Opinion: How do Gove’s plans match up to Lib Dem policy?

Three months ago I penned my debut submission to LibDemVoice – There is much for the Lib Dems to support in Gove’s embryonic exam proposals – in the wake of the early leaks of Gove’s plans for the replacement of GCSEs. In that, I set out how Michael Gove’s policies matched up with Liberal Democrat Party Policy, and came to some conclusions on how Gove’s proposals would need to be altered to be in line with our policies;

The four criteria were:

  • Push for an independent body with oversight, separate from the minister of state.
    Failed. It’s fairly clear from the tone of Gove’s statements, especially on the choice of exam board to have complete control of each subject, that the Secretary of State has no intention of giving up one iota of control or oversight of the system. Ofqual will make suggestions, but Michael Gove will decree.

Having said that, the English Baccalaureate does fulfil some of the other criteria we’re committed to pushing for. Notably, having a single qualification structure goes a long way towards achieving our September 2009 commitment to ensure “there are incentives to meet the needs of all pupils by replacing the Government’s present GCSE target which places too much emphasis on C/D borderline pupils.”

So, on balance, I’m not too unhappy with the proposals as yet. The weakness of the oversight structure – an as yet undetailed, possibly deliberately hazy part of the proposals – is of great concern. More can be done for vocational qualifications and fields of study, but the structure of the English Baccalaureate lends itself to expansion of the concept into those fields, so it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Now, really, all we have to do is convince the Teachers…

* Alisdair Calder McGregor was Candidate for Calder Valley in 2015 and is a member of the party's Federal Policy Committee

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62 Comments

  • And we start trying to convince teachers by telling them the success of the “Labour years” is due to grade inflation…..

    Can’t wait to see Laws at the NUT Conference pushing that line..

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Sep '12 - 6:35pm

    ” Now, really, all we have to do is convince the Teachers…”

    The upshot of this article is that really there is not all that much to worry about – the EBacc goes some way to give us a Liberal Democrat education policy. The final line appears to push the view that the teachers are the barriers to reform.

    This is rather naive. The EBacc is strictly an academic set of qualifications with terminal examinations and much tougher specifications. The non-EBacc subjects? They will possibly be ‘reformed’ sometime after 2017 but they’re not core, so it’s unclear where they fit in to Gove’s masterplan.

    Compare with current Liberal Democrat policy – a diploma to be awarded at 18 – integrated between academic and vocational qualifications so there is a parity of esteem.

    It is actually quite straightforward if you want to convince teachers – consult them, work with them in drawing up plans, discuss and debate with them.
    But instead, what did Gove and Clegg do? Draw the EBacc plans up in private, between themselves.

    It does not help the cause when the Liberal Democrat Party Leader attacks public servants like governors, headteachers, teachers and support staff as ‘establishment interests’ who are ‘enemies of promise’ in a London newspaper. This is the language of the Tory Party and this will not convince anyone but Tories.

    Sorry, I cannot see what you do – where is the convergence of principle?

    It’s not the teachers you have to convince, it’s grass root Liberal Democrat members like me.

  • “And now all we have to do is convince the teachers….” Have you read the other Postings and Comments on the Voice? And the Students and former students. And other education professionals. And the Liberal Democrat Party etc etc

  • I think you’re confuing headings with content. Mr Gove is marginalising vocational education. The Lib Dem Diploma would have integrated academic and vocational. That means for some even many young people you can use vocational options to engage them with subjects they may regards as abstratc ie English Maths Sciencem
    The new qualifications will be less integrated than the GCSE not more
    there is no ‘partial achievement’ . The direction o travel is backwards and it risks marinalising many young people

  • Richard Dean 18th Sep '12 - 6:42pm

    Thanks, Helen, it is good to begin to see at long last what the basis of your objection has been. Any further clarificatioin would be much appreciated too.

  • Peter Watson 18th Sep '12 - 7:04pm

    @Rob Heale ““And now all we have to do is convince the teachers….” Have you read the other Postings and Comments on the Voice? And the Students and former students. And other education professionals. And the Liberal Democrat Party etc etc”
    And the parents.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Sep '12 - 7:07pm

    @Richard Dean: ” Thanks, Helen, it is good to begin to see at long last what the basis of your objection has been. Any further clarificatioin would be much appreciated too.”

    My comments on these threads have been critical of Clegg and the EBacc but my erroneous assumption I guess, was that readers would already have some appreciation of Liberal Democrat Education policy.

    It’s clear to me now that our policy has been so muddied and blurred that few people actually know what we stand for. As Jon Hunt has commented here and elsewhere, Lib Dems believe there should be an end to the academic-vocational divide which has blighted the country’s school system for too long.

