Opinion: Finally lost it….

If there was ever any doubt as to the credibility and effectiveness of Michael Gove as Education Secretary, that has now been dispelled by the recent announcement via the Daily Mail about bringing back ‘O’ Levels.

Some I know have discarded this as not being serious, more an opportunity for Gove to act the Tory whilst his colleague flails around, making his opportunity for anything other than a one-term stint as Prime Minister highly unlikely.

Maybe it is a political move to manoeuvre himself into a prime position as custodian of the right wing, but the idea that he would use such a distressing subject to press his suit is very disturbing.  Is it a kind of sadistic exercise purely designed to invoke fear in all of us?  How does he think it might impact on his relationship with teachers, to whom he is supposedly giving more responsibility and autonomy?  How does it chime with Nick Clegg’s pursuit of social mobility?

I could write for hours on this subject, but another–and a teacher– has already done a splendid job.  Francis Gilbert, writing on the Local Schools Network says:

 Teachers like me will certainly be taking a big “gulp” at this news. I’m in the position of having taught GCSEs for the last twenty years but having been one of the last cohorts in the mid-1980s to take O Levels. My experience of O Levels were that they were very reductive and somewhat simplistic exams; I’m no fan of GCSEs, but in comparison to the old O Level they are enlightened qualifications!

It also has to be borne in mind that O Levels were taken by fewer than a third of pupils, leaving a whopping 70% of pupils to take the second-rate CSE qualification, or leave school with no qualification at all. A return to this sort of elitist qualification system would be an unmitigated disaster, leaving most of our school leavers with second-rate qualifications to their name.

Gove is essentially an “elitist” in the sense that he believes that a certain percentage of pupils should be “creamed off” from the rest……   He has little time for the evidence; serious research suggests that GCSE may not be “dumbed down” at all. It’s a contested area, but there’s nothing conclusive to prove O Levels are a “better” qualification.

It’s time for someone in the Lib-Dems and the opposition to start talking about equality more seriously. Where are you Nick Clegg? Where are you Sarah Teather? Do you agree with this dangerous nostalgic nonsense? Where’s Twigg?

As a Lib Dem, I can find nothing I disagree with in his blog.

If we cannot pull this one out from the fire as a party of Government, then there really is no hope for us, or any justification for us being a party of Government.  To lose all credibility as being a progressive party, really is a deal too far.

The official Liberal Democrat response is as follows:

Commenting on the reports of the re-introduction of O-Levels, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Education, Dan Rogerson said:

“Liberal Democrats absolutely support reforms to improve standards where the evidence is clear, and we have done so in the Coalition Government.

“We want to raise aspirations for all children, which is why every child should have the chance to achieve good qualifications. A two-tier system, with all the upheaval and instability this would cause, is not the way to achieve higher standards across the board.

“Reform needs to be managed carefully and we should avoid creating a huge amount of turbulence and distraction in the education system for no real gain.

“Rather than harking back to an age when children started their adult life with qualifications that were seen as second rate, we want to look forward and work with teachers and schools to give them the freedom and tools needed to stretch pupils, drive up standards and entrench a culture of high expectations in every school.”

 

 

* Helen Flynn is an Executive Member of the LDEA. She is a former Parliamentary Candidate and Harrogate Borough Councillor and has served on the Federal Policy Committee and Federal Board. She has been a school governor in a variety of settings for 19 years and currently chairs a multi academy trust in the north of England.

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62 Comments

  • Ben Jephcott 21st Jun '12 - 5:49pm

    Well said Helen. I am glad Dan has issued a robust response, It is being said that this leak has come from Gove’s office and not cleared by any Lib Dem ministers . He is trying to bounce Cameron let alone the Lib Dems into accepting this wheeze as policy.

    The reason I think is not positioning before a leadership bid, it is ideological obsession, simple as that. He can introduce this sweeping change without new legislation, I believe.

    We had better not row back from this clear opposition. Gove has one hopes finally gone too far.

    Ben Jephcott

  • What futuristic innovation will Gove introduce next, I wonder? The monitorial system?

    But never fear, this time the Lib Dem MPs definitely won’t be as supine as they have been over all the other reactionary policies trojan horsed through this parliament in the name of the so called “National Interest”. Don’t make me laugh

  • @ Matthew Green

    Completely agree on the need for the LibDems to be sharper and more positive. The coverage of this (see the BBC) shows why the party is suffering, the coverage so far make the party look like the party for educational vested interests.

    The comments should have first acknowledged the concerns around the GCSE’s and the need to make improvements whether that was by regular incremental improvements or very rare redesigns. Then go on to say what areas are felt to need specific attention.

    The current (admittedly anonymous) sources sound angry and obstructive, far better to ridicule an idea of taking education back 6o years, perhaps suggesting that the party would favour making use to the advances in neurology, psychology, study of child development and educational successes from around the world, rather than reverting to a system cooked up by a few old men who were born at the end of the 19th or early 20th century.

    A positive response (having actual proposals) will normally play much better than keeping claiming to “stop the tories.”

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '12 - 6:20pm

    An excellent article Helen. I agree with you. Gove has over-reached himself.

    This is a massive test of strength of our leadership. Gove has been signalling for some time, his ideological mission to return to the old, washed -up O level and CSE system.

    He has insulted current pupils taking their GCSEs today by signalling in explicit terms that he thinks their efforts are not worth the candle and that their qualifications are worthless.

    His rhetoric is simple and dangerous – only he, Gove, can save the education system and only his methods will restore, ‘ ‘rigour, robustness, excellence, and faith’ in schools, subject areas, teachers etc..

    All of this is so much propaganda based on a a grain of truth. GCSEs are not getting easier – teachers are getting better at teaching them and less students are being written off as incapable -as they used to be back in Gove’s day.

    Ongoing review is always needed and changes should be made if necessary but the system is not broken or failed.

    Certainly a return to the days when over half of pupils took CSEs and were consigned to an inferior quality of education and qualification, would be deeply damaging for the country.

    Gove must be stopped it is up to the Liberal Democrats to stop him.

  • Toby MacDonnell 21st Jun '12 - 6:25pm

    Clegg has already commited the party to opposing this measure: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jun/21/nick-clegg-gove-scrap-gcses

    Quick off the mark, too.

