LibLink: Michael Gove and Nick Clegg – A new exam will get the best out of all our children

The Evening Standard has published a joint statement by Michael Gove and Nick Clegg on the new Ebacc proposals. It begins:

We both grew up in different circumstances and chose distinctive paths. Spending your first few months in care, before being brought up by a Labour-voting mother in a Labour-voting Scottish city isn’t a natural preparation for Tory politics. Likewise, working for a former Tory Cabinet minister in Brussels and rejecting his invitation to follow in his footsteps and ending up standing as a Liberal Democrat in Sheffield instead isn’t exactly an orthodox political path either.

But while we both chose to join different parties — and on many issues have very different views — we share a political passion: education. And we share a vision: a genuinely open society. We are both angered by the scale of inequality and frustrated at the barriers a class-ridden nation places in the way of real social mobility.

and continues:

We believe that if we remove modules and reduce coursework, get rid of the factors that encourage teaching to the test and, above all, ensure there is just one exam board for each subject, we can restore faith in our exams and equip children for the challenges of the 21st century. We will ask exam boards to prepare new tests in English, maths, the sciences, history, geography and languages, drawing on the example of other countries with the best education systems.

We plan to call the new qualifications in these core academic subjects  English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBacc) — recognising that they are the foundation on which further study, vocational learning or a satisfying apprenticeship can be built. Success in English, maths, science, a humanities subject and a language will comprise the full English Baccalaureate.

The concluding paragraph reads:

These reforms have only been made possible because in this Coalition we have been able to be more radical, combining the best ideas and building a consensus broader than either of us could have hoped to on our own. In the battle to make our society more open, mobile and free it has been good to know that by working together we can overcome those forces that have held our children back — the entrenched establishment voices who have become the enemies of promise.

You can read the full article here.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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13 Comments

  • jenny barnes 18th Sep '12 - 1:34pm

    Education is supposed to be about encouraging the individual to understand the world they are living in , not an instrumental method of getting a ticket to a job. And history? Has Gove stopped being advised by Niall Ferguson? A man whose views on the benefits of Empire are, shall we say, contested outside right wing circles.
    This is all about the further commodification of education
    no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity
    ?

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Sep '12 - 1:45pm

    I start off with perhaps more sympathy than most Liberal Democrats for what is trying to be done here. I spent a period of over ten years from the mid 1990s as the admissions tutor for the university department where I teach. The so-called “vocational” qualifications were a big bugbear. Many of our applicants and their teachers, particularly in the less wealthy and well connected areas, believed that what is called “Information and Communication Technology” as a GCSE or A-level subject was what we were about, and we had hundreds of applicants coming to us offering it – many of whom I had to turn down. They were turned down because it was a poor qualification, too much based on memorising sometimes out-of-date definitions, deliberately cutting out the most important “information technology” topic (computer programming), and leading students away form what we actually most needed – core logic and reasoning skills, which in practice are best developed and assessed by school mathematics qualifications. Colleagues in other departments report similar – qualifications which appear from their titles to be “vocational” in their subject actually turn out not to be very useful, school students taking them are actually damaged because they are too much based on memorisation and repetitive work and since they have to drop what we actually find from experience are the more useful subjects, which tend to be the more abstract ones, they lose out on the best university places. It is very sad to see school students who actually could have coped reasonably with the subjects that in practice are of the most use lose their chances because they pick subjects which sound exciting and relevant but actually are neither. The damage can happen at GCSE level when lack of appreciation of the need for the more abstract subjects causes able students to drop them, and by the time they find out this has cut them out from moving on to the A-levels and university places they really wanted to take, it is too late.

    But I don’t welcome this joint statement by Michael Give and Nick Clegg. In fact I am appalled by it. Why? For one reason, I know the way it is put will greatly offend the people I want to get the message across to about the importance of core subjects and the dubious nature of many of the “vocational qualifications”. So while the underlying intention may be to promote what I also would like to see promoted, it is put so badly here and in such a politically propagandistic way that it will damage that cause.