    Instead of dividing pupils between a high-value purely academic qualification and a low value practical/vocational qualification, schools should offer one diploma to be awarded at 18 . Students would work towards this, accumulating a personal balance (according to their aptitudes) of academic and vocational courses – plus a record of achievement, which details their achievements in extra-curricular activities. This record of exam results and activities would help employers and universities make their decisions.

    For example: An academically-orientated child could accumulate a suite of academic courses plus some creative/practical elements and a vocationally-orientated child could achieve across a range of vocational courses but also obtain some academic courses, like Maths and English. The point is – both would leave school with a balanced scorecard and the same school diploma, recording their particular profiles and achievements.

    This is the actual Lib Dem aspiration – I invite you to compare and contrast with the Gove/Clegg EBacc.

  • Peter Watson 18th Sep '12 - 8:41pm

    I’m not sure which of several parallel threads to post a question, but this seems as good as any.
    Can somebody please point me to statements by senior Lib Dems and MPs other than Clegg and Laws about the exam reforms. I haven’t noticed a rush to defend and promote the proposals, either here or through other media.
    Perhaps exam reform has been buried by other news stories, perhaps it is just a storm in a teacup, perhaps it is just not considered important.
    Anyone?

  • Jon Humt – Grade 3 English O-Level? O-Levels were graded A-E; CSEs 1-5.

  • Helen Tedcastle – “For example: An academically-orientated child could accumulate a suite of academic courses plus some creative/practical elements and a vocationally-orientated child could achieve across a range of vocational courses but also obtain some academic courses, like Maths and English. The point is – both would leave school with a balanced scorecard and the same school diploma, recording their particular profiles and achievements.”

    I actually agree with you on the point about valuing academic and vocational courses equally. However, many people don’t and it is naive to assume that creating one exam will change the way the external world values achievement. Changing something’s name does not change the way people feel about it.

    For example, some GCSEs have been and are valued more highly than others. Some Polytechnics may now be called Universities, but there is still a hierarchy amongst them.

    Far better that we concentrate on making sure the exams do what they are supposed to do, and provide evidence of individual achievement sufficient to enable employers and institutions to discriminate between candidates.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Sep '12 - 9:17pm

    @Tabman: ” I actually agree with you on the point about valuing academic and vocational courses equally. However, many people don’t and it is naive to assume that creating one exam will change the way the external world values achievement. Changing something’s name does not change the way people feel about it.”

    Although you appear to agree with me that the culture in this country has traditionally valued academic achievement more highly than vocational, you seem to conclude that there is little we can do about it.

    I disagree. Until Gove came to office and started poisoning the climate around education, creating division and polarising the debate, the feeling in the profession was that GCSEs needed reform of the criteria at the higher level; but there was little groundswell of opinion that agitated for revolution.

    In two years, you have to hand it to Gove, he has transformed the landscape.

    Gove is proof that it is in fact possible to change the culture and climate of opinion around education. How you do it and for what ends is the question.

    You can do it positively – initiate a great debate, consult professionals, experts, parents and young people, accumulate a broad research and evidence-base; or you can do as Gove has – no consultation, selective use of the data, selective use of research, considerable use of Tory-think-tanks – develop policy in secret.

    Bridging the vocational/academic divide is possible – you just need the political will and the wisdom of clear-thinking politicians to do it.

  • OK, as usual the discussion about whether exams have got easier has decended into political dogma (both here and elsewhere) – so I got a little fed up of reading it and decided to have a look at some past papers (I chose maths, 2009).

    Edexcel have copies of previous exams on their website (at http://www.edexcel.com/quals/gcse/gcse-leg/maths/1380/Pages/default.aspx ), interestingly they also have the Examiner Reports which I assume were carried out for QA purposes (at http://www.edexcel.com/quals/gcse/gcse-leg/maths/1380/Pages/default.aspx ), this can give a general idea of the sort of questions that caused problems and is well worth a read.

    I am going to avoid the temptation to pass comment, but I thought I’d include the links so that all those who claim the increasing pass rate isn’t to due to dumbing down can go and look for themselves (to either educate themselves or prove their point). It would be interesting to hear the views of anyone who did the old O’/CSE exams though (to see if my personal feelings on the subject chime with theirs).

  • Tony Dawson 18th Sep '12 - 9:29pm

    @Tabman:

    ” O-Levels were graded A-E”

    Only for you young ones. O levels were originally graded 1-9 of which 1-6 were ‘passes’

  • Helen Tedcastle – its a mistake to confuse the (undoubtedly important) views of the education profession with those of the wider population, the majority of whom are far from convinced that the present system is working properly. And I stand by my comments ; yes it is possible to change attitudes, but those around academic and vocational subjects have been around since the eighteenth century and have proved stubbornly persistent. The simple fact is that decision makers invariably have taken the academic route.

  • Tony Dawson 18th Sep '12 - 9:35pm

    @Helen:

    what did Gove and Clegg do? Draw the EBacc plans up in private, between themselves.”