  • Simon Beard 21st Jun '12 - 6:32pm

    It may have escaped your notice, but we actually already have a 2 tier GCSE system. It’s actually called that. There are higher tier and lower tier GCSE’s and they are worth different amounts. If you sit a lower tier GCSE the best mark you can get is a C, if you sit higher tier then the lowest mark you can get is a D. The Lower tier GCSEs involve a smaller syllabus and less rigorous examination, so they are easier to teach and its more likely that a pupil will get a C when sitting a lower tier GCSE then a higher tier one, which is the only thing many schools seem to care about nowadays, thanks to the focus on ‘five good GCSEs’. However even though you are more likely to get a ‘good GCSE’ the structure of the course and the examination means that you are going to struggle to get a good preparation for further education, which we now expect all children to undertake.

    I am sure Gove is in favour of no longer calling both these things GCSEs for a variety of reasons, and suspect there may be a certain degree of elitism at play here. However, from my perspective this is really just being honest. Children who don’t get the sort of rigorous education that is needed to prepare them for A-levels and university should be differentiated from those who have had this. Not because they are worse, but because if they are to make a success of their next stage of education they are going to need different things. Maybe saying this makes me an elitist too, but then I did in-fact take one lower tier GCSE, because I was going to struggle to do well in French. Doing this helped to boost my grades, but I don’t think it prepared me at all for any further study of French. Being honest about what we are offering students should not be the same as being elitist, and I don’t think the current system is offering all students the same thing. So if you are really concerned about preventing a two tier system you need to propose something completely different, not just stand up for what we have now.

  • Ben Jephcott 21st Jun '12 - 6:44pm

    In reply to Psi, the briefings and Dan Rogerson’s comments do acknowledge the need to improve GCSEs, and elsewhere the EBacc (which personally I deplore) is mentioned as part of that effort. But the government already has a process ongoing to meet these concerns, what Gove is doing is pulling the rug from under it half way through and announcing that year zero is the only reform he is interested in.

    The Lib Dems should stick to their analysis of the last 30 years – the reason why education underperforms in this country is too much bureaucracy, too many targets for teachers who are forced to’ teach to the test’ by a punitive Ofsted regime, a poor pupil teacher ratio and poor infrastructure. Our competitors, especially Germany, spend far more on education than we do. Labour started to address this in their latter years but then became bogged down in the immensely complex and expensive hoops of the Building Schools for the Future process which obliged costly and disruptive (and immensely unpopular) mergers to create superschools to unlock the cash. The coalition was right to scrap that nonsense while eventually allowing almost all the most needed rebuilding projects to go ahead.

    The pupil premium is a valuable reform because it does acknowledge that money following deprivation is critical to fighting underachievement. Abolishing GCSEs will by contrast cost a fortune, produce a generation with unwanted qualifications and set in stone a two tier division between sheep and goats, just as CSEs and GCEs did. How many parents will want their children to be forced into the new CSEs at 14 with no possibility of escape?

    Ben Jephcott

  • Very glad to see Nick condemn this so quickly. Let’s hope we back up words with action – “sources from Gove’s office” hinting that they don’t need anyone else’s approval and can just push this through via ministerial edict don’t bode well for a constructive dialogue. I’m a full supporter of the coalition but if anything close to this plan gets implemented on our watch I would cut up my memebership card…

  • GCSE’s operate a two-tier system where schools decide who will definitely attain grades A to B and any pupil they have doubts about have to enter the second strand of exams where the highest grade achievable is C. Where on earth does this encourage pupils to strive to improve their chances and to work hard when they are written off so cynically by schools more concerned with their numbers in performance tables?

    When the hypocrisy and slight of hand deception brought about by New Labour’s education system is not faced honestly and openly by any government, schools and teachers we will continue to deceive both parents and most importantly children. I speak as an ex-teacher and a parent.

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '12 - 7:10pm

    @Simon Beard: ‘I am sure Gove is in favour of no longer calling both these things GCSEs for a variety of reasons, and suspect there may be a certain degree of elitism at play here. However, from my perspective this is really just being honest..’

    Yes, you are right, Gove is being unashamedly elitist. No, Gove is not being honest. If you have followed Gove’s moves as Education secretary, you would see that all the gradual changes to policy made over the last eighteen months have been building up to this. Gove is a fan of the highly elitist, two-tiered Singapore system, where the most academic compete in a highly stressful system to get into the few elite universities, which give you the passport to the best jobs. The rest make do with other inferior instiutions, or go down the vocational route.

    No room for late-developers or pupils who are good at a mix of academic/vocational. In this system, rigidity, competition and elitism hold the key to success. Incidentally, Singapore has rather a high suicide rate amongst students – a related fact or just chance?

    ‘ Children who don’t get the sort of rigorous education that is needed to prepare them for A-levels and university should be differentiated from those who have had this. Not because they are worse, but because if they are to make a success of their next stage of education they are going to need different things. Maybe saying this makes me an elitist too…’

    Again, I repeat – what about late-developers? What about the danger of a two-tier system returning us to the bad old days (which I well remember) of many students being consigned to CSE and being written off? This happened in my lifetime – it was a national disgrace then and it will be again, if we roll over and allow Gove to win on this issue.

  • Simon Beard

    I remember the old O Level and CSE back in the 80s – and we do not want to go back.

    If someone takes ‘lower tier’ GCSE and achieves a C then that is a C grade GCSE but in your new world that will be a Grade 1 ‘CSE’. Despite all the hard work that person will never be considered to have the same capability as a Grade C ‘GCE’, even those who have a Grade D ‘GCE’.

    Ask anyone who remembers if the CSE Grade 1 was ever considered the same as a GCE Grade C.

    The current system needs work but surely not this. The timing is also cruel and, in fact, disgraceful

  • @Gail Bones
    I know you are desperate to blame New Labour for everything, but it is hard to see how you can blame them for a two tier GCSE which was first taken in 1988 – 9 years before they came to power.

  • Can I also ask, slightly off-topic (well completely) why Danny A was put up to defend Cameron’s crass tax intervention yesterday on Channel 4.

    It was clear the issue is hypocricy of the Tories, rather than tax avoidance issue per se . He really seems to be the Government fall guy

  • “I am sure Gove is in favour of no longer calling both these things GCSEs for a variety of reasons, and suspect there may be a certain degree of elitism at play here. However, from my perspective this is really just being honest.”

    No wonder so many people dislike him.

    In the meantime, splitting with the Tories because they want to reintroduce an exam with a reputation for being rigorous, does not sound like much of a vote-winner. It is not as if the existing system commands much popular respect.

