An equitable education system for an equitable society

John Putt's picture
I was educated at a comprehensive school in the 70s & I attended university. First of my family's generation to do so. I have taught in 4 comprehensive schools: 3 in England and 1 in Wales.
Recently I have learned a great deal about the Finnish education system and I believe we all have a lot to learn from the Finns.
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Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 09/04/2012 - 20:32

Me too.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 09/04/2012 - 21:44

And me.

Particularly the way the Finns set the bar so high for entry to the teaching profession. It's amazingly competitive. Teaching attracts the top graduates. I wonder how many teachers in English schools would make the grade?

PJB's picture
Sat, 14/04/2012 - 21:16

I wish we could borrow some Finnish politicians.
Many of us were disappointed in the recent Labour period
in govt. But despite that, I'll tell you what I've recently realised -
at the age of 53 - every time the conservatives have been in power,
they have had an adverse effect on my life. I cannot say that of any
other British political party.Not much chance of any change nowadays with these Eton Boys back, God help us. I'll have more for you in due course "Mr Tarr"

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 15/04/2012 - 20:13

"Particularly the way the Finns set the bar so high for entry to the teaching profession. It’s amazingly competitive. Teaching attracts the top graduates."

Yes Ricky - and I'm sure you have you noticed that we also attract some of the very best graduates into teaching in England. But have you asked them what their experience is like when they get there?

Do you have any clue why those of use who could have chosen any profession we wanted chose teaching? Do you understand that some very bright young adults can think in a totally bounded and selfish way about only today and only themselves and only their immediate company profits and that these are the young people who head into the London bubble. But others cannot think in that way. They always see the wider consequences and they fundamentally care about people and the wider and long term consequences of their actions and these are the people who are suited to being responsible for the long term nurturing and care of our young people.

Sot what's it like for us top graduates when we get in to teaching? It's hard. It's humiliating. We are not good at it and we are not used to being not good at things. Nothing prepared us for dealing with 30 stroppy and unmotivated teenagers and trying to persuade them it really matters that they add 3 levels of progress to their primary attainment to get them up to an E grade at GCSE. And we want discipline to be done for us and handed to us on a plate like it is at Mossbourne so we can just get on and teach. We don't want to have our corners knocked off by straight-forward, untamed and unmanageable teenagers because that process is painful. But somehow they have to reach us or we will never learn how to reach them and how to be the people they need us to be is to be and there is no pain free way for this to happen. And this journey for most is a long one but a deeply rewarding one. It is a journey into life and into maturity. It is a meaningful journey for us. We may fight it and we may complain at times. We may feel overwhelmed. But it is the fundamental nature of who we are and what we do if we choose to work in secondary schools with challenging catchments.

Yet all the while these narrow minded, self interested and less connected people in the London bubble are raining edicts on us and attacking us, labeling us and bullying us. There is constant pressure for us to deliver the targets which will cover them in glory and punishments for us if we do not. Not for us the professional responsibility so enjoyed by our friends in medicine, law and business. It was there when I came in to teaching. It's long since gone now. We want to do masters degrees and people laugh at us because they know masters degrees are dangerous. They take is in the direction of non-Ofstedproof lessons and you're a fool if you risk that.

This book by Pasi Sahlberg is about the alternatives to the failed systems of the relentless pressure to achieve the narrow targets which destroy the opportunity for us to look at the bigger picture and the long term prospects for children in society. It teases out the debunked practices which are part of this approach and looks at the more proven way of doing things. It's the stuff I studied when I finalised in management at Cambridge and in my MEd but you know what Ricky I can't even bear to read it because it makes such clear sense but what's the point? There's a cultural revolution on. This book is so far from being compatible with reality as we are currently experiencing it that it's painful even to have it in the room. What is the point of ME looking at this book? I already know what's in it. I already know what works. But Gove is not interested in the most academic teachers. They are just a stick to beat the rest with. But they are not a real stick. It's not like the beatings will stop if you become one of them.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 14/04/2012 - 21:43

! What did Alec Douglas-Home do to you PJB?

PJB's picture
Sat, 14/04/2012 - 22:41

I must admit, he may have missed me, as a small child. I'm thinking of Thatcher at education, Thatcher as PM, Lamont as chancellor. As I'm keen on rail transport as an alternative to cars & juggernauts, I was appalled at the dogs breakfast they made of their privatisation. Need I say more?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 08:02

Teaching is the most wonderful and empowering profession when it is well run.

It's really heartbreaking to see it being so incompetently mauled in England so even the very best teachers are leaving.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 08:52

Unfortunately in England teachers in state education have been pilloried for decades and the problem is worsening. That's why so many heads want to leave (see below). The media and politicians leap on what they consider to be plummeting standards and come up with their own half-baked ideas about what how to "improve" education.

The Finnish education system rests on the quality of its teachers BUT these teachers are trusted to do their work. Finnish reforms took many years to take effect and they were based on a slow, careful foundation of consensus. Discussion about these reforms began in the mid-forties when comprehensive schools were first suggested. However, these were seen off by opposition from universities and grammar schools. A decade later the comprehensive schools were back on the agenda encouraged by the demand for social and economic equality. In November 1968 the government created a new basic education with a "common, comprehensive school" at its core.