    We could stick the names ‘Burstow’ and ‘Lansley’ into those sentences wrt NHS reforms. And we know how marvellously that turned out.

  • Chris-sh – thanks for posting that link. Incontrovertable. I’ve been doing maths with my eight year old son recently and he would have a good stab at approximately half of those questions.

  • English Baccalaureate is a terrible name. Baccalaureates are qualifications for higher education. This will be well below this and will have the dire distinction as the worst standard baccalaureate in the world.

    Incidentally: to Tabman, if Jon Hunt got a grade 3 O level he must be somewhere between 55 and 65 years old. With some boards, perhaps all for a time, the grading ranged from 1 – 9 with the bottom grades not counting as a pass.

  • I stand corrected gents!

    I’m going to print that paper off and give it to my kids to do.

  • @Tony Dawson
    “Only for you young ones. O levels were originally graded 1-9 of which 1-6 were ‘passes’”

    I didn’t know that (being a mere youngster 😉 ), out of curiosity I went and looked up when it changed (I won’t mention the date), Because of that I also found out something else from Wiki:

    “O-levels continue to thrive as well respected international qualifications for students in other countries, who use them for preparation for advanced study in their own country and/or access higher education overseas”

    So does that mean that there could be kids overseas who took O’Levels in order to access our universities? That would be a strange turn of events.

    Thanks for the info 🙂

  • “So does that mean that there could be kids overseas who took O’Levels in order to access our universities? That would be a strange turn of events.”

    A bit like Islam keeping alive Classical knowledge during the European dark ages 😉

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Sep '12 - 9:49pm

    @Tabman: I don’t confuse the two at all. Equally, I think it is important not to confuse the views of the general population with the newsprint media, especially the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph.

    I think that depending upon who one talks to and how one frames the question, positive and negative answers will both feature.

    Of course, Gove’s choice of the EBacc core was based partly on a Sun/ YouGov poll to parents asking which subjects they thought were most important. The question was prefaced by a statement: the Government wishes to reform the education system to restore traditional subjects to the curriculum; which subjects do you think should be included?

    Well, if a question is framed like that, one can expect certain answers! It’s not rocket science.

  • Keith Browning 18th Sep '12 - 10:02pm

    As a member of the 1-9 O level brigade I seem to remember the grade boundaries were very tight and did vary by a percent up or down every year.

    Grade 1 was about 62% and a pass – grade 6 – you needed around 47% with 9 being below 40%.

    Experience showed it was difficult to predict grades and many people outperformed expectations if the right questions came up, whilst you could easily have a disaster and struggle to get the five you needed to take A levels. Also of interest was that many/most schools specialised heavily after the ‘Third form’ (14) and the majority of even the brightest pupils only took seven O levels.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Sep '12 - 10:13pm

    @Chris_sh: “I am going to avoid the temptation to pass comment, but I thought I’d include the links so that all those who claim the increasing pass rate isn’t to due to dumbing down can go and look for themselves (to either educate themselves or prove their point). It would be interesting to hear the views of anyone who did the old O’/CSE exams though (to see if my personal feelings on the subject chime with theirs).”

    I have had a look at the links and I hope that others have avoided the temptation of making a judgement about the fabled ‘dumbing down’ by not comparing a Foundation paper with an O level.

    I remember the O level exam – long, involved questions that required multiple calculations. These deliberately mystifying question are part of the armoury of virility-symbols those who laud O levels as ‘hard’ bring out when comparing the past with the comparative clarity of GCSE.

    One thing that those who want to return to the past cannot understand is that for this generation, education has been demystified – learning has been made far more accessible by good teaching techniques.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, poor teaching was masked by a sink or swim culture, where if you didn’t understand something, the teacher would either ignore you and teach the ones who got it, ort left it up to you to work it out. Too bad if you didn’t.

    Teachers these days cannot get away with the old approach for long – they would be rumbled pretty quickly.

    It baffles me that those of my own generation continue to talk up the old system that masked such utter mediocrity and persistently do down our young people’ achievements , notwithstanding their hard-working teachers.

    As for the EDExcel exams – I would have enjoyed taking those papers – they are clear, well-structured and fair – the very opposite of O Level Maths – if it needs improvement at the top end to stretch the top 5%, fine but lets not kid ourselves that the 1980s was great – it wasn’t.

  • @Keith Browning
    “Grade 1 was about 62% and a pass …..”
    I assume you’re talking about the individual achievement? I wonder if that changed at some point as I thought the grades were set en bloc, so the top x % pupils got A (I’m obviously post 1 – 9 ), the next x% got B and so forth – so if everyone did well then it was harder to achieve the higher grade and vice versa.

  • @Chris_sh
    I may be wrong but I think the paper you linked to is the non coursework option which has a maximum of a C.