  • Toby MacDonnell 21st Jun '12 - 8:46pm

    The Economist’s article on the matter: http://www.economist.com/node/21557381

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    The only reason we have these perceptions about O Levels and GCSE is the ‘elitist’ approach of the Tories and the press. It is to be remembered that it was Kenneth Baker who introduced both the GCSE and National Curriculum as the old system didn’t work very well.

    Gove seems to have this focus on nostalgia and a so-called Golden Age – not impressed!

  • @ Ben Jephcott

    I do recognise the positive nature of the official response but it feel the lack of detail makes it too easy for the media to do an other “LibDems against” story.

    I imagine some of the anonymous quotes from “senior” people are not senior at all.

    The more I think about this the more I think this is a set up. A policy of “return to the 1940/50’s” would not be popular if actually implemented it would not be practical. I feel like this is an attempt to trap LibDems in to another “against” position.

    If you look at the budget, that may have blown back in the Tories faces but it also managed to move towards a LibDem policy (Cutting tax for ordinary people) but due to the cut of the 50% (thought economically literate, laffer curve etc) had the LibDems arguing against cutting tax when they had achieved a tax cut. To an ordinary person who wasn’t paying attention they heard the LibDems arging against tax cuts when we should have been celebrating a key tax cut. I am concerned the LibDems are regularly walking in to short term political traps and this feel like another.

    We need a more detailed response highlighting specifics about what SHOULD be done not what we don’t want to see.

  • Helen Flynn 21st Jun '12 - 9:14pm

    The problem with Gove, and let’s face it , Twigg and Lib Dems, is that not one of them has a vision about what a good and appropriate education system is. I am convinced the answer lies in trusting teachers more, ensuring they are well educated in their profession and letting them get on with it. The political cycle does our young people no favours, and this over specification by vision-less politicians without an appropriate grasp of their brief, or relevant background to inform them is killing children’s life chances.

  • @ Ben Jephcott

    Sorry Ben one more thing, one thing you miss about the German system is the greater status vocational training has.

    A return to the 1940/50s model would have a terrible effect on the status of vocational subjects.

    A system that was able to raise the status of vocational qualifications (including having them taken by the brightest students along with academic subjects) would be impressive.

  • Barry George 21st Jun '12 - 9:39pm

    Clegg doesn’t want a two tier education system

    So when we made a pledge to ensure that we would vote against the creation of a two tier system we disregard our pledge and vote to price the poor out of further education. But when we don’t make any pledge to protect secondary education we come out all guns blazing…

    I am sure the public are safely confused…

    I would be confused too if I wasn’t so convinced that if it came down to it we would stand up and show the Conservatives our cojones by abstaining and allowing the Tories to get their own way anyway…

  • There’s a lot of uninformed opposition to the proposals, with many people assuming he really is bringing back O-levels rather than creating a new exam altogether

    The new O-level (the name is undecided), would be taken by 75% of students. The least academic students would take a separate qualification that will focus only on applications to everyday situations. At present these students will be taking foundation GCSEs and they really aren’t looking to get a C. These are the people who will end up with grades E, F, and G. In some subjects they are taking papers that even if they scored 100% they couldn’t get a C.

    I remember when I was taking my GCSEs people in that position were telling me how bad it felt, because they couldn’t even get a C, and if I was to get any lower than a C in an exam, it would come back as a fail. They actually regarded their grades as fails even before they’d even taken their exams! We need a separate qualification so that they can’t be compared to people who will get several A*s. They need to be judged on their own merits and real world skills, not in comparison to people who can write essays on Shakespeare, or find Calculus fun.

    The other reason for creating a new qualification is that he wants the exams to get a lot harder, and for students to take fewer subjects at this level. This is because too many students are getting the top two grades, and therefore at least some of them aren’t being as stretched as they could be, and its also creating problems distinguishing which students deserves university places. This is causing the best and brightest students to loose out because they’re being swamped by lots of less able students with the same grades, we need to ensure our exam system enables a meritocracy.

    Introducing a new exam in order to accomplish these changes is fairer than suddenly ramping up the difficulty of GCSEs because it will make people taking fewer, harder, subjects look very bad in comparison to those who took them a few years previously. If the name changes then that distinction is automatic.

    I hope people will take this on board and peoples knees will calm down a bit. People need to remember that “bringing back O-levels” was the way the Daily Mail described it. Since when has the Daily Mail been a paper to trust? Try to consider the value of these proposed qualifications in their own right.

  • Toby MacDonnell 21st Jun '12 - 10:23pm

    I think the thing to do in this situation is to look past the superficiality of the “O Level” name.

    It would have been easier for Gove to make changes to GCSE delivery (curriculum, national contracts to exam boards) without having to say “O Level” even once, but that wouldn’t be enough red meat for the crowd of natural Tory traditionalists who are defecting to UKIP.

    I can’t say I much approve of a two-tier system, especially as I went to a school with multiple tiers under Labour.

    There’s the higher/lower GCSEs which have been mentioned here, but at my school students unlikely to do well in a language were funneled into Leisure and Tourism; those who weren’t so good in the sciences were put on a science GNVQ (and were told it was worth multiple GCSEs, but try telling that to Oxbridge or Anglian Water); and those who struggled with traditional humanties were placed in Media Studies or Business Studies.

    So long as the kids lived up to something, it didn’t matter what.

    Labour couldn’t make up its mind as to whether children should live up to a national standard or find a vocation that suited them: they sought a compromise and managed to botch both the children’s happiness and the national standard at the same time by being extremely judgemental under a superficial coat of relevativity.

    In the process of creating an objectively valuable modern education system: the needs of employers were misunderstood; children were trapped by class and locale; they were discouraged from finding and loving a vocation; schools were homogenised; and the diverse range of needs and learning styles were trivialised as special needs.

    I think the real way to achieve balance between educational rigour and helping children find their vocation is to pluralise the variety of schools (and therefore teaching methods) while eliminating variations between qualifications.

    That means restricting qualifications to the arts, sciences, and humanities without condecending to communities with qualifications in the use of software, Leisure and Tourism, Hair and Beauty, or Media Studies which renege on their promise of employabiltiy.

    Hairdressing, crafts, and photography should be practiced in school clubs so that kids learn them off their own love of the craft rather than being pressured into hating something they wanted to enjoy: core subjects should give them the cultural capital to persue their vocation.

    Get a GNVQ in Hair and Beauty and employers are sceptical: get three years of hairdressing experience through clubs and collaborations with local businesses, they say “welcome aboard”, and thousands get a chance to be happy by persuing their vocation rather than having it foreclosed by relentless schooling.