“The comprehensive school is not merely a form of school organisation. It embodies a philosophy of education as well as a deep set of societal values about what all children need and deserve.”

There is also a recognition that schools are more than just exam factories. There is little appetite for the heavy emphasis on exam results that is prevalent in England which the OECD has warned against. Neither is there the constant belittling of most teachers' efforts or effusive praise for a favoured few (who, of course, publicly endorse government policy).

Finland's education system and road to reform is described here:

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 09:34

I know. Michael Gove's mantra of encouraging professional freedom was spot on. But the reality was, er, 'Arbeit Mach Frei'.

I've ordered this:
It hasn't arrived yet.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 11:21

I think Gove is very much supportive of 'earned autonomy', but rightly anxious about his duty to protect students in badly run schools.

I confess I am in two minds about the extent to which teachers should/can be left to just get on with it and exercise their professional judgment. The top-down, target-driven approach introduced by Blair/Blunkett was over the top, but it certainly did improve the performance of primaries, many of which had previously been shockingly bad.

When I meet excellent teachers who are frustrated by (and sometimes intimidated by) their SMTs and Ofsted, I want these teachers to be relieved of anxiety and pressure and allowed to do what they do best. But then, when I see the union conferences such as we witnessed this past weekend, I think that I would never wish to see my own children entrusted to people like that and consider it unjust that anyone else's children should be forced to either. And, frankly, I hope that most of them get fired in some coming purge.

And when I see Janet quoting (approvingly) passages like:

“The comprehensive school is not merely a form of school organisation. It embodies a philosophy of education as well as a deep set of societal values about what all children need and deserve”

- then I get really concerned. I do not want schools to be centres of political indoctrination or sites for social engineering projects. I do not want them either to embody or promote socialist ideology. We live in a liberal democracy and I don't think there is any public appetite to replace our tolerant pluralism and diversity with an albeit milder and gentler version of Eastern Europe 1945-89.

And on a more day-to-day level, we are still living with the damage done over many years by ideologically driven educational progressives - the withering away of content; the de-emphasizing of knowledge; the pretence that transferable skills can be taught without any foundation; the near abolition of subjects as disciplines; the relativization of values and so on.

And then there is the implacable and relentless negativity towards every reform, however sensible. I remember our local NUT campaigning against the introduction of after-school clubs. They opposed synthetic phonics. Now they oppose the Ebacc, the extended school day in secondaries, academies, free schools, Ofsted.... everything.

Back in 2009, I was involved in some research on what would make teachers happy and fulfilled. Survey after survey came back with the same answer: end the stream of initiatives from the centre, stop sending piles of paper from Whitehall four feet high.

The coalition government listened. They scrapped all that.

Every sensible person thinks formative assessment is a good idea. Every good teacher does it. When the government (recognizing this) steps back and says - "sure, you teachers are grown ups, we won't load you down with prescriptive assessment systems, design your own", what does the education establishment do? Instead of being pragmatic, it makes assessment into some Orwellian nightmare. Glassy eyed formative-assessment champions hold Scientology-style seminars. Front line teachers are forced into spending hours on fruitless bureaucratic paperwork.

Gove offered a road to freedom, but too many teachers seem to prefer the Stalinist path.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 17:29

Ricky I think Michael Gove is extremely well intentioned but deeply limited in his thinking.

When I first met him here in Cockermouth I listened very carefully to what he had to say (which is difficult due to his exceptional skills with rhetoric which serve to conceal this) and it seemed to me that his life experience had only taught him that if you punish people more they will do better. He therefore had a great deal more to learn about people, life, society and motivation before he would be ready to command wide respect. I was concerned that his skills with rhetoric would blind people to his lack of experience and so it proved to be.

Micheal Gove never remotely offered a road to freedom for most of education. This was an illusion. He completely misrepresented the economics of education - I think this was entirely due to ignorance and hubris - and created a ludicrous plan clearly destined for the rocks according to any coherent analysis and called it 'freedom in education'. It never was. As far as I can tell they only people who were deluded by it were people with no experience in the education of challenging cohorts in normal circumstances or in the regional planning of education and boy I have looked because I so desperately hoped there was some coherence at the heart of it but there was none.

But I know, from deep dark experience that as the proverbial hits the fan most people will not believe this was just ignorance because they will still be dazzled by the rhetoric and the power. And the only other explanation they will have is that it was about partisan interests and/or class war. And this terrifies me. It breaks my heart. It is so unnecessary.

This is what class war is Ricky - shockingly ignorant leadership which leads to horrendous consequences for ordinary people who think the leadership is corrupt and attack it and that leadership fights back - blaming the people rather themselves - because it is ignorant.

Very few people in professional life, virtually none in politics and a disturbingly small proportion in have any idea about the realities of state education. It's a substantial problem we face in teacher training that people from state schools think they know what state education is like but they have been mainly in top sets and it is such a big shock for them.

