The irony of GCSE marks

“We’re going to make exams harder” cries Mr. Gove.

The students weep too, as having faced the test they get a lower percentage score.

The Exam boards, seeing the low percentage scores, lower the grade boundaries.

So the same percentage of students get the same grades, except they’ve understood less of the material that had to be covered (which was arguably unsuitable for them in the first place). :/

Has Mr. Gove inadvertently created the fictional grade inflation he was trying to redress?

Constants

A friend of mine swears by her Casio calculator which has a set of physical constants accessible at the touch of a button – she finds it very useful.  It’s ageing though, and it turns out that Casio only sell that model in Hong Kong now – a long way to go to get a replacement!

The effect of Science usurping Religion’s place in our quest for understanding, is that we now expect everything to be sown up; understood beyond question; black and white and quantified to two decimal places.

This manifests itself in all sorts of ways.  Friends wanting to know if they’ve

  • picked the best thing on the menu;
  • circled the right answers so that a mindless pop-survey turns out right or
  • answered the questions on an adoption form correctly.

Students wanting to know whether they’ve got

As if having the right answer is the only thing that matters.

Do you remember getting all your correct answers marked wrong in Maths, just because you neglected to show your working?

Stephen Hawking said last week that he no longer thinks that Black Holes exist – at least, not in the way we’ve come to envisage them.

So it turns out there’re few constants!

The value of an education is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks

I was at a party some time ago, talking to a physicist.  The hosts’ todler happened to be pushing at a gate, and enjoying the moment of it returning.  The physicist mused that it would be years before the child could fully understand what was happening in her ‘experiment’ – because the maths was quite difficult – by which time the curiosity engendered by such a ‘simple thing’ would have long-since evaporated.

Since Mr. Gove’s enthronement at the DofE, there’s been much talk of knowledge as a fundamental, as if, as in Bloom’s Taxonomy, knowledge is the bedrock upon which everything else is then built.

It doesn’t work quite like that though.

Nor is it quite right to turn the triangle on its point, and say that entry should always be through creativity and experimentation because, whilst experimentation is a natural habit, and all well and good,  you do need some stuff to base things on.

So I’m wondering if a tiered triangle is the right model at all!  Is creativity prized because of its rarity? No – it’s not rare at all! Is knowledge undervalued because it’s everywhere?  It still has to be mined.

Perhaps education is a spinning £2 coin. Made up of two metals, and with an image on either side: there’s knowledge and comprehending, and there’s using, re-purposing and creating.  And as the coin spins, it all sort-of melds together.

Never forgetting of course, that on the edge of the coin is engraved the words Sir Isaac Newton used: “[If I have seen further, it is by] Standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Facilitator

Don’t let them diminish the role of teacher to (e-)librarian or minder. Don’t let them denigrate one of the most honourable, important, worthwhile functions of humanity.  Never let them downgrade your job to facilitator. You are so much more than that:

  • You have studied long and hard, and continue to research: you are an authority on your subject;
  • You have thought carefully about how to present material in the best way possible, so that each student will understand well;
  • You are the embodiment of your subject;
  • You are a guiding light in their new and uncertain landscape – a role model to emulate;

You are the enabler of the next generation,

And the most precious resource a school has.

Martin Francis recently invited me to critique The Green Party’s ideas on education

As you’d expect it’s a fairly wide-ranging paper and in places proposes a radical departure from the contorted, stratified, needlessly overcomplicated mess we have at the moment, but I found that I’d already come to a lot of the same conclusions.

Areas of agreement

First things first: children learn an incredible amount in the first few years of their lives, and yet pre and KS1 ‘education’ has been inchoate and somewhat ad hoc. Parents and the community have an enormous role and responsibility to give the child the best start possible.  Similarly, children are going to be ‘ready’ for more formal education at different ages. The Green Party are suggesting the age of 6 – personally, I’d rather it be when they’ve been deemed to’ve reached the concrete operational stage of cognitive development. Of course  we never stop learning either – and Education really needs to set us up for that, and set up to support that too.  Furthermore Education is most effective when all the stakeholders (horrible term) are actively involved. In other words, it’s a community project.

I’ve blogged before that I think that scholars simply ought to go to their local school.  I completely support the Green Party’s agenda to move towards state-funded, standard, local, non-selective community schools*.  I think class sizes of 20 are perfect.  I generally favour fairly – but not too widely – mixed ability classes, and inclusivity. I too would do away with compulsory daily acts of worship, though there is something important about coming together for formal assemblies which oughtn’t to be abandoned.

I absolutely agree with getting rid of SATs and league tables, neither of which serve the natural process of learning.  The ONLY factor that matters, is that students make progress (but that’s not the same as ‘value added‘). In accounting for this, Ofsted should provide a barometer for the school’s management, rather than beating the profession with a stick.

Something I haven’t written about, but often thought important, is food.  I totally agree that students ought to be given a healthy, hearty lunch. Cooked on site. It’s a sad state of affairs that children are arriving at school hungry.  They really can’t be expected to learn on an empty stomach. For many, a breakfast club is vital.