    Also, looking at one paper does not answer the grade inflation question. You would need to see what standard the GCSE was at in 1997 and compare over the years to prove / disprove Laws’ comment. In fact I would go back to 1987 and compare to 1986 O Level to see whether in fact we are talking about grade inflation or just a change of assessment criteria.

    We need to avoid the trap of false memories. I thought my Maths O Level paper was very hard when I took it, perhaps almost 30 years later I may feel differently. Funnily enough I have found a 1986 paper and in between feeding my new born am going to attempt it..

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/reality-check/interactive/2012/jun/21/students-olevels

  • Helen Tedcastle: there’s a reason for having “long involved questions that require multiple calculations”, and its not to deliberately mystify or prove “educational virility” (whatever that is). You structure a question in such a way that only the really able will get to the end of it – then it becomes discriminatory which is, after all, the point of an exam. In mathematics you start with the basic principle, then build upon it. From what I can see of that Edexcel paper, each question never gets past first base. Answering 30 easy 1 mark questions is not as difficult as answering one cumulative 30 mark question.

  • Chris-sh “I thought the grades were set en bloc, so the top x % pupils got A (I’m obviously post 1 – 9 ), the next x% got B and so forth – so if everyone did well then it was harder to achieve the higher grade and vice versa.”

    That’s called normative marking (ie it assumes a standard distribution) and is used, as you say, to ensure that qualitative differences between exam papers are ironed out. At some point over the last 30 years it switched to “absolute” marking which infers that standards have got better over the years.

  • The norm referencing issue really does make comparisons between O Levels and GCSE’s pointless as clearly there is the opportunity for more top grades in a non-norm referenced exam.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Sep '12 - 10:48pm

    @Tabman: ” Helen Tedcastle: there’s a reason for having “long involved questions that require multiple calculations”, and its not to deliberately mystify or prove “educational virility” (whatever that is). You structure a question in such a way that only the really able will get to the end of it – then it becomes discriminatory which is, after all, the point of an exam. In mathematics you start with the basic principle, then build upon it. From what I can see of that Edexcel paper, each question never gets past first base. Answering 30 easy 1 mark questions is not as difficult as answering one cumulative 30 mark question.”

    But that’s not the case is. In the Higher paper, the questions are broken up into sections – to get full marks you have to answer each setion and show your working. Instead at O level, the question was written a great ling paragraph. if you were part of the top 10% you were capable enough of working through each problem. At GCSE, the problems are still there to be solved but presented in a clear, structured way. The structure enable s pupils to achieve! that is what I mean by demystifying the process!

    What is the purpose of education? To teach the principles of a mathematical problem, to show a person how to do it , help them understand it, and then to let them go away and show what they know; or deliberately to obfuscate the process, put obstacles of design and structure in their way; cloud it in impenetrable language so that all but the brightest can decipher the ‘code’ with ease?

    In my view, education is about making learning clear, accessible and decipherable – it is not mysterious – it is available for all, for them to achieve to the best of their ability.

  • Keith Browning 18th Sep '12 - 10:50pm

    @Chris-sh
    We were well groomed for the exams and also informed about the previous years marking strategy and grade boundaries. I definitely remember that 47% was the usual pass mark for a 6 and that you needed slightly more than 62% for a Grade 1.
    Several of our staff specialised in question spotting and one published a book on model answers. We were told it was a game – the exam board against the combined brains of the kids and the staff..!!! The staff were on our side.

    Most exams were 3 hours long and involved either long essays or complicated ‘proofs’ for maths.

    The exam papers were often very slim – one or two sheets of paper giving no information for free. Along the lines of – answer 4 out of the 5 questions on the paper. You may have as many sheets of blank paper as you need. !!

    In science and maths you had to know all the charts and theorums, although they were generous enough to give you ‘log tables’. We were taught to learn the most common log table stats by heart to save time in looking them up. A different world now I think !!!! Well till 2017 ???

    The ‘Mr Bean’ exam program was an excellent representation of what O levels were like – show that at the LibDem Conference – very accurate.

  • @Tabman @Chris_sh

    Looking at the higher papers on this link, I glanced at papers 8 and 10, they seem more in line with the O Level Paper from ’86…

    http://www.edexcel.com/quals/gcse/gcse-leg/maths/2381/Pages/default.aspx

    http://www.edexcel.com/migrationdocuments/QP%20Current%20GCSE/March%202011%20-%20QP/5382H_08_que_20110301.pdf

  • Steve Way – yes, there are more (or fewer) opportunities for getting top grades in a non-normative exam, but how do you control for variable standards?

  • Mary Reid – at least you were given the opportunity to study Latin (at a Grammar School, presumably). An opportunity denied to the majority of pupils today and certainly when I was at school.