What people on the front like working with the challenging students are not experiencing is a brutally ignorant Ofsted - populated be people who appear to have worked in advantaged schools, watched Michael Wilshaw's video and who know their job is to punish the schools which are not like Mossbourne until they are........ Really Ricky - it's that mad and our best teachers and leaders in these schools are collapsing under the strain and the ignorance.

"Gove offered a road to freedom, but too many teachers seem to prefer the Stalinist path"
The people who were not convinced about Gove's policies were those who actually understood the realities of education. They were a diverse bunch and mainly apolitical but they are beginning to become united and very angry simply because they cannot function and get on with their jobs. Everything is about escaping the random and relentless axe of Ofsted.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 12/04/2012 - 23:12

"And, frankly, I hope that most of them get fired in some coming purge."

We've discussed a little about what Conservatism is recently (well Ricky has) and I want to add my perspective.

My dad was/is a Conservative. For him Conservatism was always about taking tough decisions, facing their consequences full in the face and trying to deal with those consequences. I know that his Conservatism was born out of the horrors of the realities of the 1970s and of his ability to see the writing on the wall regarding impending reality and potential horrors of economic collapse and also the practical steps which needed to be taken to avert this catastrophe.

I know that it shook him to the core when the policies he helped to create made things worse. We lived right in the heart of the horrors of it all. We saw the deprivation, the hopelessness, the vandalism, the violence the arson. It was hard for him when his appearing on telly to explain the reforms meant that I would get beaten up in the yard again - children stamping on my chest and spitting in my face.

But never, ever did he talk about purging people. It was always with pain and regret that what was done was done. We could see that it hurt like hell and that mistakes were made and we felt the pain through and through.

In the worst parts of the council estate dad would be out knocking on doors night after night inviting people to church for support. And at the weekends he would pick up the sick list and we would go out visiting. Dad taught me that when another child hit me it was a sign there was something wrong which I did not have the power to understand or fix or change.

As a teacher I came to learn about many of the horrors children from deprived backgrounds face. They shocked me then and they shock me still. I also, over time, learned to proactively recognise when a child is not coping with the weight on their shoulders and to learn to interact with them in ways which often help. These ways are subtle and complex but if you do it right you help a child learn to cope with their load and to ask for and accept help when they cannot and this is the most important gift you can give them.

Why, in practice, is always the teachers who know and cherish these skills who are purged? They are not the ones who get bad exam results and yet they are purged again and again and again?

I think it is perhaps because these skills involve being very sensitive to the mood of the child. I think you could say these teachers are the horse whisperers and it's like central purges and initiatives are judging them by laws created to test horse breaking skills.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 18:04

There's a relevant Dalai Lama Quote flying around the internet today:
It's number 7

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 20:53


You seem to associate Gove with the worst aspects of Ofsted. This is very wrongheaded. Gove has spent a good deal of his time trying to reform Ofsted. He was appalled at what Labour had turned it into. He has cut the inspection headings from 27 to 4, effectively telling inspectors not to poke their noses where they don't belong. He has sent in Wilshaw to change the culture - to stop the relentless insistence on formulaic lessons at the expense of proper teaching. To cut out the tick-box crap. Ofsted inspectors are, in the main, products of the same teacher training regime that has caused so many of the problems. Only now, under Wilshaw, will they be turned from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. The idea that Gove is some kind of manager-by-punishment is completely and utterly wrong. Properly run schools will very rarely see an Ofsted inspector from now on.

As for the economics of education - he's been spot on. He's released millions that was being spent on giving LA bureaucrats £80k + salaries back to the schools. I know your local Cockermouth school decided against conversion, but I think the head did at least admit he was passing up an extra £450,000 by doing so. Think what just half of that could have done for their maths department.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 21:25

Michael Gove seems to have been randomly hacking at Ofsted without having any clue what the relevant law or the underlying assumptions and recommendations for best practice behind it are. Hence why it's now subject to Judicial Review. It looks to me like he's been misled by the directors who are systematically misrepresenting Ofsted's legal duties:
Some of my friends are the best legal experts in the UK on the practices and law surrounding inspection and regulation. If anybody is actually interested then please do get in touch through In the meantime I've laid out some of the key points of law and the processes which are legal processes which are likely to apply now here:

Do feel free to probe more deeply if you like. I have a particular interest in the way the last Hampton principle is so drastically ignored by Ofsted.

I'm afraid you clearly have no idea about the economics of education either Ricky, but do feel free to ask. My dad was a respected economist and his best friend, best man and lifelong family friend was E.G West. If you look at the seminal text on this subject you'll see it's dedicated to dad who worked with Eddie on it.

Cockermouth school has a fantastic maths department thanks Ricky. It has a very privileged catchment with lots of teachers and top scientist and engineers for Sellafield as parents in its catchment so that's always maintained. It's not the kind of school I've ever taught at.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 23:46


Great to hear that you are a closet E.G. West fan.

