speak, I hear the sort of pig-headed teacher of some 19th Century public school, whose only answer to a struggling child is to shout “do it again” louder. It’s the attitude of “I could do it, so anyone who can’t mustn’t be trying hard enough.” Wrong on so many levels.

    “I don’t think History and Geography to GCSE level is to be considered so advanced that it’s beyond most young people.”

    The data would not support you here. Most schools guide their students away from subjects they know they are unlikely to achieve a C in. Some 670,000 students sat a GCSE exam in 2012. Of those some 220,000 sat history. Of that 220,000 – which will be the more academically able, as the demographic for students who choose (or are allowed to choose) history is academically more able than the average – 30%, or 66,000, did not achieve a C. History is a “hard” GCSE, and most students would not achieve a C in it, because the level of literacy and analytical skill required is greater than most adults would be able to muster. I recognise that this statement doesn’t suit the messages which Gove puts out about how degraded GCSEs are, but I’d be willing to put a bet that if you selected a random sample of the adult population and gave them a GCSE in history to complete (after appropriate instruction), most would not obtain a C.

    This is an issue which is far more complex and difficult than the simplistic nonsense which politicians and the media put out. If it’s any consolation to you, I was in exactly the same position as you when I changed career to become a teacher 8 years ago. A high achiever who went to Oxford from a “poor” comprehensive, I was convinced that anyone could achieve what I achieved, given sufficient time, motivation and effort. I was an intellectual snob, who thought that subjects such as history were obviously of greater intrinsic value than such laughable concoctions as media studies and health&social care. But my eyes were opened, firstly by actually being in a classroom and dealing every day with the reality of children in all their magnificant variety; and secondly by adopting three children of my own who have had precisely the sort of life-limiting experiences I refer to above, resulting in two of them having learning difficulties. And what I learned is that for some children, the sort of success I enjoyed, and the sort of interests I have, are neither possible nor desirable. For some children, only failure can derive from trying to fit their peg into a hole being designed by someone who has no concept of what it is like to walk in their shoes. For some children, the most valuable service the education system can provide is to enable them to function, usefully and productively, as a member of society. And whether or not they take a historyGCSE is utterly irrelevant to their lives, even if it is relevant to the school’s league table position.

    So my issue with Gove is this : if someone approached me, a slow, ungainly middle-aged guy, and told me that the only reason I don’t run as fast as Usain Bolt is because I don’t try hard enough, I’d laugh in their face, because Usain Bolt has physical attributes which I could not hope to emulate, through no fault of my own. If someone approached my daughters, or my less able students and told them that the only reason they’re failing to achieve what highly academic children are achieving because they’re not trying hard enough, I’d be a very angry person indeed, because those children have mental attributes which my daughters and many of their peers could not hope to emulate, through no fault of their own. Gove does the latter, every single time he opens his mouth. He tells every child, no matter how difficult they find academic work, that it’s their fault, or their teachers’ fault, that they are not achieving what the most able children are achieving, and he simultaneously rubbishes what they do achieve, even if those achievements, such as useful vocational qualifications, will help them function in the world to a far greater degree than any history GCSE would. But then, what experience does he have of being, or educating, or even knowing, lower-ability children ? Some would argue that as Secretary of State for Education, even if he has no concept of what it is like to be academically less able, he has a responsibility to try to manage an education system which attempts to provide the best possible outcomes for ALL children, rather than forcing many children into pointless and dispiriting failure simply because he’s so lacking in empathy that he cannot even begin to understand that not everybody is like him, or has his interests. He is wholly contemptible.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '13 - 8:29pm

    “The committee found “no evidence” that the proposed EBCs/GCSE split in the curriculum will tackle under-achievement or narrow the attainment gap between the richest and poorest students – at least, no more effectively than the current system.”

    I think this statement needs re-posting – the select committee find “no evidence” that the Government’s education revolution is going to help social mobility – yet this is one of the main reasons our leadership, I assume from the great number of speeches on social mobility, have ‘gone along’ with the upheavals? If it isn’t, then what is the reason for supporting Mr Gove’s blueprint?

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th Feb '13 - 10:00am

    @ Julian : A brilliant post Julian. You have countered some of the myths that have been peddled by Gove and others that academic achievement is about all pupils and teachers just working harder. It’s a ridiculous simplification.

    ” But I think it is very difficult for people who were academically able, such as yourself, to understand how different the school experience is to a student who is not academically able.”

    Yes, I agree. Like you, armed with my good degree from a good university, I chose to teach and thought if only these children work hard like I did at school, they will do well. I too had the intellectual snobbery which comes from learning teaching and enjoying academic subjects – and their intellectual challenge.