  • Keith Browning 18th Sep '12 - 11:08pm

    One thing I think is being missed here. There was always an assumption that kids taking O level would move on to A levels, so the main aim was to provide a minimum standard for the next stage. You needed 5 Os to move on to As.

    Os were never really an end in themselves, just a stepping stone. If you got less than 5 Os you were definitely labelled a ‘failure’.

    GCEs and GCSEs seem to have had an additional broader aim – to give a school leaving qualification to the wider school population who weren’t going to take their formal education any further.

  • Peter Watson 18th Sep '12 - 11:28pm

    @Chris_sh and Tabman
    It is difficult for me to comment on the difficulty or otherwise of a GCSE exam paper as since doing my own O-levels I’ve had 30 years of more advanced maths and repetition of the fundamentals. I would suggest that it is similar for everybody who sneers at current exam papers, or worse still individual questions out of context. In much the same way the driving test filled me with terror all those years ago but would not phase me if I took it tomorrow. Besides which, claims of dumbing down are nothing new: back in 1983 my maths teacher bemoaned the fact that calculus was no longer on our syllabus so gave some of us extra lessons at lunchtime on a topic he thought was important.
    GCSE Further Maths is already available to stretch more academic students, and it must be a far better way to handle the spread of ability in the population than a single 3 hour exam and a single qualification for everybody. It seems to me that additional GCSEs in Further English, Further History, etc. would be a less disruptive way to give more capable children the opportunity to distinguish themselves. It may represent a two tier system, but it is one that raises the ceiling for the most able, not one that opens a trapdoor for the least fortunate. It is a path that remains open to all as they work through their GCSEs rather than one that is closed off at the age of 14. It is also nothing new: I sat an O-level in Additional Maths and Special papers in Chemistry and Physics to extend my A-Levels.

  • This is nonsense, Gove’s arbitrary list of subjects is profoundly illiberal and will go against the sentiment of our federal constitution (‘nurture creativity’).

  • I think there is still a problem about what the country (as opposed to individual candidates) wants from examinations. A crucial element is a bit of help for employers in choosing the best candidates for a job on a basis outside their own prejudices. If everyone increasingly starts getting the top three grades then there are too many ‘top candidates’ to choose from. There is also the issue of inter-generational equity. Do you want to use measures which discriminate against an older candidate whose GCSE equivalents are lower (even if the grade-shift is genuinely-based) when she was actually in a higher percentile of her age cohort than younger people who have higher grades than she did? If we accept that achievement (qualifications) does not always have to reflect talent or ability, because teachers have got better etc, what value do qualifications which measure achievement have in telling us about the real value of the candidates in either absolute or comparative terms?

    Personally, I think there is a genuine value in having qualifications which give each candidate a mark for both exams and continuous assessment and do not allow candidates to pick between the two. I realised at the tender age of seven, in my ‘academic’ school that I came first in exams but averaged about fourth in my class in course assignments. As long as there were exams to mark me by, I would prosper disproportionately. There was no reason at all for me to apply myself to work in class or homework and indeed I eventually bunked out of school on a regular basis because finding a way of doing so without being caught was far more interesting to me than learning the discipline of being assessed for regular and consistent application to school tasks. For I would always do well in examinations -which showed a mix of logic, intelligence and memory but not any discipline to apply that ability on a regular/routine basis as is required in many types of what we adults call ‘work’.

  • Peter Watson 19th Sep '12 - 12:13am

    @Alisdair Calder McGregor
    I think you make some very optimistic links between your criteria and what Gove and Clegg are proposing.

    Oppose Mr Gove’s plans for an official two-tier examination structure.
    Success.

    Until it is accepted that distinguishing between the most and the least capable in a single examination paper is not practical and Clegg U-turns. I would suggest this criterion is a success … for now.

    Propose instead our own policy of a single General Diploma.
    Partially Achieved.

    Insofar as the EBacc is nothing more than a restricted collection of GCSEs (or EBCs in the future) then in theory it is adaptable, but what would be the point? Students can already have an unrestricted collection of GCSEs and other qualifications without giving it a special name. I would recommend finding a different route for a Lib Dem General Diploma instead of hoping to subvert Gove’s EBacc. We haven’t proposed anything with a Lib Dem feel – this criterion is a fail.

    Support the return of educational initiative to the school and the teachers.
    Partially Achieved.

    The pressure on children and teachers of a one-shot all-or-nothing assessment in a single 3 hour exam seems to me entirely contrary to the stated intent of reducing teaching to the test and expanding the curriculum. There will be a disincentive for teachers to encourage the development of important supporting skills such as teamwork, research, creativity, etc. as this would divert time and resources away from what will be assessed. Besides which, your next and final comments indicate that for schools and teachers this is seen as an unwelcome top-down imposition. I think we’ve a fail on this criterion as well.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “I have had a look at the links and I hope that others have avoided the temptation of making a judgement about the fabled ‘dumbing down’ by not comparing a Foundation paper with an O level.”