I must say I am surprised.

You do mean the E.G. West who wrote a damning critique of state involvement in education, published by the IEA? The E.G. West who promoted markets in education? The same E.G. West who supported education vouchers and traced them back to Tom Paine? The E.G. West who wrote a brilliant collection of essay posthumously published as Government Failure? The hero of the free schools, charter schools and voucher movement?

Yeeees. Our kind of guy.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 11/04/2012 - 07:59

The E.G. West who concluded that his theories of free markets in education would only be significantly relevant and of benefit in emerging markets of education and left his entire estate to support work in them Ricky?

The same E.G.West who concluded that established markets in education with responsibility for the most vulnerable were fundamentally more or less efficient and that there was no point in trying to change them to be free market systems as that would be like changing from driving on the left to driving on the right - the costs of change would be far to high so it would never happen and any significant attempts in that direction would collapse? (and the end benefits would be small).

The same Eddie West who warned politicians that any attempts towards free market system in the UK (or the US or Canada where he also worked extensively) would be only partial and must be done only when detailed consideration of the impact on the whole system had been carried out?

The same Eddie West who deeply understood the political nature of a full system with closed coverage - how the disaffected pressure groups are always going to emerge and are always going to be vocal and warned about how important it was to reveal the reasons for the status quo - which would be more implicit and would take effort to reveal - before assessing the criticisms of the disaffected.

The same Eddie West who spent his life trying to persuade people not to use Adam Smiths conclusions - generated in a specific time and a specific place - but to learn to think as Adam Smith thought and follow his conclusions and who taught me to think not about aspects of his conclusions but to always think deeply about the issues of freedom in education?

Yes Ricky. That one. And yes I'm a fan.

But sadly Mr Gove is not. All Mr Gove does is to select details from what he hears which suit him. He doesn't know how to properly listen.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 12/04/2012 - 18:02

"Great to hear that you are a closet E.G. West fan."

The idea of me being a closet anything is very funny. If you want to know just ask.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 11:47

It is not true that the coalition has scrapped initiatives - they are bombarding schools with confusing "prescriptive assessment changes" borne out of Gove's ideological, revisionist and regressive policies which are not transforming schools but sending them back into the straitjacket of 1950s class division, over zealous discipline aimed at keeping people in their place and to a time when the technological advances of the world was not reflected in the school curriculum.

You talk of relieving teachers of anxiety and pressure at a time when the coalition is piling on more anxiety and pressure, after a two year period in which they were not consulted about education policy, when their careers are put on the line and when the government has made teachers one of the excuses (the others being unions, "Trots" and local authorities) to write off a system that needed greater resources and coherent strategy so that it could open it up to greater private sector influence and selection.

You talk of Gove offering a road to freedom, which is ludicrous given that his centralisation of power and decision making is virtually absolute and authoritarian in a way that Stalin himself would be proud. What Gove is really protecting is his blinkered ideology and free-market ideals.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 12:21

The Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland describes the link between society and education: "The welfare of Finnish society is built on education, culture and knowledge. All children are guaranteed opportunities for study and self-development according to their abilities, irrespective of their place of residence, language or financial status. All pupils are entitled to competent and high-quality education and guidance and to a safe learning environment and well-being. The flexible education system and basic educational security make for equity and consistency in results".

No doubt there are some who would misinterpret this as "social engineering" because Finnish schools promote "equity" (a knee-jerk word among some commentators). These commentators really believe the stereotypical view of English state education as being driven by a "bigoted, bankrupt, backward ideology" which is "happy with failure". These last words come from Mr Gove whose soundbites about "enemies of promise" are a little too close to the "enemies of the people" or "enemies of the state" rhetoric of totalitarian countries. And we must remember that it was Mr Gove who said he wanted a "cultural revolution" like the one in China (where academics and teachers were "re-educated", if you remember).

"Arbeit Macht Frei" - that just about sums it up, Rebecca. As does, "They create and prison and call it freedom."

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 12:22


Far from bombarding schools with anything prescriptive, this is what the government's line on APP is:

"There is national and international evidence to support the use of effective formative assessment practice as a key approach to school improvement. However, the Government believes that schools are best placed to know what works for them and their individual circumstances and does not intend to prescribe or enforce any particular approach to formative assessment or to pupil tracking.

Therefore, APP will continue as a voluntary approach to pupil tracking and whilst many schools may find it useful, it is for the school to decide if they want to use it or not. "

Here is Gove's new guidance on lesson planning:

"Lesson planning is one of the issues most frequently cited by teachers as creating workload. Teachers often produce lengthy individual lesson plans, especially when schools are preparing for Ofsted inspections, as there is a common misconception that Ofsted inspectors require detailed written plans for every lesson. This can lead some teachers to spend a minimum of two hours a week just filling in lesson plan templates; time that could be better spent planning meaningful, motivating teaching.