    However, it was only when I gained experience of actually working in schools and seeing the different styles and abilities of learners that it became obvious that square pegs cannot be fitted into round holes – in fact it could be positively harmful .

    Gove just does not grasp the issue and what is sad is that he is supposed to be the Secretary of State for all schools and all children – he really has not left the academic snobbery of his youth and era in which he was educated, behind.

  • Julian – what you highlight in your post is true, but it is also problematic.

    There are four reasons why all pupils will appear somewhere on the learning spectrum in each and every subject:

    1) – their own natural aptitudes and abilities
    2) – “learned behaviour” in their approach to study (are they interested/disniterested in the subject/education in general; their socialisation regarding this)
    3) – the aptitude and abilities of the person teaching them
    4) – the classroom environment they find themselves in

    The great difficulty is that sometimes 1) and 2) have been used as excuses for failures in 3) and 4) – and it is hard to disaggregate which are the key factors in educational low achievement.

    3) and 4) are the only things that can be addressed by the educational profession and politicians and until they are of the highest standard it is impossible to determine the influence of 1) and 2).

  • Julian Critchley 6th Feb '13 - 3:32pm

    Tabman

    While it is true that there is an impact of the teacher and teaching environment, in actual fact there has been rather a lot of research into the causes of academic outcomes in children, and teaching/schools (sometimes known as “the school effect”) has consistently been found to be some 8-10%. In other words, 90% of a child’s ability and outcomes are determined by factors which have nothing whatsoever to do with the school or the teacher – crucially, socio-economic background and educational level of the parents. What this means is that when the child arrives in the class, a good teacher and a well-organised school might be able to add the equivalent of 10% extra marks to any child. So if a child arrives with a low academic ability, let’s say heading for a 40% U grade in a history GCSE, then a very good teacher in a good school might be able to bump that up to 44%. That’s an E, in a good year. Obviously, there are exceptions and suchlike, but this finding has been consistent now for 50 years. Most of the basics of general intelligence are set down before a child goes near a school. Dr Susan Greenfield’s work on the development of the brain is important reading here.

    So yes, some teachers have in the past excused poor performance in their classes by blaing the child. However, the extent to which this happens is hugely exaggerated by the Daily Mail tendency. More importantly, it’s also hugely exaggerated by politicians like Gove and Wilshaw, who have their own agenda. In any case, even if we accepted that somehow every child in the country was missing out on that 10% school effect (clearly a daft idea, but bear with me), then all we’re really saying is that those children currently obtaning a raft of U grades in academic subjects might, if everything was for the best in the best of all possible worlds, obtain E grades (and I think even the Daily Mail readers would have to acknowledge that plenty of schools are already adding as much value as they possibly can – unless one subscribes to the mentalist view of every state school being a feral jungle of failure).

    Which does rather bring us back to my original point. If we know, because very clear evidence tells us, that in any given year at school, there will be a large proportion of children who simply do not have the capacity to study some academic subjects successfully, then surely we should be ensuring that our education system is designed to provide a useful and accessible education for them, rather than bellowing at them to try harder, abusing their teachers for “failing”, and then writing them off for not being able to achieve what they never could achieve. It is a ridiculous approach which demonstrates in Gove either criminal stupidity in failing to understand the evidence, or malevolent sociopathy in not caring one hoot about the children whose education is already being damaged by his narrow focus on only the most academically able.

  • Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, will announce a major climbdown over his controversial plans to scrap GCSEs in favour of a new English Baccalaureate. In a surprise statement in the Commons, Mr Gove will reveal that he is abandoning plans to introduce the new qualification in 2015.

    From The Independent website, 24 minutes ago

  • “The Education Secretary bowed to overwhelming pressure for a rethink from Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, the exams regulator Ofqual and MPs from all parties. It is understood that he decided to act after being warned by civil servants that one key plank of his reforms – handing each of the core subjects over to just one exam board – could breach European Union rules on public service contracts and be open to judicial review.”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/michael-gove-forced-into-humiliating-uturn-over-exam-reform-8484074.html

  • Julian – “Which does rather bring us back to my original point. If we know, because very clear evidence tells us, that in any given year at school, there will be a large proportion of children who simply do not have the capacity to study some academic subjects successfully, then surely we should be ensuring that our education system is designed to provide a useful and accessible education for them, rather than bellowing at them to try harder, abusing their teachers for “failing”, and then writing them off for not being able to achieve what they never could achieve. ”

    That’s the most eloquent argument for selective education that I’ve read in a long time.