    I was rather hoping that people would look at more than one paper, there are also 2 papers for higher tier (one with and one without calculator). Having said that, isn’t it the case that a GCSE grade C is equivalent to an O Level Pass? Is it also not the case that you can achieve such a mark by taking a Foundation Tier exam? If that is the case then surely there is also a case for comparing them?

    “In the 1970s and 1980s, poor teaching was masked by a sink or swim culture, where if you didn’t understand something, the teacher would either ignore you and teach the ones who got it, ort left it up to you to work it out. Too bad if you didn’t.”

    Are you sure that you’re not creating a generalisation using your own experience? I’m from that era (70s) and I just don’t recognise that statement as being factual (and no, I wasn’t some sort of shining star when it came to skool). The same is true of many of the statements I’ve seen during these discussions (that have been going on for weeks), but I’d like to say that we were encouraged to do the best we could. We had teachers who were willing to go the extra mile, so I was able to partake in things like the DofE, potholing (one of our teachers used to take groups of us out with his potholing club) plus many more activities of various descriptions.

    If these things didn’t happen for other people then it must have been down to the teachers, it wasn’t because of some evil government plot.

    “Teachers these days cannot get away with the old approach for long – they would be rumbled pretty quickly.”

    And yet we hear that many kids are leaving school without the most basic skills. Which would seem to imply that there are teachers out there who are not being rumbled.

    You’ll note from my first comment that I did actually point out that the follow up reports were also available, some of the points raised were very basic and must come down to inefectual preperation of what is required in an exam (i.e. teacher failure), e.g. the need to take a ruler/compass/calculator (when allowed), the use of blue or black ink and not thick felt pens, being tidy, checking/double checking your work. When I was at school these sorts of things were continually hammered into our skull.

    ” persistently do down our young people’ achievements”
    I would never talk down their achievements, they can only work with the tools that they have been given. If they have done well with those tools then more power to their elbow. I would question the tools themselves though, are they the correct ones, will they help the kids to progress etc. You have at least one expert on higher education on this site who is telling you that the tools are not good enough for the job. The businesses world has been complaining for a long time as well. I also read an account from a Parliamentary Committee recently (sorry, can’t remember the link) where the Army were stating that they would not accept 16 yr olds with a reading age of less than 7, above that and they would try to bump it up to age 11 to get them in. It was also reported that the number of potential recruits requiring such remedial action had risen (I can’t remember the exact % – something like 20%), but they just accepted that as it was just a reflection of society.

    @Steve Way
    “I may be wrong but I think the paper you linked to is the non coursework option which has a maximum of a C.”
    I may be wrong, but the only diff is the fact that the linear doesn’t require coursework, the rest should be the same (i.e. foundation = max C, higher tier = max A).

    “Funnily enough I have found a 1986 paper and in between feeding my new born am going to attempt it..”
    Congratulations and good luck with that 😀

    “Looking at the higher papers on this link, I glanced at papers 8 and 10, they seem more in line with the O Level Paper from ’86…”

    Do you think so? After all 8 is mulitple choice. Interestingly, in the article itself it does say (Re Ofqual statement):

    ” it is at least partly due to easier tests. It compared exam papers from different years and found, for example, more short-answer and multiple-choice questions in recent years”

    @Tabman
    “That’s called normative marking ……”
    Thanks – it wasn’t an age related memory thing on my part then, it did happen 😀 .

    @Keith Browning
    “although they were generous enough to give you ‘log tables’”
    Ahh, I’d forgotten about those wonderful tables – I’ll try to forget about them again before I go to bed 😉 .

    “The ‘Mr Bean’ exam program was an excellent representation of what O levels were like”
    I’ll have to dig that one out again, it’s years since I’ve seen it. 😀

    Os were never really an end in themselves, just a stepping stone. If you got less than 5 Os you were definitely labelled a ‘failure’.”

    Umm, A’s were never really in my plan (despite getting the teacher discussions), which may be part of the reason why I’ve never felt this “failure” thing.

    @Peter Watson
    ” It may represent a two tier system, but it is one that raises the ceiling for the most able, not one that opens a trapdoor for the least fortunate.”

    But at what point does not opening the trapdoor become equality of outcome as opposed to equality of opportunity? More importantly, are we failing to teach one of the most important lessons in life, how to deal with failure – how to bounce back rather than roll over and complain about how unfair life is.

  • Peter Watson – its fair to raise the point about time, so I intend to give the paper to my daughter (year 6). Interestly when I essence in year 6 (4th year juniors) the teacher gave us CSE maths papers.

  • Keith Browning 19th Sep '12 - 9:34am

    The World of Mr Bean (aka Mr Gove).