The Government wants to bust this myth by making it clear that neither the Department for Education nor Ofsted require written lesson plans for every lesson. "

And here is the rubric for improving/streamlining Ofsted inspections and reducing the associated burdens:

"We intend to streamline school inspection requirements from early 2012, reducing the 27 graded judgments currently in the school inspection framework to focus on four core areas:

* pupil achievement
* the quality of teaching
* leadership and management
* the behaviour and safety of pupils.

The centrally prescribed self-evaluation form (SEF), which supports the current school inspection system, was removed in July 2011. Headteachers and governing bodies are now free to choose for themselves how best to evaluate their work."

Meanwhile, you might consider brushing up on your political theory. Conservatism is not an ideology. Indeed, in some manifestations (e.g. Burkean, Oakeshottian, Cameronian) it involves an explicit rejection of ideology. You might note the way that Michael Gove used 'ideological' as a pejorative in his Enemies of Promise speech. You also consistently conflate Classical Liberalism, neo-liberalism and conservatism when discussing economics. Must be more nuanced.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 13:28

As we know Ricky, there is a huge disconnect between what the government says, what is does and what it tries to conceal. You are clearly advocating, as a passionate zealot or perhaps in return for some benefit, the party line and in doing so are aligning yourself with what Lenin termed the "useful idiots".

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 14:43

Your deadpan way of parroting back things to those who say them to you, as if you'd just thought of them yourself, is beginning to make you more and more like Siobahn in 'Twenty Twelve". But I guess you're totally good with that.

The thing is though, disconnect or no disconnect, Gove has actually DONE what he promised to do about reducing bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, if Chris Keates represents how teachers wish to be seen by the outside world, then keep on electing her. But don't then call foul when politicians, the media and the public are negative about the profession in general.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 15:48

And didn't Mussoline make the trains run on time? Yes, I know it was a "myth, nurtured and propagated by a leader with a journalist's flair for symbolism, verbal trickery and illusion."

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 16:26

No I'm not doing that Ricky but obviously you did not expect to have the tables turned on your own conduct when you lectured us on useful idiots, oblivious to being one of Gove's yourself. I never claimed it as an original thought. I was amused you did not recognise yourself in the mirror. Its difficult to tell whether you are paid troll or a puppet troll but either way your attempts at doing the government's dirty work is both crude and unconvincing.

Has Gove reduced bureaucracy or are his confusing whims causing more schools to churn out more reports and data to satisfy a new system in which teaching to the test and to the league table over ride any other concern such as, oh, individual needs especially for those many many children who can't be taught under such a prescriptive and authoritarian regime? It is not Chris Keates who is putting out a negative view of teachers - people like you and the mandarins in the DfE are doing their damn best to trash teachers because they are standing in the way of an ideology that benefits Gove's free market libertarian instincts.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 12:28

Rebecca - I notice that the book you have purchased is written by Pasi Sahlberg. He was the source of the quote: “The comprehensive school is not merely a form of school organisation. It embodies a philosophy of education as well as a deep set of societal values about what all children need and deserve” in my post above. Funny how some people interpret this as social engineering rather than a humane philosophy promoting fairness and equity.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 12:29


Equity and equality are not the same thing. Pretending they are is a propaganda trick.

Enemies of Promise is not an echo of totalitarian slogans, but of a work of literary criticism by Cyril Connolly, as I'm sure you spotted first time.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 12:55

There are indeed many "manifestations" of conservatism (bung in a few examples to show superior intellect) but it's a useful working summation of a particular view. The Business Dictionary has a good definition:

Could you let me know where I can get a copy of the formative APP? I'll admit I'm a little wary of APPS since I heard about the one that is claimed to "manipulate dreams". I'm rather concerned that Mr Gove might have heard about this and some DfE adviser is at this very moment working on an APP to brainwash teachers - "I will embrace academy conversion," "Academies Work!", "Arbeit Macht Frei".....

PS I did enjoy the capitalisation of "Enemies of Promise" and making it the title of one of Mr Gove's speeches. It puts it right up there with "I Have a Dream...", the Gettysburg Address and the funeral oration of Pericles. Or maybe not.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 14:52


Perhaps you'd prefer his Sweetness & Light speech?

It's in PDF form here:

Honestly, I'd be really interested to know if there is anything you really disagree with in this, and, if so, why.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 11/04/2012 - 07:39

APP (Assessing Pupil's Progress) was a system for tracking progress (in a formative rather than a summative way) which was rolled out about 5 years ago.

There are many versions of it but here's one LAs take on it:

The aim was that teachers observe students progress and use well conceived task which will reveal rather than conceal it.

The benefits of APP were that it was very good for helping teachers to see student's progress in some of the important areas of learning which are notoriously difficult to test and that it allowed schools to do more good teaching rather than testing.

The disadvantages were that it was far too cumbersome because you teachers really need to be able to test the things which are easily testable efficiently and effectively to cope with their workloads.

In reality it does seem to have worked at primary level where teachers only have one class of students who they know really well. At secondary level, where it has worked this seems to be because schools have only taken elements of it and have built them in as part of what they do rather than taking the original system as gospel.