  • @nmckain: Careful #reteachers jumping for joy about news from #gove? EBCs gone but EBac remains and RE still not classed as a humanity #reteacher

    Sorry Helen , hope you can decipher the Twitter-speak. We can only hope there are more climb downs to come.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Feb '13 - 10:53pm

    Julian Critchley

    I know you mean this in the nicest possible way, but I put it to you that, on a national scale, you are well above average intelligence. Which means that struggling with something you don’t like or find difficult presents you with surmountable problems. For those at the other end of the scale, it presents them with a recipe for guaranteed and repeated failure.

    Isn’t this the argument for abandoning GCSEs and going back to CSEs and O-levels, or even for going back to grammar schools and secondary moderns?

    The argument you are putting is that the supposed equivalence of GCSEs in all subjects is fraudulent – that in fact some are much more difficult than others, therefore a reasonable mark in some is to be much more highly regarded than a reaaonable mark in others. It would seem to me therefore that this is an argument FOR the Ebacc, on the grounds that otherwise we don’t have a fair means of comparison because what is measured by GCSE grades varies wildly according to subjects.

    I am not saying push pupils through subjects that they are certainly going to fail in. Even if all you were interested in was EBacc success, that would not make sense because if they are certain to fail they won’t get the EBacc anyway. I am concerned, however, at the early dropping of subjects that actually would be the most useful and that the pupils ARE capable of, and that would be the most helpful for them in what they want to do later in life, that dropping being done because the pupils didn’t realise their usefulness, or because the schools preferred to put them through an “easy” subject where they could get a B rather than a tougher one where they would get a C. Over my time I saw HUNDREDS of university applicants, mostly from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who certainly COULD have taken a range of subjects that would have opened more door for them but didn’t. OK, now I am more talking here about pupils whose abilities were demonstrated in GCSE with regards to the A-levels they chose, but it did apply earlier on as well.

    The best example I can give of how hard it is for an academic person to understand a non-academic mind is for those people who have tried to teach their young children maths. At some point, you’ll have sat next to them, as they incorrectly guessed the wrong answer to a simple sum they got right twenty seconds ago, and you’ll have thought : “Why don’t you understand this? It’s simple ! Gaaaaah!”. We literally cannot understand why they can’t understand it.

    I’ve taught computer programming at university for 24 years. I can assure you, the “why can’t you understand what is simple to me” phenomenon is something I am very familiar with. Please try looking up some of the pedagogical literature on teaching computer programming, it is a subject which is notorious for its high failure rate, for some finding it easy and others finding it impossible, and no-one has yet discovered a sure way round it. Trying to understand why they can’t understand it is at the CORE of what has been my professional work for most of my adult life.

    A high achiever who went to Oxford from a “poor” comprehensive, I was convinced that anyone could achieve what I achieved, given sufficient time, motivation and effort.

    Oh, I think I must be the snob, not you – I always thought I was a bit different from my peers, not that they could have managed what I managed by working harder.

    I was an intellectual snob, who thought that subjects such as history were obviously of greater intrinsic value than such laughable concoctions as media studies and health&social care.

    But there you go again, despite all I’ve been trying to say, you’re still accusing me of saying what I say out of just snobbery. I can assure you, if I found people with a good grade in A-level Media Studies turned out to be good computer programmers, I’d have been snapping them up. All I am writing here is based on actual evidence, of comparison of intake qualifications with degree results, and ours is a fairly practically oriented Computer Science degree.

  • Guess I am the only person getting excited about Gove’s U-turn :(

  • Peter Watson 6th Feb '13 - 11:29pm

    @Phyllis “Guess I am the only person getting excited about Gove’s U-turn”
    Oh no you’re not!!
    I’m waiting for a bit more information before I celebrate, but with two children still to follow their older brother through the GCSE system I welcome any U-turn by Gove.
    The only other news I have spotted so far is comments by Gove defending his changes (which were apparently inspired by racist bully Jade Goody) so I don’t want to risk premature celebration.

  • Peter : oh thank goodness! I was beginning to think I was all alone on here but it has just been on Sky News and it is all over Titter ( #Gove). Roll on tomorrow!! :)

  • Julian Critchley 7th Feb '13 - 12:00am

    Tabman

    “That’s the most eloquent argument for selective education that I’ve read in a long time.”

    Quite the reverse. As I’ve pointed out on a couple of other education threads, there is no evidence at all to support the idea that selection produces better results. What evidence exists actually suggests that selection has no significant effect on the more able kids, but a significant negative effect on the less able kids. There’s no value at all to the separation of children into physically different schools. However, there’s a lot of value in ensuring that within each school there are a suitable range of options and paths for students of all abilities to take. That way, you get the best educational outcome and social integration. All selection delivers is social exclusivity and actually worse results overall. The evidence is there. It’s just people don’t want to accept it because it contradicts too many firmly held beliefs.