    That is the second reason I am appalled by this statement. It is full of the sort of language and dubious propositions we are used to seeing coming from clueless right-wing Tories. Take the bit (which Mary hasn’t quoted) about “free schools”. Well, if you give a school more money and allow it to be more picky about who it admits, rather obviously it will get better exam results. But given that’s at the cost of less money available elsewhere and those less able students having to go elsewhere, there’s no real gain. In fact “free schools” are throwing money at a problem that does not exist, they are based on the proposition that what’s wrong with our current schools is that the local council “runs” them. The local council does not – I can say this having sat on a London Borough council for 12 years, there was never an item on the Education Committee dictating what a school should teach and how it should teach it – what goes on internally in schools is the responsibility of their head teachers and governing bodies. “Free schools” are essentially dreamt up by people who just don’t know how our schools are run. Liberal Democrats who are involved in local government know this, that is why we have opposed the idea formally through our party’s democratic mechanism, it is a diversion from the real problems. Yet here we have the leader of our party putting his name to a statement which repeats the clueless Tory propaganda on this subject and goes directly against what his party through its democratic mechanisms has established as its stand on the issue.

    Worst still, in my view, is the last sentence, which Mary has quoted, the one about the “entrenched establishment”. Well, here we have it, a good old Tory trick, they play it all the time. Who is this “establishment”? Well it’s not the people with the money who run big business and fund the Conservative Party. Not those who sit in the City who at the flick of a switch can throw hundreds out of their jobs. Not those who think they deserve to be paid millions for administrative decisions on where our pension fund and investment money goes, and threaten to bring the country to a halt by fleeing abroad should we suggest they might pay a bit more tax to clean up a mess their poor lending decisions in the past have got us into. Not those who run most of our newspapers. Not the old aristocracy who still own much of they land and who get millions in income from it, on-going reward for the “entrepreneurship” of whatever it was their ancestors did to get their land and titles (just how many centuries of reward do you and your descendants need for being the King’s mistress etc …?). No all these people, according to the well-used right-wing line, are a fringe, standing alongside the power they say the real establishment holds – as this very statement puts it.

    So who is this “establishment” this article condemns?

    It’s us.

    Yes, people involved in running schools, people who volunteer to be school governors, those who earn in a year in teaching jobs what a city tycoon gets in a day, those who volunteer at the cost of their day job career (I should know) to be councillors, those who put in their own time and money to be political activists, and by building up the Liberal Democrats and choosing him as their leader have put Nick Clegg where he is. We are that “establishment” the statement he has put his name to so firmly condemns.

    How can we stand for this?

  • Without endorsing any of the comments made here or in the 38 (so far) comments on the David Laws thread below, I do note that virtually all of them are critical in one respect or other either of the EBacc policy itself or of the Cleeg/Gove/Laws statements about it. Surely one of the reasons why this forum exists is that activists can have dialogue through it with our LD ministers/MPs/Special Advisers and so on, and I hope that our ministers etc realise that this forum cannot function as effectively as it ought to do if no response is made on it to the views that we voice.

  • I’m just flabbergasted by how poor the English is. Could they not have got someone to read it over and correct the grammar?

  • Tony Dawson 18th Sep '12 - 2:56pm

    “we share a political passion: education.”

    I do not believe that Michael Gove would recognise a political passion if it flew into his face through a revolving door. So far, his interventions in education have simply been a perpetual series of drains upon scarce resources badly needed elsewhere with little ‘positive’ outcome other than to pump up the ego of a former Times leader-writer.

    There is a case for modifying and improving the present GSCEs, no doubt, but the fanfare of publicity regarding the eventual outcome of these proposals before there has been any serious consultation (within the party, let alone outside) suggest a ‘business as usual in the Coalition’ attempt to ‘bounce’ the Liberal Democrats, and the country, down yet another ‘back of envelope’ Tory cul-de-sac.

    Hugh p

    I do hope that you are not serious about contemplating Ministers and SPADs entertaining a dialogue on this public site about a highly-contentious policy. There are plenty of other forums and procedures through which there could have been genuine and constructive consultation over many many months – and even possibly recovering this mess in months to come.

  • Thoroughly agree with Matthew. Hidden in the text, also, is an attempt to blame the fact that there is coursework and modules in the current English GCSE for the disappointment of this year’s students. Frankly, if Gove wishes to be dishonest on this point, instead of blaming his own haste to change the system for moving the goalposts half way through the game, that’s his and the Tories’ lookout. It is NOT our leader’s role to accept that totally distorted view, and I think he should be told that in no uncertain terms at Conference.