Personally I didn't use it as I had alternative systems and have always been interested in the way emerging technologies can create tracking structures which are far more efficient and effective than anything which is not built to take best advantage of these emerging features. My basic philosophy is - test the things which are easily testable using ICT if possible to create as much time as possible in class to work on more connected and richer teaching methodologies which will allow you to easily recognise and nurture those skills which are not easy to test.

This thinking was essential to my work as a Head of Maths and I wrote it up here;
(as Rebecca Teasdale).

Over the last year I've been revisiting technology providers and building a coherent picture of what's now possible which I'm trying to write up here:
but am struggling with. I should be able to focus on it properly when the children go back to school.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 16:08

"So Carol Ann Duffy and drum’n’bass are ok, but Austen and Eliot, Cicero and Wagner are out". This is a typical Gove soundbite. It implies that schools were teaching either one (allegedly the dumbed-down) or the other (the greats). But it's likely that schools were teaching both (OK, not Cicero, maybe).

And why the reference to Duffy - she was Poet Laureate at the time (a post, I fear, which will not be offered to Gove). Perhaps she had annoyed him with her poem on Politics:

"How it takes the breath

away, the piss, makes of your kiss a dropped pound coin,

makes of your promises latin, gibberish, feedback, static,

of your hair a wig, of your gait a plankwalk. How it says this –

politics – to your education education education; shouts this –

Politics! – to your health and wealth; how it roars, to your

conscience moral compass truth, POLITICS POLITICS POLITICS"

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 16:13

"THE TARGET CULTURE DISTORTS" Yes, Gove actually said that. He did - Ricky's given us the link. And what does Gove do - he introduces the EBacc to distort it a bit more. He raises the benchmark and will do so again next year and in 2015. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 13:17

Sorry, equity was a typo - I meant equality. I was thinking about the OECD's finding that the best-performing schools systems were the most equitable. Thanks for pointing it out.

I'm not sure that Mr Gove had Connolly in mind when he used the phrase "enemies of profit" although I know he likes to show off about his literary credentials by dropping the names of literary heavyweights. But I don't think he was making an oblique reference to Cyril. I think he was making it quite clear that anyone who opposes his ideas is an "enemy" rather than someone joining in democratic debate.

Perhaps I was alone in making a chilling connection between "enemies of promise" and "enemies of the people", but I don't think so.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 15:52

Mr Gove has slashed what he regards as "bureaucracy" while at the same time imposing more. These include the retrospective imposition of EBacc which caused heads to make rapid changes to curricula; National Curriculum proposals which threaten a teacher supply crisis; more centralised control with a belated recognition that there might need to be a "middle tier" but no-one knows quite what; and the enforced conversion of schools deemed to be "failing".

When Mr Gove makes pronouncements about history teaching, Pope and Dryden, vocational exams, academic subjects et al, he is not, as he says, leaving it up to schools to decide. He's making it clear what he thinks parents should expect in a "good" school. And heads wanting to attract parents will ensure they give parents what Gove says "good" schools should be providing.

Not all this liberation of schools from "bureaucratic burdens" has been sensible. The House of Lords ensured that schools retained their "bureaucratic" duty to protect children. This duty was imposed after the Victoria Climbié case - schools had to cooperate with other agencies. Mr Gove wanted this imposition removed along with other "red tape".

And academies and free schools are relieved of their duty to provide pupils with meals that meet standards which non-academies quite rightly have to abide by.

Some bureaucracy is worth keeping - it's called protection.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 16:40


You have an odd and certainly inconsistent approach to both coercion and encouragement.

The Ebacc was not "imposed". It was simply measured. There was no target schools had to meet, or any floor standard they could fall below.

Yes, it was a 'nudge' .... a non-coercive encouragement. It also revealed data that surprised many people. Most of us discovered for the first time that there were :

* 137 schools where no pupils were entered for geography GCSE
* 57 schools where no pupils were entered for history GCSE
* 30 schools where no pupils were entered for a modern language GCSE
* 219 schools where no pupils were entered for French GCSE
* 1,067 schools where no pupils were entered for Spanish GCSE
* 516 schools where no pupils were entered for any of the individual science GCSEs

Who knew?

Even though this was a nudge, you interpreted it as stealthy coercion - a BAD THING.

But then you complain when the coercive powers of the State are replaced by nudges and encouragement in the areas of safeguarding and school meals.

Once again, Gove was just trying to treat the people who run schools as grown ups. There is much to commend this. When a duty is voluntary, but important, people tend to exercise responsibility and often performance actually gets better. But when there is a law, they do not always feel the need to actually exercise any personal responsibility. They think "the law has taken care of that, so we needn't attend to it much." In safeguarding, this can be fatal.

It really is totally paranoid to imagine that Gove is really doing this because he's in cahoots with turkey twizzler manufacturers or is a paid agent of the Coca Cola Company.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 16:56

Ricky - I shall treasure that definition. "Non-coercive encouragement" = a "nudge" = "ensuring people do what you want by telling them you're treating them like grown ups and they can make up their own minds but if you're sensible you will do what we think is the right thing".

