The evidence mounts up

Fiona Millar's picture
Three good articles today help to build a picture of what government policy will really mean in practice over the next few years.

The first here reports a new Swedish study that builds on existing evidence showing  free schools neither raise standards overall or address the issues of social segregation. In fact they will probably make it worse.

The second, a leader from the same paper, the Observer, explains succinctly why, far from being 'family friendly', this government's policies will make life tougher for parents and almost certainly increase child poverty. This will undoubtedly have a knock on effect on the outcomes for children, not least from the families for whom benefit changes may lead to homelessness.

Finally the Oxford Times report on local school funding reinforces the evidence now building up all over the country. The academy conversions of already well resourced, successful schools are being funded by top slicing a disproportionate amount of money from local authorities, with potentially serious effects on remaining schools, many of which are primary schools that are choosing to stay within their local authorities.

I have been away for a while, and working on another project, to be published this week. But a slight detachment from the day to day political thrust has provided a useful perspective. In spite of all the photo ops , platitudinous speeches from David Cameron and sycophantic media coverage  from right leaning papers, this government's policies have yet to be tested by time. My prediction is that they will be found wanting.

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Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/09/2011 - 12:30

Quote: “The empirical evidence showing that competition is good is not really credible, because they can't distinguish between grade inflation and real gains," Dr Jonas Vlachos, who wrote the report on education, told the Observer." This raises the question: has the year-on-year rise in the number of 16 year-olds getting 5 A*-C a real gain or grade inflation?

Radio 4’s “More or Less” programme looked at A level scores in 2009 and found they had inflated by two grades while said hat there was no conclusive evidence that standards of exams had fallen. But the OECD warned that “To the extent that improvements in GCSEs overstate actual improvements in educational outcomes [in England], value added in the education sector will be overvalued… there is a risk that the use of ‘high-stake’ grades influence estimates of educational quality in England”*. OECD discussed the trebling since 1980 of A-level entries being awarded Grade A, saying that “independent surveys of cognitive skills do not support this development.”

Mr Gove is fond of benchmarks and has boasted about how he has raised the bar. This, he says, will raise standards. The use of benchmarking is already more widespread in England than virtually any other OECD country* and OECD has warned against such emphasis*. The government should ask itself if it can distinguish between grade inflation and real gain. I suspect it cannot. (about 20 minutes in)

*OECD Economic Surveys UK 2011

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/09/2011 - 14:05

The problem of grade inflation is mentioned in this NY Times article about one of Mr Gove’s inspirational figures, Joel Klein: “Some advocates and policy analysts said that Mr. Klein was a transformative force, turning the [New York] city’s public education system into something that people who had given up on it could believe in again. They said he welcomed talented educators to the back office and schools alike."

"But Mr. Klein stumbled along the way, as when he adopted a reading curriculum of questionable efficacy early in his tenure only to reverse course after it did not produce good results."

"And at every turn there was controversy. Schools were put under tremendous pressure to raise graduation rates or face closings. There was widespread concern that principals were inflating their numbers by granting credits to undeserving students."

"The opposition was further emboldened when the state announced in 2010 that the test scores on which Mr. Klein’s accountability system hinged were inflated because the exams had grown too easy to pass. A correction brought test scores nearly back to the starting levels of the mayor’s tenure, replacing a narrative of historic gains with one of slow progress.”

The pressure for US schools to produce high scores has caused the “biggest cheating scandal in US history”. According to the TES “targets were unrealistically high and the pressure to produce results by any means necessary became more important than real academic progress”.

It seems that where the US leads, England will blindly follow. And the real casualties will be millions of children.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 11/09/2011 - 17:02

Plenty to discuss here.

Interesting to see that the Swedish leader from ProCivitas said that segregation was now based on ambition and ability rather then where you lived. I am still waiting to hear from LSN why it is ok to force those in the state sector to go to schools the users judge as inadequate, whilst the rich can pay to choose.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 16/09/2011 - 16:16

"But one of the things that I would say for Sweden is that we [OECD] have seen very rapidly rising disparities in school performance. The overall trend has rather been on the negative side than the positive side." So said Andreas Schleicher at a press conference this week to launch the OECD report "Education at a Glance 2011". Mr Schleicher had been asked about the Coalition's policy on free schools. Trying hard to be fair Mr Schleicher said this when asked specifically about England:

"The model of free schools is an interesting development. There is a lot of promise in it, but you can also see models where it has not gone well."

Damned with faint praise, I would say. But which bit of the above quote will Mr Gove use?

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