    @matthew
    “Isn’t this the argument for abandoning GCSEs and going back to CSEs and O-levels, or even for going back to grammar schools and secondary moderns?”

    No. See above. It’s quite possible to educate children of different abilities within the same institution. Also, O-levels and CSEs were often merely different standards of exams in the same subject. I’m not advocating that everyone does the same subject, but some take “lesser” qualifications. I’m arguying for the approach of students taking different qualifications in different subjects. In other words, far more akin to the idea produced – bizarrely – by Kenneth Baker, of bespoke post-14 curricula designed to lead to different outcomes, as opposed to Gove’s narrow attempt to force all children of every ability to take the same exam whether they can access it or not.

    “But there you go again, despite all I’ve been trying to say, you’re still accusing me of saying what I say out of just snobbery.”

    No, I wasn’t. I was merely recounting the views I used to hold before I came into contact with the reality of children in all their glorious diversity ! I’ve never read you suggest that some subjects are intrinsically better than others. If you believe that some subjects are a better preparation for certain higher education courses than others, I would have absolutely no problem with that at all – I agree. However, not all students are well-advised to attempt to take certain higher education courses. Many are better advised to take different qualifications pre-18 and then go into work, apprenticeships or vocational courses in FE.

    I don’t disagree with what you say, and I don’t disagree that amongst the national sample of students, there are those from working class backgrounds who are not directed into the correct subjects. But that’s the point here. I – and nearly all teachers – argue that what is required is a school system with sufficient flexibility to allow students’ abilities to be assessed early, and appropriate courses found for them which allow them to meet their full potential, no matter what their background. In many ways, this is the Every Child Matters agenda, which – although it was swamped in typical new Labour baloney – had this principle at its heart. Gove, on the other hand, merely states that the ONLY route which has value is his preferred set of academic qualifications which are only accessible by those of higher-than average academic ability. Then he demands that everyone takes this narrow, unsuitable route, and dresses up his nonsensical policy in the language of egalitarianism, making – unchallenged by the media – endless claims that the only thing standing between all children and these narrow outcomes, is lack of effort and teacher incompetence.

  • Peter Watson 7th Feb '13 - 1:39am

    @Matthew Huntbach “I actually think there is some benefit in keeping children on all-round study until the age of 16, and not letting them drop subjects they find “difficult”.”
    I agree, and am glad my oldest kids chose/are choosing such subjects, but that is not to say it is right for everyone, or that Gove’s way is the best. After all, Gove’s EBacc includes either History or Geography, and Biblical Hebrew is considered an alternative to a modern language. Equally I know two very intelligent children who dropped foreign languages at GCSE in order to study other subjects. They had different reasons (one could study a language outside school, the other wanted a better grade in another subject): neither would get an EBacc but both will go on to great academic success in their chosen fields.
    Another issue is the age to which we give our children a broad education: should it be 14, 16 or 18? I fear that Gove’s changes will make this worse. I believe that the change to examinations at GCSE will discourage children from taking as many GCSEs as my oldest son did, narrowing their education. Similarly I believe Gove’s changes to A and AS levels will discourage children from studying as many subjects in Year 12.
    My own belief is that we should have a system which encourages broader study up to 18, providing children with the opportunity to mix academic and vocational subjects, arts, humanities and sciences, and university studies would begin with a foundation year in order to provide more specialist preparation for a particular subject area. I agree with your comments that children who know what they want to do post 18 are sometimes misadvised about how to get there, but many 14 and 16 year olds don’t even know what they want to do in the future and might be unwittingly ruling things out.

    My biggest concern is the way that Gove (apparently supported by Laws and others) has leapt in with a set of huge and rapid changes which appear to be narrowly focussed and potentially very damaging, with little thought or consultation. If the GCSE system is not stretching the most able, then introducing more “Advanced” GCSE subjects (as is already the case for maths) seems a straightforward and incremental change. What is the evidence that replacing modules, coursework and resits with a single handwritten examination is the best (or any) way to improve the education and performance of our children? Why is Gove so keen that the universities should be models and drivers of the examination and education of 16 and 18 year olds, when university grade inflation seems so much worse than what he rails against in the school system? Indeed, do we believe universities should abandon modules, coursework and resits, opting instead for a single rigorous exam after 3 or 4 years? And if big changes are needed to the education of children up to 18, why not begin by laying out some sort of plan rather than popping up with regular announcements about this bit or that bit and believing that it will all be coherent at the end.

  • Julian – “. There’s no value at all to the separation of children into physically different schools. ”

    No value? Really? Didn’t you say earlier in the thread that one of the biggest obstacles to pupil development is the social setting in which they operate? isn’t one of the biggest challenges facing teachers today the anti-intellectual, anti-effort culture that pervades our society?

