Tag Archives: Michael Gove

Progressive attainment

There’s a fairly fundamental flaw in the logic that says:

retaking a module of an exam devalues either the exam or the results.

Surely the opposite is true:  that since a student has unfortunately failed a section of the exam:

a) that section was challenging and

b) having retaken the test, the scholar has met, and hopefully overcome, the challenge.

Indeed,  it could be argued that more and not fewer modules ought to be set:

  • Why not have an exams ladder,  where a student studies at the appropriate level?
  • What’s wrong with having units of work (cross marked between schools) which actually count towards the final result?  &
  • Why not enter students for an exam when they’re ready, rather than them having to wait until they’re 16?

What’s wrong with having a portfolio of grades adding up to an overall record of achievement?

Just wonderin’!

So, Mr. Gove stands up in front of parliament and says,

“We’ve decided to reform the driving test – we’re scrapping the practical.”

Amongst many other things, schools make scientists. In practice they have an idea about something, and then devise a fair test to interrogate the hypothesis. They set up their experiment to ensure they can take readings as accurately as possible. They collect innumerable results and extrapolate conclusions, and generally decide that their original idea was rubbish.

Schools develop linguists too. Ooh Mr. Gove likes those – so long as they never have to speak in a foreign language or understand anyone else who’s trying to converse with them.

And artists? Well if there has to be Art in the curriculum, then, I dunno, just write a couple of essays on Turner or Monet Constable or something. Don’t worry, we’ll draw our own conclusions about how good your 3D work is from that.

That’s how bad the idea to remove coursework from GCSE exams is.

It would be funny too, if it were a joke.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Well, if others are fiddling,  I’ll throw in my two-penneth worth!

Firstly on the Ebacc. On the face of it, it sounds like the sort of sensible Options advice that would be given at the end of KS3:  “You’ve got to take English, Maths and Science, a Humanities and a Modern Foreign Language”.  But the reality is that:

  • Mr. Gove seems to want to give precedence to some subjects over others:  the restriction (real, imaginary or as an unanticipated consequence) of the Arts and Technologies in the KS4 landscape is a disgrace – especially given that they are major industries in the UK.
  • Secondly that Mr. Gove appears to know more about how to teach a subject than the professionals, since he wants to prescribe subject content (at least in History).
  • And thirdly, the slur on the integrity of all teachers:  that coursework might be subject to abuse.

I’ve oft heard it said that students are coming out of education without the necessary skills to write a letter or understand their pay-slip or a bill.  Surely every student needs to leave school with a good level of literacy and numeracy,  the good sense to know what’s dangerous,  and to be able to cook and fend for themselves. Would it not be better to say that a student has to continue to study Life Skills until they can maintain a certain Level (which could be moderated)?

And at the other end;  for those aspiring to academic heights?  Well, shouldn’t a University be at liberty to make their own assessment of the potential student for themselves?

Which leaves the nitty-gritty of KS 4 & 5.

With the concept of a baccalaureate being in vogue at the moment, educationalists are re-evaluating the IBO.  I like some of the IBO philosophy – the breadth, and the (varieties of) depths too.  It feels like what a group of teachers would sit down and come up with, given half the chance.  But a baccalaureate isn’t the only model out there, and isn’t necessarily the best. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority offers Levels 1 – 3 – the equivalent of GCSE, AS and A2 for example. I’ve already posted about the merits of modules in the exam, where each piece of work is awarded points.  Moreover, if say a student happens to be a musician, but hasn’t opted to study Music, they can still get credits by doing a recital, thus the system reflects the student’s abilities.

Throughout their education, students should be exposed to a broad range of disciplines, and be allowed to pursue their interests.  Each subject needs to have a comprehensive syllabus covering knowledge and skills which increases in difficulty.  And the school curriculum needs to prepare students for more than just going to Yew-nee.

Swimming against the tide

and other water-based metaphors.

The cynic might suggest that the Secretary of State for Education has positioned his prawns superbly well this Summer (Ofsted past & present and Ofqual)  and is building his tsunami against GCSEs brilliantly.  I would wade into the argument and ask that the baby not be thrown out with the  bath water.

So the furore began with the moving, nay, the reducing of the size of the goal posts:  Grade Boundaries.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that since there’s a syllabus (well syllabi actually, but we’ll get to that) and an exam, that the GCSE was Criterion Referenced – i.e. that the grade awarded corresponds directly to the answers given.  And as such,  as teachers get better at delivering a course,  as resources improve and as students get the hang of it,  then grades should improve…

Just because grades were increasing,  it didn’t necessarily mean that exam questions were getting easier, or that marking was becoming more lenient.

But although we’ve been led to believe that GCSEs are Criteria Referenced exams,  there’s not a straight correlation between the correct answers and the grade awarded.  As with the old O levels, the exam marks get fiddled with. Every year, a group of people sit down and decide what percentage constitutes what grade for a particular paper:  between two percentages get an A, the next batch a B etc..  And Norm Referencing was back in evidence this year, when some English papers were said to have been marked 8% too generously. (8% too generously? Says who?)

But however unmeritocratic Norm Referencing might be,  the real issue is a problem left over from a generation ago with the merger of O levels and CSEs:

That only Grades A*- C matter.  Anything below that is regarded as a fail. Hmmm.  The whole point of the GCSE revolution – and it was revolutionary – was that EVERYONE was assessed with the SAME exam.  And consequently,  there was a grade for everyone.  This meant that employers or colleges of further education all knew what level the student had achieved.  We really mustn’t go back to Oranges and Apples exams,  where really,  everyone is only interested in the oranges,  and the apples go straight onto the compost heap.

But not all GCSEs are the same.  Indeed, not all GCSE providers are the same for that matter.  There are seven exam boards,  all offering different syllabi, with different emphases.  Some more academically rigorous than others.  WHY?

If Mr. Gove is really serious about setting a standard at GCSE,  then I challenge him to let Ofqual consult widely amongst subject specialist teachers, lecturers and professors to develop a substantive syllabus in each subject.

And what about the A* – C conundrum?  There are two possible solutions:

Either,  strip out the norm referencing and offer a raw percentage result.  This would mean that for the sake of parity, the examination would have to be more or less the same each year.  Therefore expect, nay demand, that the percentage rises year on year.  But, sometime in the not too distant future,  an education secretary, in order to demonstrate that s/he is effective in the post, will jump up and down and shout in a loud voice that “the exam is no longer fit for purpose” and demand that the goal posts be moved again.

Or accept that the results should come in three broader,  but decreasing bandwidths in much the same vein as the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music have been happily doing for generations:  Pass at 66 – 80%, Merit between 80 and 93% and Distinction for the top 7%.  There’ll still be grey areas around the boundaries, of course,  but at least the exams could be varied and interesting.