And what a surprise - there were 1,067 where no pupils were entered for Spanish. Could it be because the school offered French instead? And the figure of 30 schools were no pupils were entered for modern languages is shocking - but that still left nearly 2,000 schools that did. And only 57 that didn't enter for History - could it be because the pupils all opted for Geography.

And EBac got the thumbs down from the Education Select Committee.

"When a duty is voluntary... people tend to exercise responsibility". Where is the evidence for this? It didn't work with MPs and their expenses - I think Mr Gove received criticism over this, didn't he?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 17:00

And........ this bit, Janet, is SO wrong.

When Mr Gove makes pronouncements about history teaching, Pope and Dryden, vocational exams, academic subjects et al, he is not, as he says, leaving it up to schools to decide. He’s making it clear what he thinks parents should expect in a “good” school. And heads wanting to attract parents will ensure they give parents what Gove says “good” schools should be providing.

Are you suggesting that the Secretary of State for Education, alone in the UK, should be denied the freedom to express his opinions?

Besides, what he said about vocational qualifications was prompted by the findings of the Wolf Report, which found that a number of bad ones were actively harming many young people's chances of getting a job.

The EBacc nudge was based on looking at the kind of broad academic curriculum available in the best performing systems around the world (the Ebacc subjects, voluntary here, are actually compulsory in Finland) and also on an analysis of why independent schools did disproportionately well in getting Oxbridge & Russell Group places.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 21:34

"The Ebacc was not “imposed”"

It was so absolutely "imposed". It arrived like a wart in the night to eat away years of healthy and constructive development which had been going on towards a coherent ebacc.

Speaking to MPs none of them seemed to have had any idea whatsoever about what a bacc actually was or any of the elements which had been put in place to create ebacc which had the same standing as baccs from all other countries but was cost effective and fit for the multiple purposes for which it was needed.

One key MP I spoke to about this didn't even know what an EPQ was and she was supposed to be the government's expert on 6th form stuff.

"The Ebacc was not “imposed”"
Try to sell that to Daily Mail readers Ricky but please don't try it with anyone who's actually been involved in 6th form policy over the last 5-10 years. To do so will only make you look as ignorant as Michael Gove.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 17:21

The EBac nudge was rejected by his own select committee. And I think Wolf was referring to low-quality vocational courses offered by FE colleges - few 16 year olds go directly into employment.

The best-performing school systems in the world offer a wider curriculum that Mr Gove envisages and often offer those despised "skills".

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 17:22


Since 2004, the number of non-academic qualifications taken up to age 16 has risen from about 15,000 to about 575,000. In 2002 around 75% of pupils attempted a modern foreign languages subject. In 2010, this figure was just over 43%. Science (single, double or additional sciences) fell by roughly 60,000 between 2006/07 and 2009/10.


Because schools (and particularly academies, sadly) used equivalences to game Labour's target system.

In doing so, they put their own league table vanity before the interests of their kids.

The Ebacc + reform and de-listing of many equivalences neutralizes/ends that perverse incentive. You should surely welcome that?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 22:58

What has the Ebacc got to do with 6th form policy?

It is simply a measure of how many students take a broad and balanced suite of academic GCSEs at KS4.

As well as being a measure it is a hint to schools that narrowing the academic curriculum for high and medium attainers isn't a smart idea.

It's pretty much what independent schools and Grammars do, and what the best performers internationally do. It's certainly not for everyone, but all schools should consider the hint for that part of their cohort likely to aspire to go to good universities.

Nor has it been in any sense "imposed". There is no target. There is no requirement. It has no floor level.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 21:01

It's not "his own" select committee! If only.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 21:46

Just to clarify, Ricky, as a head of maths working with children from very tough backgrounds what I found was that they switched onto their GCSE maths at the point at which they began to have coherent views of their futures and they understood the relevance of a maths qualification within that. In general, because they were lacking coherent role models in their home lives, that came through the coherent exposure to future possible career and people in them which came through their vocational GCSEs such as Heath and Social Care, Leisure and Tourism and the like.

The idea that forcing them all to drop these GCSEs and do French instead is simply ludicrous. It's just so completely out of touch with the real world. I'm not against French but I've very much in favour of both working with 14-16 year olds to help to prepare them for their future lives and giving them the freedom of choice which they need as they mature towards leaving school.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 23:46

But the Ebacc was going to be a proper baccalaureate - equivalent to the baccalaureates in other countries but cost effective and incorporating A2s, ASs and EPQ and other components.

Then overnight it was imposed that it was going to be a 1950s grammar school qualfication for 16-year-olds. ;(

Don't you understand Ricky the Ebacc already existed. It was a really well conceived coherent concept which was being developed in stages. Everyone involved in educations consultations knew that. Then suddenly it was imposed that is was going to be something completely different.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 11/04/2012 - 00:02


Yes, I remember having long talks with Mike Tomlinson back in the day. Then lots of tumbleweed. Then Cambridge starting along the way. That became the Pre-U. Then the AQA Bacc (still there, isn't it?) And everyone deciding it was A Levels after all. All long before Gove.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 11/04/2012 - 07:23

I don't suppose you actually went to any of the consultations Ricky? The people I most respected were taking things slowly and putting elements clearly in place. The EPQ had only just gone in and was a key step towards a coherent end product.

