Mr Gove’s awfully big experiment

Ian Taylor's picture
Changing the Examinations System

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, has written a very thought provoking blog.  He makes excellent points about Mr Gove’s latest idea to change the examination system from modular exams to terminal exams. That Mr Gove’s proposals are risky and untested.

Matthew questions the concept that making the hurdles higher will motivate more children to reach them. What happens to children who early on realise that they cannot achieve the new higher benchmark? All teachers know how important motivation is to the learning process.

For me, it brings into question the way that we seem to manage education policy in this country. We do not have a clear vision, nor a consensus on a vision. We seem to be able to lurch from one policy to another depending on who is the latest Secretary of State for Education, and whatever whim takes their fancy.

In the case of Mr Gove we are not only lurching, but speeding backwards, in one after another risky experiments. And the debate on these experiments is minimal.
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Alan's picture
Tue, 28/06/2011 - 21:54

Regarding exams, it’s difficult to see how one can raise aspirations in children in secondary modern schools on Baccalaureate pathways with limited routes post 16 to quality academic provision. In our locality, in 2010, there were about 1500 students in 3 secondary schools with only 125 places in our FE college, the local grammar school; of these 125 places only about 18 were accessible to students from the other schools. Alternative FE is miles away and come September the council are doubling bus fares for post 16 in Lincolnshire.

Mr. Gove commented on the Andrew Marr Show (see link) that he thought the debate on academic selection was fascinating. For what it’s worth, I think selection at 10 is a tragic waste of talent. However, I will give him the benefit of doubt on increasing chances for all - I would therefore like clarification that he will provide opportunities for all post 16 students who wish to study academically, that vocational training will not be forced upon them.

Mr. Gove, “fascinating debate on selection” and the expansion thereof (50 minutes in)

One other point if I may, slightly off topic. I think Mr. Gove is right to re-evaluate the application of the contextual value added (CVA) for league tables so the effects of selection are exposed. In other words, there are other factors, as well as deprivation, that account for underattainment, for being in the bottom fifth nationally grades A-C GCSEs. There should be a focus on the effects of selection at 10 in cut-off rural areas such as ours, 1500 students 125 places is without doubt a bottleneck to success or failure.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 29/06/2011 - 13:25

Alan - Mr Gove is not going to re-evaluate CVA, he is abolishing it. Future league tables will ignore context because it allegedly "entrenches low aspirations for disadvantaged children." Abolition of CVA will see selective schools rising to the top of league tables thereby "proving" that selection works. See Mike Kent's excellent article regarding the removal of CVA in the Times Educational Supplement here:

Alan's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 10:36

Janet , thank you for your reply. I have read Mike Kent’s article and agree with all of his points, particularly, on the nuances of grammar.

Inclusion should include the widest possible meaning to capture the potential of all children. Sadly, as far back as I care to remember, education has never really managed to pull this off, with all of its differing systems fighting for supremacy no wonder why children fall by the wayside.

Our locality is rated as being in the 10 percent most deprived areas of England in terms of opportunities for children and there are many factors beyond our school’s control.
In terms of raising aspirations, we should make greater use of extended schools to involve parents in their children’s learning. However, travelling large distances to school in rural Lincolnshire means it can be difficult for teachers and families to devote additional time.

As you will know, statistical integrity is dependant on intended use. For example, the omission of FSM as an indicator to low attainment (see link) whilst using CVA as a smokescreen to detract from the effects of selection at 10 is unacceptable. How one compensates for lack of transparency I do not know, but agree, the removal of CVA does not provide a solution.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 12:25

The report about disadvantaged pupils in Lincolnshire being less able to succeed than any other pupils in the country reveals what happens when children are selected at 11. I note that the researchers were reported as saying:

"Children from lower income families are unlikely to pass the tests to gain access to selective schools because they are more likely to go to weaker primary schools and lack access to private tuition, the research claims."

So, not passing "the test" is blamed on "weaker" primaries and parents being unwilling, or unable, to pay for private tuition. Nothing to do with the fact that in a selective system such as in Lincolnshire the non-grammar schools are viewed as a poor second, even when these do a good job with their skewed intake.

Alan's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 16:40

Exactly, not only are non-grammar schools viewed as a poor second the effects of this mindset have far reaching consequences for everyone in the community – no need to reiterate.

Selection, plus or minus deprivation indices still equals rejection whichever way they mix it.

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