    We can never go back to the 50s: those days are long past, and attacking Gove for trying to take us back is not as effective as mocking him for a superficial exercise in branding: but there are enormous problems with teaching in this country, and the present model of GCSE is not helping.

  • @Psi
    “The more I think about this the more I think this is a set up. A policy of “return to the 1940/50′s” would not be popular if actually implemented it would not be practical. I feel like this is an attempt to trap LibDems in to another “against” position.”

    Once upon a time I wondered why the Conservatives seemed to be acting so out of fashion, all a bit wishy washy etc. I then came to a similar conclusion as you seem to hold, they are really playing the long game and making LDs look a bit prattish. It’s not just education though, there is a whole range of issues that must be causing raised eye brows among the non-political public. You mention the tax cuts etc, but the other side of course is things like tax avoidance, LDs scream about stopping tax avoidance, Government state that the amount of avoidance allowed on charities is going to be capped, LDs basically scream that you can’t stop tax avoidance when people donate to charity. LDs over the moon when item is dropped, general population scratch head at LD behaviour.

    In this case it is even better – the age groups most likely to vote are the ones that probably took O’levels and CSEs, which you (as in the Party) are basically saying are bad, elitist and destroy life chances etc. I wonder how that will play with those people?

  • @Dave Page

    Please get your facts right, rather than producing party spin. The coalition rejected a graduate tax in favour of tuition fees. Tuition fees are regressive (according to the strict definition) above middle incomes. Richer graduates pay less as a proportion of their gross income. It is in no way comparable to a graduate tax. Anyone that manages to get themselves a decent job after graduating (the intention of those that work hard and aspire to a decent career after they graduate) will pay substantially more over their lifetime under the new system than the old. If they go on to work in MacDonalds after they graduate, then they may well be better off under the new system as compared with the previous system. So that’s your argument about how the new system is ‘fairer’ is it? It’s no wonder the Lib Dems on ~10% in the polls then.

  • Barry George 21st Jun '12 - 10:37pm

    Dave ,

    Mea culpa … I thought we were discussing the Lib Dem stance on these new proposals not a third party web site.

    Please tell me does MoneySavingExpert often defend Liberal Democrat U-turns on policy, as you seem to be of the opinion that what they say has some relevance to the fact that this party made a public promise and then broke it..

    Please don’t ask me to assist you in researching and validating your argumentum ad verecundiam

    If you have evidence that you believe is relevant to the party policy in question then present it.

    Though I do doubt that MoneySavingExpert really qualifies ..

    My point for those that don’t get it is that the Party is no longer trusted or credible.. So coming out against Goves proposals will have no impact

    We lied about tuition fees and when it came down to it we ensured that there will be no investigation in to Hunt ….

    We are seen as weak and dishonest and until we accept that we will continue to see the party fall and fall further in the public’s perception

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '12 - 10:40pm

    @Charles: ‘ I remember when I was taking my GCSEs people in that position were telling me how bad it felt, because they couldn’t even get a C, and if I was to get any lower than a C in an exam, it would come back as a fail. They actually regarded their grades as fails even before they’d even taken their exams! We need a separate qualification so that they can’t be compared to people who will get several A*s.’

    So how do you think they would feel if, at 14, they were put into a set taking a recognisably lower class qualification with no chance of taking the higher exam, because it was for the more academic. At least now, late developers can come through and achieve in the system and there is no obvious segregation in status.

    I am old enough to have been at school during the old two-tier system and believe me it was narrow, divisive and elitist. This, is what I do not want to see return, at any price.

    ‘This is causing the best and brightest students to loose out because they’re being swamped by lots of less able students with the same grades, we need to ensure our exam system enables a meritocracy.’

    How exactly are the best and brightest losing out on university places? If they are the best, they will not be swamped, because there will be other factors that distinguish these high performers from the others.

    Lets not be naive or complacent. Gove’s mission is purely ideological and one needs to go behind the high-flown rhetoric cannot disguise that excellence is not achieved for all our young people by reintroducing a two-tier system which fails most and over-rewards the elite.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “I am old enough to have been at school during the old two-tier system and believe me it was narrow, divisive and elitist. This, is what I do not want to see return, at any price.”

    So was I (actually in both streams as well for that matter) and I didn’t/don’t believe any of that, but perhaps that’s because my working class parents who had a great belief in education also believed that you shouldn’t go through life with a chip on your shoulder?

  • Toby MacDonnell 21st Jun '12 - 10:54pm

    Helen Tedcastle: There are some glaring deviations in status between qualifications, speaking as someone who has gone through the Labour incarnation of the secondary system. Not all of Gove’s policies are to be recommended, but I don’t think you can dismiss them out of hand.

  • Goves whole stance is odd.
    Boiled down it goes something like this.
    Education is failing, high pass rates prove it, Education is especially failing to be inclusive of the poorest children, We need it too separate them from proper education earlier. The country is failing to compete with other economies, We need to sideline all this computer and vocational malarkey. Real education is 19Th century novels and calculus done with a quill. or something. Only by going backwards can we go forwards.

    But if the kind of education Michael Gove wants is that great why did it produce Micheal Gove. Also why not just model our education on systems that work much better.

  • Rebecca Hanson 21st Jun '12 - 10:59pm

    At last. We’ve finally pointed out that one of Michael Gove’s ideas is completely insane.

    How did we miss the bit where he shut down all democratic consultation in education and the bodies such as becta which could have created balanced policy in technology in education –
    – while he was spending all this time talking to Pearson / News Corp instead (see his Leveson evidence) who were trying to capture the global market in technology in education
    – while News Corp ran a massive and systematic campaign to discredit all parties with ability in policy making in education

    How did we miss the bit where he shut down infrastructure of state education based on no evidence?

    How did we miss the new national curriculum which appears to have been written by Gove and Gibb themselves in direct contradiction to the advice of everyone with experience in education?

    etc. etc. etc. Oh and while were at it here’s my latest blog on Ofsted: http://mathseducationandallthat.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/ofsted-clarifying-state-of-affairs.html

    See you in 9 days Helen?

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '12 - 11:45pm

    @Chris_sh: ‘ So was I (actually in both streams as well for that matter) and I didn’t/don’t believe any of that, but perhaps that’s because my working class parents who had a great belief in education also believed that you shouldn’t go through life with a chip on your shoulder?’

