Research confirms OECD warning 4 years ago: education in England suffers when driven by stringent accountability

Janet Downs's picture
 11
Schools benefit pupils. And education benefits society. It’s a public as well as a private good. It’s important, therefore, schools are accountable to their stakeholders: governments, the public, parents and pupils.

The OECD found accountability* can be measured in three possible ways: the market, legal framework and performance. About performance, the OECD said:

‘Fair and effective measures of performance accountability take into account the needs of the students and the families they serve and the resources available to serve them.’

 

But the needs of students and their families are ill-served by the data-driven accountability system operating in England. In 2011, the OECD warned there was too much emphasis on exam results in England and this risked negative consequences.

Since then the focus on grades has worsened and this is having a negative impact on children and young people.

That’s the conclusion of NUT-commissioned research into accountability measures in England.

The research uncovered worrying concerns:

1A feeling Ofsted is no longer supportive but ‘punitive’.

2Threatened schools minutely scrutinize teachers’ work, insist on uniformity of practice and obsess about data collection.

3Narrowing of the curriculum with creative subjects and investigative work suffering.

4Teaching to the test and ‘gaming’ (OECD**).

5No recognition that the main influence on children’s lives is what happens outside school. Schools alone can’t reduce the attainment gap but are held accountable for it.

6While the pupil premium increases attention on disadvantaged children, other children, such as special needs pupils, have less attention.

7Excessive and inappropriate testing leads to shallow learning and doesn’t build firm foundations for future learning.

8Using Key Stage 2 results to decide GCSE targets is ‘deeply problematic’. Tests in English and maths don’t reveal potential in other subjects. And the tests don’t show real understanding.

9The accountability regime increases teacher workload and stress.

10This pressure has a negative impact on teacher/pupil relations.

11High stakes testing increases anxiety among children and young people.

12Pupils see school’s main purpose is to get them through exams.

13Universities and employers feel other important skills are neglected (OECD**).

14These accountability measures have a disproportionately negative effect on disadvantaged pupils (OECD**) and those with special needs.

15High stakes testing encourages some schools to deter applications from pupils likely to reduce test scores (OECD**).

Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

'Schools feel enormous pressure to placate the whims of Government and Ofsted. Teachers at the sharp end are saying this loud and clear: "If it isn’t relevant to a test then it is not seen as a priority." The whole culture of a school has become geared towards meeting Government targets and Ofsted expectations. As this report shows, schools are on the verge of becoming "exam factories"’.

Lucie Russell, Director of Campaigns at Young Minds, said:

“Many of the young people Young Minds works with say that they feel completely defined by their grades and that this is very detrimental to their wellbeing and self-esteem. We have to question the role of schools in relation to developing well rounded, confident young people, and there is a growing movement of high profile people, including the current Director of the CBI, who are saying that education cannot just be about learning academic subjects.

Education in England risks becoming reduced to only that which can be tested. Ex Education Secretary Michael Gove once said if it can’t be externally-assessed, it’s play. But life, never mind just education, would be diminished without play. And the worth of people is not just measured by test results.

Follow the discussion on Twitter #examfactories from 11.15am today.

ADDENDUM: Sky Press Preview discussed the report last night. One of the guests was a doctor who said she has seen unprecedented numbers of young people coming to her surgery suffering from test-related stress. The other guest, a parent of two young people who’ve just taken GCSEs and A Levels, said the girls were both ‘diligent’ but stress levels were through the roof. Both were concerned the Government was preparing to heap on yet more pressure. This cannot be good for our young people.

*See faq above How are schools held accountable in OECD member countries?

**These were negative impacts the OECD warned could be the consequences of the ‘extensive focus on grades’.
Share on Twitter

Comments

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Sat, 04/07/2015 - 08:46

To add to the list:

1.Pupils being forced to give up subjects at GCSE and A levels if their grades do not seem to be good enough, even where they need these subjects to progress to a university degree in their chosen subject.

2.Pupils having to study books in English Literature that they have already studied (and are sick of) because they are likely to get a better grade (example from high school pupil "So disappointed today. Looking forward to studying 'To Kill a Mocking Bird'. Told we have to study 'Of Mice and Men' (AGAIN) because there may not be enough time to study Harper Lee's book to get good grades).

3.Pupils being told which universities they have to select based on the ones that seem to match predicted grades, rather than the pupil's own first choice. Example, high school: to a pupil "Can you see anything on your predicted grades that suggests you might get into X university?" Response from pupil "But miss, I have taken X, Y Z initiatives and am working at X, Y Z pace and absolutely want to have a go..."