Then this government came into power and the conversations were so odd because we had to refer to the EBacc but to clarify that this was 'Gove's GCSE qualification'. It wasn't because people were being sarcastic it was just so odd.

I'm not sure anyone from this government had even ever been to a WEF and at the start of the government they tended to turn up, make a speech and leave rather than to be the facilitators as actually makes meaningful sense.

K Campbell's picture
Wed, 11/04/2012 - 07:57


The Ebacc is a red herring. For some reasons most secondary students are not studying a language at GCSE level. So any change in the language strategy during options time in secondary schools and academies would show an improvement in the Ebacc, e.g. insisting that if you study a language you will study either history or geography.

You can quite easily get into a top university without studying history, geography or a language at GCSE level.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 11/04/2012 - 08:39


You can quite easily get into a top university without studying history, geography or a language at GCSE level.

Yes, of course you can. But if the (KS 5) Bacc idea originated in a perception that there was too much narrowness/specialisation at A-level, why encourage specialisation at GCSE?

Sure, you could do Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Maths, Additional Maths, Statistics, Geography, and English.... but that would be to have missed a whole world of history and literature. Equally, you could put together options that totally exclude the sciences. But is that a good idea?

Somewhere in this thread (or maybe another one) Allan mocks Gove's idea of a liberal education as antique, or at least, something from the 1950s. But actually it's what Eton and Westminster and all the top independent schools provide. It's also what the better educational systems round the world provide today.

When bright kids go to Oxbridge or other unis, they will be part of a speech community that takes a heck of a lot of broad knowledge for granted. It's hard enough already for state school students to feel fully part of that without further hobbling them by cutting off access to intellectual capital.

If you feel 'liberal education' sounds too nostalgic, will you at least accept that a 'broad and balanced academic' education is worth considering?

As for "improvements" in the Ebacc - for the umpteenth time - it's a measure, NOT a target.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 11/04/2012 - 10:39

Ricky I have heard so much hot air ranted about Oxbridge access from politicians who think they know it all just because they went there and have been to school. It's absolutely repulsive. It creates this opaque, claustrophobic atmosphere in which those of us who actually know what we're talking about cannot be heard, as we used to be through the respresentative multi-perspective consultations which this government shut down or systematically ignored.

The vast majority of schools have got their acts completely in order and ensure their most able students do language. If they haven't they should be sorted and exceptions should be made by Oxbridge as has been happening for as long as I can remember.

I didn't do any arts or social sciences - just English - at the age of 16. So? At my state school students were capped to doing 8 subjects so they could have wider interests and lives. I picked up studying HPS at Cambridge without having studied history since the age of 13. I've needed Cantonese and Arabic in my work not French, Spanish or German. But this isn't really about people like me. This is about the students on the front line who live in worlds I think Mr Gove knows nothing about at all. It's about kids who grow up a great deal through their vocational studies which they have decided to study but who will hate and be turned off education by them having that choice removed and them being forced to study more French instead.

The nature of language teaching and the needs society and employers have for people with skills in languages are changing so rapidly. What's needed more and more are people who are confident in communicating in other languages with the assistance of technology. One of the reasons we set up the international global twinning of schools was to create a structure within which schools would have the opportunity to get their students to develop these skills.

I do agree with you that it is important also to study the structure and grammar of language and for students to learn to acquire language content fluently in a disciplined way.

But is a traditional GCSE in a European language the best way forward for all students at the age of 16? Of course not.

Am I meeting highly skilled vocational teachers who've been made redundant all over the place and in my job am I going into schools which are making vocational teachers redundant and restructuring entirely to focus on their Ebacc results? Yes I am. Absolutely I am. I'm also meeting schools which are ignoring it. The whole situation is an absolute mess within which the real issues - as I've just outlined - are no longer being discussed, which is really sad.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/04/2012 - 16:44

Oh, dear, Ricky. It seems Mr Gove has misunderstood equivalent exams in what you called his "Sweetness and Light" speech. He described a vocational exam Performing Engineering Operations which he said "requires just one day's study on day release to college - is worth six good GCSE passes."

I'm not surprised he's confused, though. The chart in the link below says that a NVQ in Performing Engineering Operations contributes 0% towards Level 2 (5 GCSEs A*-C) but then says it's worth 120% at Level 1 (confusingly defined as % GCSEs A*-G). This is probably where Gove's six GCSE passes came from BUT note that the range goes down to a G so these passes wouldn't be what Gove described as "good" GCSEs. Level 1, to make it clear, is actually GCSE C-G. And the chart does say that the exam does NOT contribute to Level 2 (GCSE A*-C).

Could it be that Mr Gove was misrepresenting a confusing system for his own purposes? Surely not!

I think I'll stop reading the speech now.


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