    How many pupil’s aspirations are crushed in such a stultifying atmosphere, that might be nurtured in a more positive reinforcing environment?

    Besides , even in so called socially-mixed schools, there will be little social integration. Having been to a supposedly socially integrated school myself, the reality of the situation was that different socio-economic and ability groups were pretty strictly segregated by self-selection, and tended to avoid one another, in some cases as a survival mechanism. This latter aspect adds, of course, further pressure and unhappiness to many pupil’s school experience.

  • Julian – “What evidence exists actually suggests that selection has no significant effect on the more able kids, but a significant negative effect on the less able kids.”

    The evidence that I’ve seen (research commissioned by the Sutton Trust and carried out within a University) said quite the opposite, that Grammar Schools added c 1 grade to GCSE results. Furthermore, The most socially-selective state schools are not Grammar Schools, but “comprehensives” in affluent areas: http://www.suttontrust.com/research/summary-impact-of-grammars/

  • Peter Watson 7th Feb '13 - 8:31am

    @Phyllis
    More news coverage of Gove’s imminent U-turn and even the suggestion that the story was leaked by Lib Dems. Interesting.
    I can’t imagine Gove doing humility or a complete reversal, so am still waiting for the detail.
    Some information suggests that removing competition between exam boards is not possible, which seems a shame as that is an element I thought was quite sensible. Also, using a single exam paper to cover all abilities is another problem which as far as I recall was a (ridiculous IMHO) concession to Lib Dems.
    I hope that the main outcome is a slowing down – accepting that Gove can’t make all of his changes before a possible change of government in 2015 – which means that he consults openly, seeks consensus, and moves forward with genunine improvements.

  • Peter, yes absolutely agree with all your comments. We have two children aged 17 and 16 so we been ‘doing’ GCSEs In our household for the last three years (started at the end if Year 9!) and to be honest our children have been lurching from one assessment to another, from exam to ‘re-sit’ to controlled assessment, without much absorbing if ‘knowledge’ or enjoyment. And the number of exam boards! Goodness so difficult to keep track if (the School has changed the exam board for certain subjects almost every year) and one never quite knows if the Revision Guide we have covers the Syllabus for the exam board our child is doing, which seems to be constantly revised. So having one exam board seems such a sensible move. Let’s hope GCSE reforms are done in a sensible way and won’t disadvantage children who aren’t good at final exams.

  • @Peter I heard a few weeks ago that the January exams for AS have been scrapped so our daughter won’t have them. I’m immensely relieved! We are suffering from exam/assessment fatigue!!

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 9:50am

    @ Joe: Quite! This is a good day for LDV! However, the devil will be in the detail…

    According to The Independent, Gove was pressured by Nick Clegg to back-down and the combined forces of the Lib Dems, OfQual, the education profession, have seen this off – Good news for children and teachers.

    I have been dismayed by what I regarded as ‘radio silence’ of the leadership on Gove’s plans in the past but I think that Nick deserves credit for putting the pressure on and helping to force a U-turn.

    I await Gove’s statement in the Commons today. He is going to unveil his ‘Plan C’ for the curriculum – an idea he has culled from the USA – a bank of ‘core knowledge’ that all children must know – as ever with Michael Gove – the devil will be in the detail …

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 10:09am

    @ Phyllis: ” @nmckain: Careful #reteachers jumping for joy about news from #gove? EBCs gone but EBac remains and RE still not classed as a humanity #reteacher, We can only hope there are more climb downs to come.”

    Phyllis – thanks for this. I have picked up from BBC online that Gove is proposing to put Religious Studies GCSE in arts options and not alongside the other humanities!

    From my perspective, this is bizarre – RS is a humanity – there’s no practical element with paints or instruments!

    Gove seems to have a bee in his bonnet about RS – even though according to Durham University research on GCSE assessment criteria, RS is equivalent in difficulty to Geography and along with Geography slightly less than History.

    According to Nick Gibb on Sky, Gove is still going to force the old EBacc subjects to be published by schools on the performance table, separately from the other subjects – this fact will influence greatly the options and choices children have, because performance tables drive the timetable these days, unfortunately.
    Gove has done nothing about that either.

    The devil is always in the detail with this Education Secretary.

  • Julian Critchley 7th Feb '13 - 10:26am

    @Tabman

    Thanks for the link. However, it doesn’t say quite what you report. The section on attainment reads :

    “Attainment
    • On average pupils in grammar schools achieve between zero and three-quarters of a
    GCSE grade per subject more than similar pupils in non-selective schools. Different
    values of this estimate arise from different, but equally plausible, statistical models and
    assumptions, so it is hard to be more precise than this.”

