Tougher tests will push England up PISA’s greasy pole, says minister whose own data handling skills are below expected level.

Janet Downs's picture
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Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has pledged to ‘rocket’ England to the top of PISA’s greasy pole by 2020, according to the Mail on Sunday. There’ll be ‘stiff sanctions for schools which do not meet Mrs Morgan’s standards: those which fail to ensure all pupils master the basics of English and maths for two years in a row will be forced to become academies free of town hall control…’

Is there anyone left who still thinks schools are under the thumb of local authorities? The recent Education Select Committee report on academies said several witnesses to its consultation reminded the Committee ‘Local authorities have not run schools for 25, 30 years’. This news doesn’t seem to have reached ministerial ears.

But what does Morgan mean when she talks about ‘the basics of English and maths’. She appears to think any child who doesn’t reach Level 4 in Key Stage SATS is illiterate and innumerate. But this isn’t the case as the UK Statistics Authority has told her. A child with Level 3 can read, write and do sums. The watchdog has twice sent letters to Morgan reminding her of this.

Morgan’s inexcusable lack of knowledge doesn’t end there. According to Schools Improvement Net she told the Sunday Times:

“This aim is unapologetically ambitious. The speed with which we slid down international league tables under the previous government is one of the starkest examples of their failure.’

The zombie statistic about England plummeting down league tables has burst out of its grave again.

And how is Morgan planning to ensure England beats all European nations in PISA tests by 2020? 11-year-olds are going to be tested on the 12-times table. And if they don't succeed, then schools will be forced to become academies, the now discredited method of 'improving' schools.

It’s unclear why it should be necessary for children to learn this. The usefulness of knowing 12 x 12 = 144 died when we stopped using LSD*. Perhaps there’s a secret plan to return to pre-decimal currency when a tanner tip was considered generous.

Hundreds of heads’ jobs are on the line because of what Morgan suggests. It’s inexcusable that her ignorance about primary tests can wreck careers. And it’s indefensible that she’s using the discredited ‘plummeting’ down league table propaganda to justify this policy.

*I am not referring to a hallucinatory drug but pounds, shillings and pence. L =£ (from libra), s = shilling (from solidus) and d = pence (from denarius, a Roman silver coin).
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