    This clip with the opening of the exam paper tells you all you need to know about the post 2017 world of education.

  • Alex Whattam 19th Sep '12 - 10:28am

    As somebody who did their GCSEs 4 years ago I believe the main problems are not with how many exams/coursework each module has or how many students are getting which grade it is with the content of each subject. This isn’t to say the amount of coursework, amount of exams or the grade boundaries couldn’t do with a bit of tweaking. However this needs to be based on the recommendation of teachers and not ministers.

    Individual subjects need to be tackled, there is no quick-fix method to improve all of education. Just look at GCSE ICT which main goal appears to be teaching how to use a very old and long-winded method of documenting progress of designing a database. There is no element of programming available to students. Religious Education as well needs an overhaul. There was a lot of things taught to me that since I’ve realised were just plain wrong. Not specific religions or their teachings but arguments against evolution that completely ignored science. There was also an element of ‘scientific controversy’ taught to me at school but the subjects they used were only ever debated in the media e.g. does X new technology cause cancer?

  • I failed my maths o level, I put my name and drew 2 triangles as i did not understand it at all. If teachers had bothered with the less able I would have but they just ignored those who needed the extra help. I am however numerate and went on to work in banking and accounts. What does that tell you about the importance of the return of maths that very few will ever use?

  • Peter Watson 19th Sep '12 - 10:53am

    @Anne
    I think you make a very good point. Taking maths as an example, I would welcome an open debate about the purpose of maths education and qualifications for school leavers, and then try to design a system to suit. Gove and Clegg seem to be approaching it from the opposite direction, starting with an exam that will filter out those unsuited to maths at university and then leaving everything else to chance.

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th Sep '12 - 10:55am

    @Tabman: “Peter Watson – its fair to raise the point about time, so I intend to give the paper to my daughter (year 6). Interestly when I essence in year 6 (4th year juniors) the teacher gave us CSE maths papers. ”

    And I guess that by writing such a comment on this thread about your own child, we’re: a. all meant to be impressed b. assume that GCSEs are so dumbed down that even a year 6 could do it!

    Of course, it’s not as simple as that is it.

    For example: In a class of 22 year 6 pupils (which I finished teaching in July), three achieved level 6 (ie: lower secondary level Maths), 15 achieved level 5, above the national average and 4 achieved level 4 , the average.

    The three children who achieved level 6 were exceptional children and it would not surprise me if their mastery of certain areas of mathematics could lead them to attempt parts of the GCSE.

    I am guessing that your child is probably someone who excels at maths – good luck to him/her but lets remember that in every generation – for every two or three gifted mathematicians there are 15 or more able pupils and some average-below average.

    Why should the needs of three be put before the needs of the majority? Would a parent of an average child be happy with them sitting an exam they are set up to fail from the start?

    It’s interesting that you didn’t reply to my post about the purpose of education.

  • Tabman – “O Levels graded A – E” Only in certain Exam Boards. They were actually a mix of letters and numbers.
    I can quote London Board used letters, I think both oxford and Cambridge Boards used numbers.

  • Alex Whattam – you don’t really explain your problems with RE GCSE, and whether it is the syllabus, or the way you were taught. In an area which is liable to be riddled with dogma and controversy are you sure you are not allowing any particular dogma of yours to skew your thinking?

  • Loving all this bragging going on about how clever we were all in the past.

    I must have been exceptional in 1985 after passing 11 O Levels in one sitting – but then maybe I have a good memory and was a lazy so and so for the rest of the time. I also seem to remember that I was doing a ‘dumbed down’ exam then as well so perhaps it was that.

    All generations think the current one have it easier because invariably standards rise. It doesn’t mean kids are now more intelligent than we were it just means they are in some ways smarter and more focused. Remember universal education has only been around for a few decades and it is only in the last 20 or so years that University was only for the elite. These factors make any comparisons difficult. When I was at school grades were not that important, it was more a pass/fail. I think that is different now.

    We could move back to norm grading and that would seem to be fair and nice and simple but it also has severe faults as well which were one of the reasons it was changed. I think whatever system you use can be seen as flawed.

    I actually think, that in stead of this undignified messing about as suggested by Gove, we should completely overhaul the exam system in order to meet the changes in society. We moved from the school certificate through O Levels/CSE to GCSE all with the focus at 16. Should we not now admit that the 16 exam is less important as it was and ,in fact, make 18 the focus? The Tomlinson report would be a good starting point and perhaps a cross-party team could start looking at this seriously.

    Whatever happens the Laws/Gove proposals are pretty shabby and ill-conceived and are just there to pander to some Tory prejudices

  • oops

    apologise for mistakes in last post – hope you can understand what I meant to say

  • Alex Whattam 19th Sep '12 - 9:31pm

    Tim13 – I was trying to give an example. I don’t think anyone would disagree with having RE presenting the evolutionary biologists opinion, as well as others, when talking about evolutionary biology. RE as a whole was nowhere near the worst however I did only do the half-GCSE.

