Yes, Minister 2012: All-must-have-prizes – exams, grades and averages

Janet Downs's picture
Minister: I hear the boss told the Select Committee that schools were failing children if they didn’t get them up to GCSE C. Schools shouldn’t be churning out kids who are illiterate and innumerate.

Sir Humphrey: You are correct, Minister. His exact words were, “Every child should expect that they should leave school with at least a C pass in English and mathematics”

Minister: But the expected progress measure (1) contradicts that. It said pupils who achieved level 3 at primary school would make expected progress if they got a D. And level 2 pupils need only reach GCSE E. Now the boss is saying that all children can expect to get a C. Isn’t that inconsistent?

Sir Humphrey: The Secretary of State is committed to raising achievement among deprived children. We must break the link between disadvantage and underachievement.

Minister: But I’m not talking about disadvantage. I’m talking about children who didn’t reach level 4 at age 11. Low-attaining pupils aren’t necessarily disadvantaged ones - some of my school chums were pretty thick - although I admit there is a link between low achievement and deprivation.

Sir Humphrey: Quite so, Minister, and the link must be broken. That is why all children should get a C in English and Maths and at least three other academic subjects.

Minister: But isn’t that like saying that all-must-have-prizes. I thought we were against that. And another thing – when I was at school we took O levels and a grade C pass was supposed to be a sign of being above-average. And then along came GCSE and we were told GCSE C would be the same as O level C. In other words, GCSE C was a sign of being above-average. Now it seems that all 16 year-olds are expected to get a Grade C. Isn’t that grade inflation?

Sir Humphrey: No, Minister. It’s the Flynn effect. It’s been proven that people get cleverer over time. We should therefore expect more from them.

Minister: So you’re saying that exams haven’t got easier – it’s just that young people today are cleverer than our generation. (Sir Humphrey raises a quizzical eyebrow but says nothing.) So they’ll all be expected to study A levels and go on to university – is that right?

Sir Humphrey: Not quite, Minister. The Secretary of State has decided that examinations will be tougher and more pupils can expect to fail.

Minister: But you just said that all children should expect to pass GCSE C in at least five subjects, including Maths and English! How can they do that if exams are going to be harder?

Sir Humphrey: It’s only at the higher grades that exams will be harder – grade A will mean above-average and a grade A* will be above-above-average. And there will be fewer above-above-averages because the exam system must be robust. It’s quite simple: All children will be average, but some will be more average than others.

(1) Downloadable here.  Scroll down to 8 July 2011

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Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/03/2012 - 11:27

Interesting exchange between the Chair of the Education Select Committee and Mr Gove in which the Chair suggests that Mr Gove's numeracy skills may be lacking.

Q98 Chair: ...if "good" requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?
Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.
Q99 Chair: So it is possible, is it?
Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.
Q100 Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: I cannot remember.

Tim Bidie's picture
Sat, 10/03/2012 - 21:27

In what way is this interesting?

Sarah's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 18:15

Because it shows an alarmingly slack understanding of what average actually means. If the secretary of state for education believes that all schools can be above average I despair!

Tim Bidie's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 20:26

Depressing? Yes.

Interesting? Not really.

Hands up who ever thought politicians had anything other than an alarmingly slack understanding of anything?

Gary H's picture
Wed, 08/01/2014 - 19:28

Its quite obvious that Gove was not using the literal, mathematical meaning of average. A better choice would have been 'mediocre'. Many questionnaires incorrectly use the term 'average' to describe a selection which is neither good nor bad so Gove is not alone there.

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