    Excuse me? I come from a working class background – my grandparents being Irish immigrants who left school at 11 and 14 respectively> They too had a great belief in education. I was the first in my family to go to university but rather than wanting to pull up the drawbridge behind me, I am against a return to a narrow two-tier system, which is harmful and socially divisive. I’m also an optimist and believe in young people, rather than in writing them off at 14.

    A pity there are so many people like Gove out there who have no faith in the young (except the most academically gifted).

  • @Helen Tedcastle

    “So how do you think they would feel if, at 14, they were put into a set taking a recognisably lower class qualification with no chance of taking the higher exam, because it was for the more academic. At least now, late developers can come through and achieve in the system and there is no obvious segregation in status.”

    That’s basically the current system. You get put in a set aged 14 which determines the exams you’re going to take. If you’re in the lowest sets you’re doing the papers that you can’t get a C. Once you start taking those exams, even if you move up to taking the intermediate paper (where you can get a C), your previous marks are almost certainly going to prevent you getting one.

    GCSEs beneath grade D are in effect a qualification that are less well respected. Employers don’t just want to know if you passed GCSE English, they want to know if you got a pass at higher level, since a pass at foundation doesn’t cut it. The segregation might not be obvious to you, but its still there and plainly obvious to anyone without the grades.

    I was considered special needs at primary school and was put in the lowest sets for a number of years, eventually it did hurt not to be on the smart kids tables, although mainly because I could see I was smarter than the people on those tables. I reckon that was the first time I felt the urge to prove myself at school and it did spur me to work harder.

    At secondary school the only time I was in a lower set was in Year 10 and we were set for P.E. for the first and only time. It was perhaps the best decision the school ever made. I didn’t skip a single P.E lesson that year, not having to compete against people that were obviously far superior to me made the lessons fun. It made taking part worthwhile; for once my effort actually paid off. I know I didn’t end up with a qualification in it, and it didn’t effect my life chances, but had it, I would have definitely preferred to be in the lower set. I wouldn’t have done well in the upper set, there’s no point pretending I would have done. I’d have been miserable, I wouldn’t have tried very hard, and I would have failed.

    The best and brightest get swamped because they’re maxing out the grading system. Myself and others were getting 98%, 99%, or 100% on our maths modules, even at A-level and in some cases in the second harder year. The other factors favour used to decide between people with the same grades favour people in private schools who have more opportunities and encouragement to do extra-curricular activities. Oxford also resorts to entrance exams which favour those who can afford private tuition to go beyond the A-level syllabus. We need to ensure (in both O and A level) that the subjects become more comprehensive and the exams become harder to allow the brightest to distinguish themselves and prove to universities that they can get the most out of courses.

    You experienced an exam system designed for selective education, where O-levels were only really means for that third of pupils who got into grammar school, and everyone else had to make do with CSEs or be double entered with its own problems syllabus wise. The new system will see O-levels being the norm, and only special cases doing a “lesser” qualification, which in practice probably won’t be discriminated against.

    Recently industry has been making more and more noise about school leavers lacking the basic literacy and numeracy skills, so these “lesser” qualifications should actually be in demand because they focus on basic skills and their real world applications. My own opinion is that they should become mandatory for entry into apprenticeships, with O-level takers being double entered if they want to take a vocational route.

  • Richard Dean 22nd Jun '12 - 12:21am

    Insane is too kind. The shock for me was the arrogance and disrespect and plain political incompetence.

    I don’t know much about the topic, but I do know that people need to be involved from the start in developing ideas and plans for any kind of big change like this. School teachers in this case, I guess, and employers and parents and higher educators, and indeed school children. All of these people’s knowledge and experience needs to be harnessed to find the best way forward, and their energy and commitment will be needed to make the plans they come up with succeed.

    All of which is pretty much destroyed by starting with an imposed way forward which moreover looks like a bad one.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “I was the first in my family to go to university but rather than wanting to pull up the drawbridge behind me, ”

    Excuse me, but you said that you were educated under the old system and then went to university, When people use the phrase “pull up the drawbridge” they usually mean stopping people from taking advantage of something they used to advance themselves (which, in your case, was the tiered system).

    “I am against a return to a narrow two-tier system, which is harmful and socially divisive”

    Again you use the phrase “harmful and socially divisive”, but what exactly do you mean by it? Surely if you continually drill that message into kids heads then it will become true and they will feel harmed and socially divided.

    “I’m also an optimist and believe in young people, rather than in writing them off at 14”
    I’m sorry but you’re not really much of an optimist if you think that tiering is writing a kid off. I didn’t go to Uni, I did a runner at 16 and joined up, went all over the world, saw amazing things and had a great life. I then demobbed and went self employed IT, working on projects across Europe. Now I have a need to be closer to home so we’ve decided to set up a small family business and we’re trying to make a go off it. If it fails then I’ll stand myself up, dust myself down and try something else.
    Under your criteria I am actually a write off. I certainly don’t consider that to be the case and there is absolutely no reason why anyone else who went through that system should feel like one either – unless they’ve been continually told that they are of course.

  • The notion being passed around this board that the current GCSEs are two tier due to sitting intermediate or higher papers is simply not true. Seperate papers are only available for a small number of core subject (eg. Maths). Most subjects (such as History that I teach) only have one paper. Secondly if you achieve a C on an intermediate paper it is of equivalent value to a C at a higher paper. There is no distinction made. It is the same qualification.

    I can think of countless pupils who at 14 weren’t expect to get a C at GCSE byt who subsequently defied expectations – perhaps maturing later, perhaps gaining confidence or motivation, or just simply working hard. At least under the current system they have a chance to redeem themselves. The idea of condemning 14 years olds to a second rate qualification makes me shudder. The impact on their motivation and self esteem will be horrible. This will coincide with the extension of the school leaving age. At 14 many students will be told that mainstream education won’t provide them with a ticket to a better future but please stick around for another 4 years…

    The GCSE system may need some tweaking but a two tier system is most definitely not the answer.

  • Rebecca Hanson 22nd Jun '12 - 7:35am

    @ Richard Dean: Spot on.

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Jun '12 - 8:52am

    @Charles:

    “So how do you think they would feel if, at 14, they were put into a set taking a recognisably lower class qualification with no chance of taking the higher exam, because it was for the more academic. At least now, late developers can come through and achieve in the system and there is no obvious segregation in status.”

    You obviously have no idea at all about the stigma associated with the CSE. A TOTAL ‘sheep and goats’ situation.