  • In the last two years, I have worked quite closely with people at different establishments who are involved with recruiting for and teaching A level Maths. I was surprised when I was told that high GCSE grades (B and above) are being achieved by pupils who have been taught minimal or no algebra or trigonometry, only to have this verified independently.

    I also have noticed the very poor maths skills of students doing Science and other subjects for which some mathematical facility is required. This includes not able to multiply or divide by factors of 10, inability to round numbers up or down as well as incomprehension when faced with simple equation rearrangement.

    Perhaps today’s students have greater facility at other mathematical things. All I can say is that whatever it is, it is not very obvious.

    As PISA studies show, most other EU countries are maintaining standards rather better.

  • Martin

    Anecdote – dear oh dear)

    I have not seen any similar problems with recent students I have met. Who is right? Who knows? This is why anecdotal evidence is nonsense

    So kids cannot divide by 10 now – whereas all us geniuses from 20 years ago can do everything so much better!!!! Funny that when I was at school the average grade was CSE 4 and about 15% of my year of 300 kids took O Levels!

    The Pisa report is important information but, as with any statistical assessment, the devil is in the detail and the OECD themselves say that comparisons are sometimes difficult to make.

  • bazzasc: do you consider the Maths GCSE syllabuses to be anecdotal? This is what these people were professionally analysing. True the poor maths skills, that I have seen, are anecdotal corroboration of the effects of these syllabuses.

    It really is no good to dismiss one statement as anecdotal and follow that with a dismissal of statistical data. Since the first statement followed directly from how the syllabuses operate, it leaves me with the impression that there is no data that you would accept. In fact I have had some involvement with comparisons with other European systems and with PISA. The comparisons with maths are least problematic, where translation is less of an issue. Actually since the PISA tests take place in the GCSE year, a year that is not a major exam year for many other countries, UK students are likely to be more geared up for testing than their counterparts from other systems. This is therefore more likely to favour the position of the UK.

  • Martin

    Yo are giving anecdotal evidence when you have been told about something by some ‘people’ and then also these claims about people not being able to divide or multiply by 10 without giving any context.

    I am a scientist and have seen no evidence of this in the kids we take on as students etc. My anecdote differs from yours.

    You misrepresent what I said on PIsa – any of the headlines from Pisa are simplified and, as with all statistical studies, it should be studied carefully.

  • Let’s get this straight – Martin and bazzasc – are you saying that the PISA comparisons are effectively pushing our “league position” down because not as many people study algebra and geometry in this country as some comparator countries?
    In other words, we specialise too early? Surely, there would be counter arguments to that, if that appears to be the problem. Maybe we need a way of ensuring those who are liable to need these subjects for later career choice / academic study paths have them available? Maybe we need to acknowledge that we all need at least a basic understanding of those topics for living in the adult world? Maybe we need to develop, or promote existing, good teaching methods for topics which are often unpopular and considered “difficult” (or “rigorous”) by many people!!

    How big a part did lower outcomes in algebra and geometry play in our PISA results as a whole, and specifically our maths results?

    It still strikes me that Gove’s “throw out the bits of the baby I don’t like with the bathwater” approach is nonsensical. When addressing a “problem” (in this case, the PISA results seem to have provoked widespread concern among the powers that be -“hey, we should be much better than these …..s we’d better do something about it!”) first assess whether it is actually a problem, then have a look at probable or possible dimensions of the problem, what outcome(s) do we want, and whether we can pilot possible routes to the desired outcome, followed, if appropriate, by the least disruptive implementation after consultation. As I said before, Gove has not got the attitudes, or the correct skill set to be running anything like this.

  • Alex – thanks for your reply. I am left wondering whether you just have these two subjects you quote (RE and ICT) in mind?

    The ICT issue has been much discussed, and obviously with such a fast moving area of technology it needs to change more quickly / frequently.

    The RE issue, as I say is bedevilled (not sure whether the right word!) with controversy and dogma, and no doubt syllabus questions, and pulls in all possible directions are incessant. So would we ever have a syllabus which could be said to be perfect? When you say there were things you were taught which were factually incorrect, do you mean that your teacher imparted things based on falsities, or that you were given sources that were either biased, or just plain wrong? Either way, how general is this? And is it based on the religious background of the school, the teacher etc? Many Lib Dems believe in the removal of specific faith-based schools to give everyone a broad and liberal understanding of this area.

    Even if your contention that syllabuses are the main problem generally, surely that begs the question “Should we be updating more often?” It should not immediately call into question educational issues such as use of modules, assessment techniques etc, unless there is evidence to back the need for widespread abandonment.

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