    So, to summarise, it’s possible students achieve 0.75% of a grade more in a grammar school. But it’s also possible that they achieve 0% more in a grammar school. The results you get depend on how you try to process the data. Hardly a convincing case. This is because comparing at individual student level is incredibly difficult, as there are so many variables at individual student level which are tricky to allow for. However, when one compares across large areas, and looks at the results at the level of cohorts, rather than individuals, the picture becomes clearer, even if there remain some anomolies. Try this link (you may have to sign up for it, but it’s free, and the FT isn’t a bad rag).

    http://blogs.ft.com/ftdata/2013/01/28/grammar-school-myths/

    What’s interesting about the FT analysis is that it is almost identical to the data which was available in the DFE ten years ago, when I was a civil servant there. The findings are that when you look at a cohort of children – in a county, or across the country – then there is no significant improvement in student level grades for upper ability students in having a grammar school system, but there is a significant negative impact on lower ability students.

    This debate is a prime example of where anecdote and evidence collide, and it is driven, as Cook says, by a cohort of adults whose own experiences of education colour their often passionately-held opinions .

    By far the best way of establishing the impact of grammar schools is not to look at headline figures, because by defintiion, grammar schools fill their classrooms with students who are likely to achieve high academic results no matter where they go. The best way of measuring impact (and it remains a blunt instrument, to be sure) is to look at the value-added by the schools between KS2 and KS4/5. This data is available on the league tables, and it’s quite clearly the case that when absolute results are replaced by value-added results, grammar schools do not in any way have a monopoly on adding value. There are good grammar schools which squeeze the best out of their pupils, and their are bad ones which don’t. There are good comprehensives who add more to their students’ grades than the local grammar schools, and there are others which don’t.

    What is absolutely certain, however, is that it is a far more complex picture than simply “grammar schools = good, comprehensives = bad”. We know that grammar schools (and some de facto grammars who use house prices and religious affiliation to sieve their applicants, as the Sutton report suggests) are socially exclusive in terms fo the intake they have. They are successful at keeping affluent middle-class children separated from less-affluent working-class children. But the flip side of that is that they are terrible at identifying and providing places for bright working-class students (which is the main claim always used to try to argue for them), and there is really no evidence to suggest that they have a positive impact on results overall, with some evidence that they do have a negative impact.

    As I say, I don’t think that I’ll change any minds, because for many people, a belief in the benefits of a selective grammar school system is an article of faith.

    Anyway, back to the issue at hand – Gove has had to climb down. This is great news. If the LibDems really did play a major role in this then that goes a long way in my book to making up for some of the dreadful things they’ve let past. If I were Clegg, I’d be shouting about this from the rooftops – there are a lot of teachers out there who used to be LibDem voters who would respond very well to a political party which broke with the general Lab-Con narrative of them all being self-interested, lazy incompetents who need to be beaten by carpet magnates and city hedge fund traders if they are to stop fecking up students’ lives.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 10:53am

    @ Julian: I agree. the intervention from Nick on the EBCs was long overdue. However, there is still no clarity over the curriculum itself – the EBacc concept has not been killed off i.e: as a performance measure, and as you have argued, quite rightly, this measurement drives many headteacher’s thinking.

    Nick Gibb is still trolling around studios saying that ‘soft’ subjects must be discouraged – that’s all well and good but what does it mean? The only thing it can mean is that if there are not long lists of facts to memorise, and it involves working with clay or an instrument – it’s not hard enough to be recognised on the performance table!

    Anyone who can play an instrument, draw a still life and develop a portfolio; or develop critical thinking skills concerning philosophy and religion to a high standard, is not opting for an easy life. Both Nick Gibb (and Michael Gove) can’t help routinely insulting thousands of pupils and their teachers , it seems.

  • Julian: you say “there is no significant improvement in student level grades for upper ability students in having a grammar school system, but there is a significant negative impact on lower ability students. ”

    The Sutton Trust Report says: “A relatively small number of non-selective schools do see a significant proportion of pupils ‘lost’ to nearby grammars, but this does not lead to lower academic achievement.”

    I think the thing about changing minds cuts both ways – and goes right the way back to Crosland. Those who wanted to destroy selection set about destroying it, rather than addressing the imminently addressable concerns regarding entrance exams, post-selection mobility and the quality of Sec Mods.

  • Julian: you say “there is no significant improvement in student level grades for upper ability students in having a grammar school system”.

    But – immediately beneath the paragraph you quote from the Report it says: “A review of previous studies also found that the weight of evidence suggests that pupils who attend grammar schools do better than equally able pupils in comprehensives.”

    So, respectfully, I would suggest that your statement is not supported in fact.