4. Grammar schools (and others but I only have evidence of grammar schools) throwing out significant numbers of pupils at the end of Year 12 if their grades are deemed too low to ensure excellent grades at A levels.

5. Cheating among teachers is now part of school culture.

6. Aspects of pupils' mental health neglected to focus on grades. Example, pupil with debilitating physical illness and depression being disciplined every week for failure to hand in homework.

rogertitcombe's picture
Sat, 04/07/2015 - 09:08

Janet - The research does indeed show that our education system is suffering. This means it must be getting worse. It therefore follows that real performance must be declining. I struggle to understand why so many of us that recognise the problems are so reluctant to admit to the consequences.

My book, 'Learning Matters' sets it all out very clearly, with the evidence.

The theme of the book is that marketisation lowers standards.

This research provides further evidence. Let us take the points in turn.

1A feeling Ofsted is no longer supportive but ‘punitive’.
Because OfSTED is part of the forced academisation/privatisation/marketisation agenda.

2Threatened schools minutely scrutinize teachers’ work, insist on uniformity of practice and obsess about data collection.
Because market choice needs data, even if the data are invalid.

3Narrowing of the curriculum with creative subjects and investigative work suffering.
Because this is what the market, driven by false/inapropriate data appears to require.

4Teaching to the test and ‘gaming’ (OECD**).
Absolutely a result of market pressure. There is also simple cheating.

5No recognition that the main influence on children’s lives is what happens outside school. Schools alone can’t reduce the attainment gap but are held accountable for it.
This one is wrong - there is no attainment gap. If there was one then the right kind of developmental teaching (declining because of marketisation) could address it.

6While the pupil premium increases attention on disadvantaged children, other children, such as special needs pupils, have less attention.
Marketisation distorts the use of resources, focussing them onto market performance indicators.

7Excessive and inappropriate testing leads to shallow learning and doesn’t build firm foundations for future learning.
Yes, such testing is needed to drive the market.

8Using Key Stage 2 results to decide GCSE targets is ‘deeply problematic’. Tests in English and maths don’t reveal potential in other subjects. And the tests don’t show real understanding.
Yes, therefore marketisation is distorting teaching and learning.

9The accountability regime increases teacher workload and stress.
Yes, marketisation is reducing teacher performance.

10This pressure has a negative impact on teacher/pupil relations.
Yes, hence the growing tendency towards Academy boot camp discipline systems.

11High stakes testing increases anxiety among children and young people.
Yes, such anxiety is cognitively damaging.

12Pupils see school’s main purpose is to get them through exams.
Yes, this reduces metacognition, needed for cognitive development.

13Universities and employers feel other important skills are neglected (OECD**).
Yes, even though employer's thinking about this is often confused.

14These accountability measures have a disproportionately negative effect on disadvantaged pupils (OECD**) and those with special needs.
Yes, see especially Part 2 of 'Leaning Matters'.

15High stakes testing encourages some schools to deter applications from pupils likely to reduce test scores (OECD**).
Yes, marketisation produces discrimination.

So 14/15 of the points are strongly associated with marketisation. This supports my post.

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/06/why-do-educational-standar...

Yet in another thread, Janet writes this.

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/06/gibbs-selective-use-of-rel...

"This shows the danger of using PISA to prove either that education in the UK (actually England) is ‘poor’ due to education received when Labour was in power (the Government view) or that education in England is poor due to marketisation."

But PISA is a high quality testing system. Why wouldn't PISA/OECD pick up the consequences of all the bad things described above?

Labour's marketisation policies did produce declining real standards, while exam results rocketed. PISA did pick this up.

The Conservatives further privatisation methods have not produced rising standards. PISA has picked that up too.

PISA test results do not 'prove' anything. But they do add to the evidence base. OECD conclusions that Janet rightly draws attention to here, are based on the PISA regime. It is an ally, not an enemy of the cause of debunking the privatisation agenda of the Conservative government and securing the evidence based reforms to our education system that are needed.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 04/07/2015 - 16:36

Roger - I agree with all the points you made. The OECD made these points in 2011 when only two rounds of PISA results for the UK were available. These showed that the UK was at the OECD average in maths and reading and ABOVE average in science. Despite the positive showing in science, the OECD said the scores in maths and reading didn't tally with the supposed rise in GCSE results in England. The OECD suggested this might be because of grade inflation and 'gaming'.

The OECD did NOT say PISA results showed education in England was failing (although it is for all the reasons found in the NUT research) - only that GCSE results and PISA didn't tally. The PISA 'evidence base' shows scores for 15 year-olds in England have not risen or fallen much in 2006, 2009 and 2012.