    At least with the ‘overlap’ system, schools can give kids a chance to exceed the grade which is the highest they would have been allowed to have. The system required modification. But Gove, along others like him in the Cabinet such as Lansley, always prefers an expensive ‘revolution’.

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jun '12 - 9:59am

    @Chris_sh: ‘Excuse me, but you said that you were educated under the old system and then went to university, When people use the phrase “pull up the drawbridge” they usually mean stopping people from taking advantage of something they used to advance themselves (which, in your case, was the tiered system). ‘

    Exactly so. The old CSE ensured that the drawbridge was well and truly pulled up. The tiered paper approach at GCSE, in my experience, is used in SOME subjects but by no means all. Maths and MLF can use it but it is not universal in these subjects. This means that MOST subjects on the curriculum do not use a tiered system but grade by outcome from a generic paper.

    Therefore, there is no sneaky selection by the back doorat GCSE, in the systematic way some people believe.

    ‘Again you use the phrase “harmful and socially divisive”, but what exactly do you mean by it? Surely if you continually drill that message into kids heads then it will become true and they will feel harmed and socially divided. ‘

    Notice how the phrases ‘socially divisive’ and ‘unashamed elitism’ have become part of the language surrounding Education since Michael Gove became Education Secretary.

    This is is an eloquent indictment of an ideologue who has no interest in the 25% at the bottom of the educational ladder and who wishes to load all the prizes onto the top 25%.

    ‘Under your criteria I am actually a write off. I certainly don’t consider that to be the case and there is absolutely no reason why anyone else who went through that system should feel like one either – unless they’ve been continually told that they are of course.’

    I cannot see, from what has been written, how I would write you off? I’m in favour of giving everyone with potential to do so, the chance to take a valuable and meaningful qualification. I would remove false glass-ceilings which limits the opportunities for the lowest quartile to achieve . In some subjects, tiering has been brought in but even under this approach, there is still the chance for young people to attain a grade C in a recognised, high status qualification.

    Under the CSE system, the syllabus, exam and criteria were wholly different from O level and it was well known that the Grade 1 was not equal to grade C at O level. It set up children to attain inferior qualifications – for all its faults, GCSE has eliminated this gross inequality.

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jun '12 - 10:04am

    @ Simon.

    You are absolutely right. The myth doing the rounds at the moment, that tiered papers are the norm in schools has to be exposed as false, because the life chances of young people are too important for selective inaccuracies, such as those put forward by Gove and his cronies, to be regarded as truth.

  • I’m no fan of Gove or going back to the past, but we need to be conscious that we already have a two-tier system in which many articulate and intelligent children are in effect classed as failures if they get D or E grades in their GCSEs.

    So we should be prepared to consider what will help them most and to keep an open mind (bearing in mind that the Tories obviously won’t).

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    Unfortunately I’m going away for a week so I can’t continue this conversation, but will read this article with interest when I return.

    “Notice how the phrases ‘socially divisive’ and ‘unashamed elitism’ have become part of the language surrounding Education since Michael Gove became Education Secretary.”

    I’ve certainly noticed that the Left have started using it even more than normal – but I suppose that’s to do with the Socialist mind set regarding words like elite.

    “This is is an eloquent indictment of an ideologue who has no interest in the 25% at the bottom of the educational ladder and who wishes to load all the prizes onto the top 25%.”

    It is – but it is the Left of politics that is talking about kids being “written off”, which would seem to suggest that they are the ones who have given up on the 25%. The whole language of the Left at the moment suggests that there is an underclass, they seem to feel that they are the only ones that can save this group, even though they are doing their best to destroy any confidence by classing them as such.

    “I cannot see, from what has been written, how I would write you off?”
    And yet your use of language shows that you do, but I’m not singling you, you only have to look at the comments on this thread to see that many use the same or similar language and some of those comments are from teachers. If this sort of rubbish is part of a teachers mindset then it will become apparent to pupils, regardless of how hard the teacher tries to hide it. You then have a self fulfilling prophecy, kids grow up without a sense of self belief and no real interest in trying to educate themselves later on in life.

    I’ve never really had much cause to think about state education until recently as I’m a late comer to fatherhood, but I have started looking a lot closer now and the whole thing does worry me. If we fail to teach kids the realities of life then we are storing up huge problems for the future.

    Anyway, the bucket and spades are packed and this write off is going to the beach to build sandcastles (with pre-wetted sand by the looks of things).

  • Rebecca Hanson 22nd Jun '12 - 2:29pm
  • So Clegg, who went to independent schools and Cambridge and who sends his own boys to private schools, opposes the taking of actions intending to raise education standards for the many…

    Yes standards have slipped, we only need to look at the level the bar is currently set at, namely 5 good grades at GCSE, in my time it was 7 good grades at O-level. I therefore celebrated the other week when finally we got official acknowledgement that standards had slipped, with the scrapping of the existing ICT curriculum and replacing it with a Computer Science GCSE. Looking through the specification for the new course, it certainly stands up well when compared to the 1975~77 CSE syllabus, but does contain a few obvious (but probably minor) omissions when compared to the 1977 O’level syllabus. Now we need the Education establishment to stand up and be honest about the state of other GCSE subjects.

    I think many people have lost sight of the core purpose of the education system, namely the preparation and development of the next generation of workers, who will be generating the wealth we (the UK) need to pay our bills (and pensions). If we wish to prosper in a knowledge-based economy then we need to prepare our children for it and that means creating an education system that stretches the more able – particularly the above average child, from whatever socio-economic background. Secondary schools teachers should be celebrating as this gives them a reason to fully engage with their pupils and “teach” to their ability rather than just focus on the low achievers whilst letting the brighter students freewheel.

    So whilst a return to a “golden age” that probably never happened is a retrograde step, we have an opportunity to create a new golden age based on our aspirations and historical knowledge, the question is whether those in the education sector have what it takes…

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jun '12 - 5:35pm

    @Roland: ‘Yes standards have slipped, we only need to look at the level the bar is currently set at, namely 5 good grades at GCSE, in my time it was 7 good grades at O-level. I therefore celebrated the other week when finally we got official acknowledgement that standards had slipped.’

    Firstly, you are comparing the syllabus of an ICT GCSE, the remit of which is to teach children how to use software packages, with Computer Science, which is about writing programs. The real point is that ICT has drifted away from Computer Science and now that will be remedied – one cannot make a valid comparisons regarding ‘standards,’ therefore.