However, some of these things ought to be left to the profession to decide, and this is

Where we part company

For parity, education has to be a national thing, rather than regional or local.  It just really can’t be the political pawn it’s become. Education needs to be devolved to an independent body of experts, who oversee all matters of teaching & learning, and the development and support of teachers.  As I’ve written before, I think ALL teachers ought to be fellows of this institution, and have a say in how it’s managed.

For the same reason, there needs to be a National Curriculum too (in the sense of agreed, shared, level-appropriate content).  It should be developed by subject specialist teachers from all phases, and it should be malleable enough to meet individual student’s abilities and interests. Assessments (various) ought to be absolutely bound to it, rather than the situation we have at the moment, where exam boards dictate what is taught, and how and when students are examined (at least at KS4&5). I do agree though that more attention ought to be given to Life Skills, that academic and vocational studies ought to be integrated and have complete parity, and that apprenticeships have to be part of the educational landscape in order to meet the needs of all students (and employers). And I agree that the leaving age should be left at 16.

But I think the Local Authority does have two important roles to play in education.  Firstly, to ensure that there is a school place for every child.  This seems so obvious, and yet the focus of intense debate.  Its other function is to maintain the fabric of the school. However, the Local Authority must not be allowed to use education as a tool of social engineering.

* Specialist schools could be part of a mix for twilight, weekend or even day release.

Getting rid of bad teachers

Labour haven’t learnt anything then!

How many “bad teachers” have been “got rid of”, Mr. Hunt? It turns out to be very few.  Why?  Because if a teacher is struggling, if they’re not getting the support and encouragement they need, if they’ve realised that Teaching isn’t the profession for them, then, guess what?  They’ve probably walked already.  And what percentage of teachers give up within the first five years?

The antagonism of the negative spiral!

Wouldn’t it be a much more sensible approach to protect and build upon the investment already made in bright,  willing,  young things?

On a par with Doctors and Lawyers you say?  CPD you say?  Well!  Give us the status (and the pay) of Doctors and Lawyers then, rather than treating us like political pawns!  I’ve oft said it here that teachers are constantly trying to improve their practice:  reviewing their work,  discussing ideas with colleagues, trying new things.  It doesn’t always have to be going on a course or observing someone else, you know!

Christine Blower was spot-on on BBCRadio 4’s Today programme, to point out the hurdles that teachers already face. They:

  • need a degree (and quite rightly so) and in my opinion, should also have or be working towards, Qualified Teacher Status;
  • have to pass their probationary year;
  • have Ofsted breathing down their neck;
  • have classroom observation.

A five or seven year MOT does seem a bit redundant (as well as beaurocratic and expensive).

Paraphrasing Mr. Hunt (careful there, James Naughty): “Teachers should be getting out of bed eagerly and racing to school.”  Well hang on a minute!  Why should the teaching profession be any different to any other?  But if teachers do happen to be keen,  it’s despite their goldfish-bowl environment!  Even this old cynic has eager-beaver days – the burning desire to see the best in students; to be astonished by their intelligence, imagination, manipulation of knowledge using their skills in creative ways, and to share in the joy of achievement.  In fact, as things stand,  if it weren’t for the students, I wouldn’t be in education! :/

Back to school for you I think, Mr. Hunt.  Nobody goes into the profession for the short days and long holidays, high pay or the stress-free life!

It seems that Sir John Major has found his voice,

and what he’s saying seems to be causing a stir. Most recently, in a speech to the South Norfolk Conservative Association, he attacked the “truly shocking” privilege of the privately educated elite.

In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class. To me from my background, I find that truly shocking.”

I don’t disagree with Harry Mount’s observation in his Daily Telegraph blog: that the private education sector has enjoyed recent popularity. Nor do I disagree with his analysis of why: the demise of the grammar school. Indeed I’ve said as much myself. But I do find his solution to John Major’s revelation completely perverse: to reinstate grammar schools. How can a stratified society possibly be less unequal with more segregation? Quite frankly if we want a more meritocratic society, then that needs to start in education: a level playing field of no selection and no school fees.

Mr. Mount was keen to extol Mr. Gove’s achievement to reinstate O levels in all but name, and blame the whipping-boy, Mr. Clegg, for reining in plans for the reintroduction of grammar schools.

“Michael Gove is the first Education Secretary in half a century who has tried to turn the tide but it’s a pretty powerful tide to turn. It’s not just the near-abolition of grammar schools that’s led to this tragic decline in social mobility. The dumbing down of exams, the removal of O-Levels, the decline in rigour of what is taught and how exams are marked, the priority of thoughts over facts, the fear of difficulty, the fear of history… The list goes on and on.

“Gove has done his best to turn the clock back in many of these areas. But, on the big question – the return of grammar schools – he has no chance, as long as the government is in coalition with Nick Clegg, who is so determined to pull the ladder up behind him.”

Well do keep up at the back! Mr. Gove’s penchant is for Free Schools, and the wholesale privatisation of state education, Mr. Mount. And judging by Chile’s and Sweden’s experience, if that were to happen here, then we really would see a dramatic decline in education.