That said, education - real education, deep learning and understanding - is being harmed in England. Static PISA results neither prove or disprove this. They don't add to the 'evidence base' since they show neither fall nor rise over three rounds of PISA.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 04/07/2015 - 16:45

Nicky Morgan told the Times today that happiness should be a priority in schools. She said emotional wellbeing was as important for pupils as their exam results.

But further on in the article it appears she only had one type of pupil in mind:

'There is no point in having a generation of academically able students who are very unhappy.'

It appears her concern is focused on the 'academically able'. Does Morgan think the average and below average pupils don't also suffer from stress? A cynic might say she implies only the highly intelligent are sensitive enough to feel pressure - the rest are unfeeling dolts. An exaggeration perhaps, but why feel deep concern for just the 'academically able'?

'We don't want to ratchet up the pressure...' she later said. But there's a dissonance between her words and her actions. She says it's up to schools not to pile on the pressure but seems unable to understand that it was the policies of her predecessor, which she supported, which has added to the pressure. And she is now proposing measures (for which she makes 'no apologies') which will increase the screws still further.

The Times devoted half a page to Morgan's happiness agenda. But I could see nothing about the NUT research. Perhaps it's tucked away somewhere.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Sun, 05/07/2015 - 16:56

Georgina, I'm in Wales where we're meant to be sheltered from the rampant reform movement, but I can assure you that aspects of it wash over Offa's Dyke. We suffer with the narrowing of the curriculum: yes, Of Mice and Men again, fine book though it is, because its chief appeal to the syllabus setters is its brevity. As one English teacher told me in a parents' evening: "There simply isn't time, what with course work tests having to be conducted during teaching hours, to do anything more expansive".

My niece in Essex couldn't do the subjects she wanted at A level because she got a C in them.

Added to that, if she wants to be re-admitted to the academy school she has attended since she was 11 she needs 3 D's at AS level.

As for stress, I had an interesting eye-opener at Easter. My daughter (17) attended a week-long French course in Nice and made friends quickly with the German girls there. I met them and apart from marvelling at their excellent English, was struck by how relaxed they were. My daughter tells me that when she told them she had exams the moment she was back at school, they were surprised. She asked them if they did and they told her they didn't have big exams at school until the Arbitur which they sit at 18. I can't help thinking there's a correlation between their air of being at ease and the lack of relentless testing.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 06/07/2015 - 12:08

Exactly, Michele. Pupils in England, Wales and NI are among the most-tested in the world. It's unnecessary and stressful. Worse, it's ruining childhood. I can't help thinking that those who set policy in these countries and the media which support the 'rigour' actually dislike and fear children and young people.

We need a campaign to regain childhood and adolescence - the latter is a type of anxiety as well as promise (bitter-sweet) but is worsened by the pressure adults put them under.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 07/07/2015 - 09:00

Yes it is true that English students are among the most highly tested, but we need to take care not to fall into the trap of thinking that only testing causes stress. In France, for instance, students can get held back a year in primary if their performance is not high enough - seeing their friends go on to middle school without them. At upper secondary level, the Baccalaureate is a pass/fail thing. Unlike GCSEs and A levels, where you can pass subject by subject, you need to pass every subject to be awarded the Bac. These things can be stressful in a different way.


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 07/07/2015 - 09:18

Barry- you're right that France and some other countries hold pupils back to repeat years. But the OECD found this was costly, tended to reduce overall performance and increase the effect of social background.

You're right that IB's flaw is having to pass every subject. This gives no recognition for the subjects candidates passed. That was why School Certificate was phased out in the UK in the early 50s and replaced by O and A levels in individual subjects.

That said, pupils in England are tested throughout their school life. Few countries have externally set exams at age 11 - but England does. Few countries have high-stakes, externally set exams at age 16 - but England does. If there are tests at 16, they are few in number (no more than 5) and used to decide 16+ progression not to judge schools. The Progress 8 measure assumes English pupils will take at least 8 exams at 16 - many take more, up to 12 and 13. This is ridiculous.


rogertitcombe's picture
Tue, 07/07/2015 - 11:59

Barry & Janet - Yes and this is reflected in comparatively poor OECD rankings compared to lower stress education systems. France was 23rd.


rogertitcombe's picture
Sun, 12/07/2015 - 09:02

This is a very important contribution from Disappointed Idealist.

https://disidealist.wordpress.com/2015/07/11/lies-damned-lies-and-educat...

agov's picture
Mon, 13/07/2015 - 10:13

Yes and also interesting as are the comments. Thanks for linking to it. It would perhaps be better if staff and governors were more aware the inadequacies of simplistic interpretations of data etc. Unfortunately that still leave us with a misruling political class dominated by its own groupthink and not caring whether it is true.


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.