    Regarding standards in general. Lets explode another myth that they have fallen in real terms. Please have a look at the Channel Four Factcheck, which analysed Gove’s claims that standards have fallen over the last decade:

    http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/britain-falling-down-the-world-school-league-tables/2148

    The conclusion of Factcheck: According to the OECD’s own figures and sample, no comparison can be made validly between ten years ago and recently, because the numbers in the sample taken vary widely from the year 2000 to 2010; and the data is incomplete, so one cannot compare like with like.

    Hence, Gove is using data selectively for his own political purposes. Quelle surprise.

  • David Allen 22nd Jun '12 - 6:36pm

    Two cheers for Nick. Yes, for once he has actually stood up to the Tories and put a spoke in the works. Good.

    What made him so angry? I’m afraid it was “This has not been subject to a collective discussion in government. Neither myself nor the prime minister were aware of it.” So it was personal hurt feelings, just as it was over the AV referendum. When Tories hurt Clegg personally, he gets riled and fights back. When they just propose harmful policies like tuition fees or the NHS, Clegg is far less bothered. The fact that the education profession also hadn’t been properly consulted was of course far more important in reality, but far less important to Clegg.

    Now we shall have to watch Gove’s next moves. Did he deliberately ride for a fall, one wonders? Will he be delighted to turn this into a vote-chasing proposal, all ready to offer to the “aspirational” middle class for implementation straight after the election in 2015, just as long as they vote those obstinate Lib Dems into oblivion and give the Tories an absolute majority?

  • @Helen
    The fact “that ICT has drifted away from Computer Science and now that will be remedied” illustrates that both standards have been allowed to slip and that the education establishment has not kept it’s eye on the ball.

    As you bring up the syllabus of the ICT GCSE, may I point out that at many secondary schools, for several years now, children on admission at 11 are given computers with typical software packages (eg. MS Office) and are expected to use these for projects and coursework. So in these schools the ICT GCSE just confirms a student’s proficiency and as such could be sat by many students at ~14 rather than at 16.

    I’m not really interested in a standards drop over the last decade or in the change in the UK position in the OECD world league table, although the conclusions of Factcheck give rise for concern about the competence of the educational establishment in collecting data over a relatively short timespan that is capable of supporting reliable statistical analysis. It also begs the question about the validity of the data underlying the various (UK schools) league tables and the reliability of any time-based analysis conducted on them. What I am interested and concerned about is the standards drop we have seen in the last 30 years, particularly in the core subjects my interests lie in, namely: maths, computing and science – ie. those subjects I’ve taken an active interest in keeping abreast of, so that I can effectively interview prospective trainee’s. It is all the more concerning when it would seem that at the same time we have made significant advances in our understanding of the learning process and environment.

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jun '12 - 9:23pm

    @David Allen: ‘What made him so angry? I’m afraid it was “This has not been subject to a collective discussion in government. Neither myself nor the prime minister were aware of it.” So it was personal hurt feelings, just as it was over the AV referendum. When Tories hurt Clegg personally, he gets riled and fights back.’

    I sincerely hope you are wrong and that Clegg passes the test of leadership and shows some real grit this time.
    I would have preferred him to dismiss the consultation proposals aswell.

    Instead, Gove has bought time to: peddle more myths and inaccuracies about GCSEs; opine about how it is of national importance to emulate the elitist exam structure in Singapore; wax lyrical about how he is the saviour of the entire education system.

  • It turns out Cameron did know, so where does that leave Clegg, clearly not at the top table….

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18547842

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jun '12 - 9:38pm

    @Roland: ‘I’m not really interested in a standards drop over the last decade or in the change in the UK position in the OECD world league table…’

    May I suggest, as you are someone with a clear interest in education, that you should be – if only because these figures are the main supporting reasons why Gove has embarked on wholesale upheaval.

    If the figures are inaccurate, how can anyone think Gove is still right on falling standards in literacy and numeracy?
    20% of pupils leave school with a grasp only of the most simpler aspects of numeracy and literacy – that much is true. That leaves 80% as literate and numerate.

    Compare with thirty years ago when only 25% took O Levels, the standard by which all other standards of excellence are judged these days. 75% of students took CSEs, a qualification which was regarded as next to useless by employers .

    So, by what criteria are you judging the decline of Maths? By O level? In which case, you are comparing all of today’s students with 25% of pupils taking Maths thirty years ago? Or the 75% of people who took CSEs and did not go on to further/ higher study?

    In reality, standards cannot be compared accurately or fairly between thirty years ago and now – lets be honest, most people go by perception or feeling – and that’s notoriously subjective.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jun '12 - 11:22am

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/10303237

    So it is confirmed – Cameron KNEW about Gove’s crazy plans to scrap the GCSE but forgot to tell Nick!

    Cameron knew and had discussed with Gove about a return to O Level-type exams in five subjects only, Gove’s beloved English Baccalaureate – the idea that was trashed by the All-party Education Select Committee as too narrow and not part of a balanced scorecard.

    This is a trial of strength between the Education Secretary and the Liberal Democrat Leadership.

    Also,Cameron is clearly playing a very high stakes game in trying to feed red meat to the Tory right by humiliating his Deputy.

    We must not give in to Gove on Education , or any credibility we had as a radical and progressive force in British politics will be dead in the water for a generation, at least – and Clegg’s Leadership will be shot to pieces.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Jun '12 - 11:35am

    Government is by fallible human beings, and we see only glimpses of the true story. Perhaps Cameron knew but judged that the ideas were crazy and had no chance of getting implemented – so why burden the DPM with something that’s not going to happen? Perhaps Gove recognized this and leaked the story as a way to overcome Cameron’s judgment?

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jun '12 - 2:15pm

    @ Richard Dean: ‘Government is by fallible human beings, and we see only glimpses of the true story. Perhaps Cameron knew but judged that the ideas were crazy and had no chance of getting implemented – so why burden the DPM with something that’s not going to happen? Perhaps Gove recognized this and leaked the story as a way to overcome Cameron’s judgment?’

    Maybe you are right. I hope that is Cameron’s view but can’t be confident. Perhaps Gove was trying to bounce Cameron into accepting his insane ideas by feeding the backbenches some red meat and in turn, galvanising the Tory base?

  • @paul k

    That some people get an A and others get an E at GCSE doesn’t make it a two tier system. They’ve all been given the same opportunity. Unfortunately in life some people succeed and some don’t but everyone has an equal chance. Under the cse-o level system some students will be told you’re not up to it so do something else without being given the opportunity to realise their potential.