  • Julian Critchley 7th Feb '13 - 12:12pm

    @tabman

    Let’s not turn this into a grammar school debate. It’s about Gove and Ebacc. Below I’ve posted the whole attainment section from the Sutton Trust report. People can make their own minds up.

    “Findings — Attainment

    A range of statistical analyses carried out in the study suggest that pupils in grammar schools do
    better than pupils with the same characteristics in other non-selective schools, with the difference
    somewhere between zero and three-quarters of a GCSE grade per subject.

    Although these analyses indicate that grammar school pupils appear to make greater progress
    from Key Stage 2 (age 11) to Key Stage 4 (age 16) than other pupils, the study also finds that
    these same pupils were already making more progress during primary school from Key Stage 1
    (age 7) to Key Stage 2 (age 11). This suggests that there may be important but unmeasured
    differences between grammar and non-grammar school pupils that are driving the differences in
    attainment, and not necessarily a ‘grammar school effect’.

    The study also investigated how factors such as the different choices of statistical model, different
    assumptions underpinning them and various inadequacies of the available data might affect the
    outcomes of the analysis. Given the arbitrariness and uncertainty introduced by these factors, it
    was not possible confidently to estimate the difference in attainment more accurately than
    ‘between zero and three-quarters’ of a grade per subject.

    A review of previous studies also found that the weight of evidence suggests that pupils who
    attend grammar schools do better than equally able pupils in comprehensives.”

    I guess that if you look at the first and final para in isolation, you might get a different perspective than if you look at pars 2 and 3 in isolation. Taken together, you get something which is a long way from conclusive evidence of anything.

    Let’s get back to Gove. Helen is correct – there’s a lot of smoke here, but the fire isn’t very big. The only thing to have fallen is his plan to rush through the replacement of GCSEs in Ebacc subjects with a new certificate, which has been abandoned because it was always impossible to prepare for and introduce a new examination system on such a short timescale – a classic case of Gove’s detachment from the real world of education. The actual pressure on schools through the league tables to narrow the choices at GCSE for their pupils, remains in place.

  • Peter Watson 7th Feb '13 - 12:26pm

    @Julian Critchley
    I welcome the informed view that you (and Helen) bring to these discussions.
    I’d be very grateful if you could point to me to the evidence that supports Gove’s (and Clegg, Laws, etc.) assertions that modular study, coursework, and resits are responsible for “dumbing down” education, and that terminal handwritten exams are the way forward. My own experience (O-Levels, A-Levels, traditional university in the 80s, and Open University more recently) convinces me that modular study and assessed coursework are valuable parts of learning and I was pleased that this approach had made its way into GCSE and A-Levels. I was astonished that this does not appear to be a more widely held view so I wondered what the rationale and evidence is for Gove’s approach as the media give the impression that it is simply a nostalgic return to the good old days with undefined references to “rigour”.

  • Peter Watson : “modular study and assessed coursework are valuable parts of learning and I was pleased that this approach had made its way into GCSE and A-Levels”

    Yes me too. Our daughter is a steady worker, she cannot cram for exams as I did thirty years ago, and I think her steady style with bouts of feverish activity are better suited to the world of work. I do think there are too many assessments, .too frequently now but both our children have fared well with practicals and coursework. I really fear for kids who don’t ‘do’ exams well.

  • Julian – thanks, I enjoy a good Grammar School Debate :)

  • Peter Watson – I think the argument is quite simple. Anything other than a final exam sat by the individual is open to manipulation by someone other than the individual who is supposed to have sat the exam.

  • Julian Critchley 7th Feb '13 - 12:57pm

    @Peter

    I can’t point you to that evidence, because I agree wholeheartedly with you and Phyllis – I think modularity and consistent assessment over a period is a better system than a terminal memory test.

    @tabman

    I agree that coursework and other work done outside of school is open to doubt over authenticity. This has been recognised through the replacement of traditional GCSE coursework (done at home) with controlled assessment (prepared for at home, but done in school under supervision). But modularity doesn’t reqire work to be done at home. At present in history A-level , for example, students will study two units in Y12 and sit terminal exams on both either at the end of the Year, or in January and June, depending on school choice. Then two more (which can be very different topics) in Y13. This requirement to retain a focus on study, and allow students to study a broad range of topics, but with a focus on particular topics at any given time, seems to me to be better than a once-in-two-years terminal memory test.

  • Peter Watson 7th Feb '13 - 1:12pm

    @Tabman “Anything other than a final exam sat by the individual is open to manipulation by someone other than the individual who is supposed to have sat the exam.”
    I don’t think this is relevant to modularity, but does this mean that there is an acceptance by Gove, Clegg, Laws, etc. that coursework and continual assessment are good in principle, and the only deficiency is the practicality of avoiding plagiarism. If so, that is not the message I have heard from any of them when they sniffily dismiss “dumbing down” of the system. It also makes me wonder, if coursework is so fundamentally flawed, why are they not calling for it to be dismissed across the board, in vocational and academic subjects, from GCSE through to postgraduate and professional qualifications.