  • Peter Watson 18th Sep '12 - 4:36pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    Thank you for reflecting so eloquently the pain and betrayal that many Lib Dem members and supporters must surely be feeling.

    @Hugh P
    Indeed. Where is the support in these threads for what Clegg and Laws are doing? Which of our MPs have been coming forward to defend this and bang the drum for their plans?

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Sep '12 - 4:59pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach – “So who is this “establishment” this article condemns? It’s us. Yes, people involved in running schools, people who volunteer to be school governors, those who earn in a year in teaching jobs what a city tycoon gets in a day, those who volunteer at the cost of their day job career (I should know) to be councillors, those who put in their own time and money to be political activists, and by building up the Liberal Democrats and choosing him as their leader have put Nick Clegg where he is. We are that “establishment” the statement he has put his name to so firmly condemns.”

    Yes Matthew, we the grass roots, who put Clegg where he is and who he has so clearly turned on with this joint-Govian tirade.

    We put him there – and we can remove him. As soon as possible, especially after this gross insult, coming as it does after a whole litany of other blunders…

  • David Allen 18th Sep '12 - 5:58pm

    There’s a trap in the way Gegg and Clove frame their arguments.

    First, identify some nice popular targets to have a go at, such as grade inflation, teaching to the test, and dumbing down.

    Then, blame your enemies for all these failings. Never mind the facts.

    Then, don’t go into great detail, but utter a few choice phrases, such as “those forces that have held our children back — the entrenched establishment voices who have become the enemies of promise”, which can be relied upon to make a lot of education professionals very very angry.

    Then, wait for those professionals to spit rage at you, and calmly tell the nation that this is what an educational dinosaur sounds like, these are the people who invented dumbing down, and that is why you need Gegg and Clove to ride heroically to the rescue. In propaganda terms, it may very well work.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Sep '12 - 11:22pm

    @ David Allen – your comments are spot on.

    Normally, Lib Dems would see through these Tory tactics and treat them with the derision they deserve.

    Unfortunately, our Leader either can’t see it or, more dangerously, actually believes the rhetoric.

    The Gove ‘snake-charming’ seems to have worked in his case, I fear.

  • @ Helen Tadcastle
    ‘Normally, Lib Dems would see through these Tory tactics and treat them with the derision they deserve.’
    The problem you have is that Clegg and Laws are closet Tories. They are career politicians who joined the party they could most advance in and it appears that they are not alone in your minister ranks. This is what Blair did, another Tory that decided Labour was the way up for him and then changed it to New Labour and followed Thatcher.

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th Sep '12 - 11:20am

    @Anne: ” The problem you have is that Clegg and Laws are closet Tories. They are career politicians who joined the party they could most advance in and it appears that they are not alone in your minister ranks. This is what Blair did, another Tory that decided Labour was the way up for him and then changed it to New Labour and followed Thatcher.”

    I agree with your view that Clegg has shown himself to be someone who by instinct is closer to the Tories in areas like Education – the EBacc disaster has shown that. However, I do not think Clegg joined the Liberals in order to advance up the ranks and become a minister – the Liberal Democrats has not been a party until now, that people join to advance their careers!!

    We have a leader, rather like Tony Blair, who joined in good faith, believing they were mainstream and when they got to the top found their instincts were in line with the establishment – after all, they were instilled in it – it stays with you for life.

    It seems to me that only a few politicians have ever risen above their privileged upbringing and genuinely fought for the common good. It takes uncommon strength of purpose and adherence to principle, to do so.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Sep '12 - 12:01am

    David Allen

    Then, wait for those professionals to spit rage at you, and calmly tell the nation that this is what an educational dinosaur sounds like, these are the people who invented dumbing down

    That is one reason why I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about my professional work, and the concerns I share about school qualifications, in order to make it absolutely clear that my disgust with the Gove/Clegg article is NOT due to being some sort of “dinosaur” wedded to the old-style assessment system (er, introduced by Sir Keith Joseph in the 1980s despite what you might suppose from the comments on GCSEs in the article – maybe it was actually written by some 20-year old staffer for whom that’s ancient history, the tiresome repetition of old slogans and the obvious lack of real-world knowledge certainly suggests that might be the case).

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