  • Helen Flynn 23rd Jun '12 - 7:32pm

    We must really try to counter the view touted by both Tories and Labour that the state school system is in crisis. I sometimes think that they pedal this nonsense in order to create a platform from which they therefore must act and introduce”reforms” , thereby justifying their role. Also, as many of them used the private system, they have to make out the state system is dire and in need of rescuing otherwise there would be less bums on seats in private schools. But I digress…

    As Helen Tedcastle has attested to in previous comments, more young people receive a better education than at any time in history. That is a fact. However , the fact that most of those manual and unskilled jobs prevalent in the large part of the 20th century have now disappeared, makes it vital that our children now have good basics and competence, esp in maths and English, and the skills to equip them for a very different and fast moving world of work.

    Who is best placed to specify education in this new world? Surely not 5-year term politicians with half an eye on political manoeuvring and the other half on the latest titbit picked up from PISA, etc, that suits their own world view, makes them appear superficially as if they know something about education and sometimes also looks uncannily like the style and content of education that they experienced in their youth.

    For sustainable and progressive education policy , politicians are hardly the best suited to the job. Yes, they can scrutinise. Yes, they can challenge. Yes, the can set the overarching strategy, taking on board broader economic considerations, etc. But they cannot specify. Leave that to the experts whose relevance is not dependent on political cycles and who are best placed to devise sustainable and evidence-based policy that meets the needs of young people living in the 21st century.

    I would only add that that’s quite a long way from the Gove-ian universe we sadly find ourselves in.

  • Simon McGrath 23rd Jun '12 - 11:26pm

    Well that’s OK then. the two Helens have told us everything is fine. We can ignore the UK’s plunging performance against the rest of the world or the fact that employers like those at the Westfield Centre have had to run basic remedial classes as everything is fine.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/dec/07/uk-schools-slip-world-rankings

  • Helen Tedcastle 24th Jun '12 - 2:24pm

    @ Helen Flynn

    I couldn’t agree more. Some politicians would have us believe that there is an enormous crisis in Education, with nasty Socialist teachers purposely dumbing down and being happy with failure!

    Of course, this is a caricature based on a toxic ombination of hard-right ideology and nostalgia for a golden age that never was.

    Gove has carefully selected research and statistics to support his position, forgetting to remind us that the OECD’s rankings in reading, writing, and science have changed the sample taken from 2000 to 2006 – so the information cannot be used to draw across meaningful conclusions.
    Furthermore, the OECD are at pains to assure us that these rankings are indicators and not to be used to drive changes to national curricula.

    Not that Gove will take any notice of that! He continues to create false hierarchies in schools, the curriculum, league tables and now the proposed exam system. His purpose is to divide the elite from the rest by subjects and exams taken, under the auspices of economic necessity and rigour. So Ancient Greek becomes ‘essential’ but Engineering is downgraded to useful; Geography is essential but the study of religion (s) is useful. Only the essential subjects get you to a decent university – so much for the Arts then.

    Helen Flynn is spot on when she argues: ‘ For sustainable and progressive education policy , politicians are hardly the best suited to the job. Yes, they can scrutinise. Yes, they can challenge. Yes, the can set the overarching strategy, taking on board broader economic considerations, etc. But they cannot specify.’

    Gove has set up several Aunt Sallies in education , which he can knock down and which give him the political capitial to drive top-down change. In which other area would a Secretary of State be allowed to get away with such blatant ‘tango-dancing’, ( to coin a Chinese phrase)?

    Leave the teachers to teach and do what is best for the whole cohort of studnets with differing aptitudes.

    @Simon McGrath
    No Simon, we haven’t. We have pointed out the fatal flaws and hard-line ideology behind Gove’s mission in Education.
    On change – yes, I would like to see reform. The greatest opportunity for 30 years was presented in the form of the Tomlinson report to the Labour Government in 2004.

    Tomlinson suggested a school certificate for which all students could work until 18 years, which assessed all their achievements and set out clear pathways for the academic and vocational to pursue, while ensuring parity of status and esteem. It would have brought us far more into line with an international baccalaureate -style approach.

    It was widely welcomed across the education profession but Blair bottled it at the last minute because he was scared of a Tory backlash over the scrapping of A Levels.

    I want liberal reform which empowers, like the Tomlinson proposals, not hard-right ideology which is pessimistic about young people, destroying hope and promise.

  • @Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jun ’12 – 9:38pm

    I have taken a little time to respond to your queries and points, mainly to enable the posting of a considered response rather than just a retort.

    “So, by what criteria are you judging the decline of Maths?”

    I tend to see students who hold a GCSE A*~C ie. O-level equivalent grades, and assess them against what I would expect them to know/understand using the O-level yardstick. I expect that this is normal behaviour (in industry), ie. using your own school experience as an assessment baseline.

    My use of the O-level yardstick should be valid since firstly, effort was originally put into syllabus and grade equivalence between GCSE and O-levels, secondly (in theory) effort was put into moderation of exam papers and results to ensure year-on-year equivalence. These done properly, along with intelligent curriculum revision, should make it possible to make meaningful comparisions across the decades. However, I accept there seems to have been a failure in governance which raises question marks over standards etc., which I’ve not seen any indication of being addressed.

    However, I accept that my sample size is very limited and that my perception of candidates is (highly) subjective.

    With respect to the OECD figures, I’m not sure what significant added benefit there is in my studying the OECD figures to any great level, given their main focus is world ranking and comparison. However, I can see that the OECD figures are just the sort of material that would support the case for investing in education in a way similar to that in Team GB. The challenge, as always, is to try and get the loose cannons (politicans) firing in the right direction. I therefore believe that Gove is right to re-focus attention on excellence in state schools; namely ensuring the system is actually delivering to the top ~25% of pupils (ie. challenging them to “be the best”); we need these pupils to “be the best” if they are to stand any real change of going to a 1994 Group or Russell Group university. I do, however, agree the way he is going about it is poorly presented and thought out.

    Going back to the governance issue, whilst I appreciate the sentiments of your final point “standards cannot be compared accurately or fairly between thirty years ago and now …”, I disagree, we can and should be able to compare standards over time; yes it may be difficult to collate a consistent and meaningful dataset, but it isn’t impossible and facilitates candidate assessment by those currently under ~50. So finally, my view is let try and make the current system work (and work well) before we instigate disruptive change.

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