  • Peter Watson 7th Feb '13 - 1:27pm

    @Julian Critchley “I can’t point you to that evidence, because I agree wholeheartedly with you and Phyllis – I think modularity and consistent assessment over a period is a better system than a terminal memory test.”
    I don’t believe it is an either-or situation. I believe that modularity, coursework, continual assessment, and terminal memory tests all have their place, along with project work (individually and in teams), practicals, vivas, etc. …
    My biggest objection to the Gove approach is the singleminded focus on a terminal memory test to the exclusion of all else, and the use of the word “rigour” to justify it without explaining what rigour means or why it is the be all and end all of education.

  • Surely an open-book terminal exam is the best method – not a test of memory, but a test of individual depth AND breadth of knowledge and the ability to construct an argument.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 2:43pm

    @ Tabman: ” Surely an open-book terminal exam is the best method – not a test of memory, but a test of individual depth AND breadth of knowledge and the ability to construct an argument.”

    That’s an interesting assertion but not one that I have seen backed up with evidence. In fact, one reason why the O Level was replaced was precisely because it only tested a very narrow set of skills – memory, reproducing the facts and it was not sufficiently broad.

    Also I think that structured questions enable progression and the bright will be able to shine, while the less able can pick up marks in knowledge as well. A small amount of coursework is beneficial – it is the practice of extended writing, it’s an in-depth project. This is a sound skill to develop for later study at A Level and university – and in the workplace. In some subjects, coursework is essential ie Art – where a portfolio of work is built-up over time.

    Like others have said on this thread, what is specifically educationally unsound about having some variety of assessment techniques in the system? After all, universities have been doing this for years – what is a dissertation if not a piece of ‘coursework?’

    Gove is being very simplistic in his analysis of what works best – he has not proven his case. I think he needs to be subject to even more rigorous scrutiny by Lib Dems and as he said himself – relentless pressure means we drive up standards . It works both ways.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 3:05pm

    @ Julian Critchley – just looked through the newly- proposed National Programme of Study for History :

    https://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/h/history%2004-02-13.pdf

    I’m not a History specialist but even I can see the trajectory with the feel of a return to ‘Our Island Story’- from key figures such as Christina Rossetti in Key Stage One no less, to the Plantagenets and Hundred Years War in Key Stage Two, to a list of ‘key’ figures in history in KS3.

    It seems to be a highly selective, linear view of history to me. It also reduces history to the accumulation of facts and information, when it’s so much more than this.

    Any thoughts on this?

  • Julian Critchley 7th Feb '13 - 4:39pm

    @Helen

    Thanks for that link Helen, I’ll peruse it at leisure. I’d already heard from some old colleagues still within the DFE that what was coming was the history as taught in the public schools of the Victorian era – heroes, battles and Empire. But I’m not going to froth about that yet. In any case, I’m in an academy, we can completely ignore Gove’s diktat if we want (and are willing to risk OFSTED’s disapproval).

    For now, I’m finding myself in an odd position – the revised plans for assessing school performance as outlined by Laws (statement on another thread on this site), are, as far as I can see at first glance, sane. It’s a whole new experience, and one which I’m contemplating for a while….

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 5:01pm

    From the ” Aims” of the proposed History programme of study, 2013:

    History aims to:
    gain and deploy a historically-grounded understanding of abstract terms such as
    ‘empire’, ‘civilisation’, ‘parliament’ and ‘peasantry’

    I think we can see where this is going.

    @ Julian – I agree with you that the new performance indicators are far more sane. If David Laws has had a hand in this, he deserves great credit for his skills of persuasion.

  • Peter Watson 8th Feb '13 - 12:09am

    @Tabman “Surely an open-book terminal exam is the best method – not a test of memory, but a test of individual depth AND breadth of knowledge and the ability to construct an argument.”
    Don’t know about “best method”, but I sat an excellent (IMHO) and well-structured open book exam in geology with the Open University. It included a multiple choice section, a practical section (involving rock and fossil samples) and a long question. At the end of the day though, the only thing I have ever done in my life under exam conditions is exams (and lots of them), and I am brilliant at exams but would make no such claims for other parts of my life. I am unconvinced that exam skills (from question spotting to guide partial revision through to being fortunate not to suffer from hay fever) should be the determining factor in assessing a child’s education, and it seems ridiculous to me that Gove’s solution to the perceived problem of “teaching to the the test” is to make a qualification wholly dependent upon a single test.

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