Seven resits for Michael Gove but none in future for students

Henry Stewart's picture
At the Festival of Education on Saturday, Tim Brighouse contrasted Michael Gove’s policy of no resits in future for school students with the fact that Gove himself only passed his driving test at the 7th attempt.

I thought Tim might be joking but this Daily Mail article confirms it (as well as revealing lots of other details you might not want to know about our Secretary of State for Education). Gove did indeed have to take six resits before he could drive a car. Yet the same opportunity won't be available in our schools any more, under his no resit policy.

Imagine for a moment if this approach was in fact applied to driving tests. If people were only allowed one attempt at the driving test, it wouldn’t be just Michael Gove who wouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car but probably half the UK population.

So why does it make sense for our students? On the roads it is understood that it might take time to reach the correct level of driving skill, but it will be only one attempt, apparently, to get English or Maths GCSE, or any other subject. Is this fair (or even practical)?
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Michael's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 00:06

Isn't the limit only on re-sits of individual components? Students could surely still re-sits the whole battery for the qualification? Not really a fair comparison. It would be more like saying Gove had had seven tries of doing his three-point turn when passing his test.
I don't happen to agree with his approach in the slightest, but not convinced that this moves the debate on any further.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 10:35

Michael (the commenter above) is right. What the other Michael (Gove) is proposing is to end a 'culture of resits' where students keep retaking individual components.

To produce a fair analogy, you'd have to envision a driving test where candidates could just retake the three point turn, the hill start, or the emergency stop over and over again 'til they passed. Driving test retakes aren't like that. You have to satisfy all the criteria on the same day.

Sally Davenport's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 01:01


Is it categorically true that Gove took 7 lessons to pass? Certain journos have got this sort of thing wrong before.

Thanks x

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 11:24

Sally - according to the Mail (not the most reliable of sources) the cringingly-embarrassing revelations re Mr Gove were taken from his wife's newspaper column.

Perhaps it's her revenge for his using her email account aptly named "Mrs Blurt" for DfE business.

Leonard James's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 06:29

This all seems reasonable until you imagine the approach a lot of schools would take to driving tests - re-enter students over and over again during a until they pass regardless whether they had actually got what is being taught. The old assessment regime was a menace that choked curriculum time in favour of never ending exam preparation and the bureaucracy associated with it. Terminal exams are one of the few good things that Gove has done.

Oh and secondly I thought that driving tests are norm referenced which contrasts to GCSE?

Michael's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 07:00

Definitely not the case. Not sure of they ever were, but driving tests are now very clearly criterion-referenced.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 10:48

Michael - I think you're correct. There's a list on the website below saying what drivers are supposed to do correctly when doing the test such as "Make progress by/driving at a speed appropriate to the road and traffic conditions/avoiding undue hesitancy."

There are extra bits since I took my tests (plural) such as a theory test and more practical tasks such as reverse parking (Aaaaagh!). And passing, of course, doesn't make you a good driver.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 11:54

"Exams show those who have not mastered certain skills or absorbed specific knowledge what more they need to practise and which areas they need to work on," said Mr Gove in his "pleasurable rush" speech last week. But no amount of extra practice after the event is going to help if the exam, like the 11+, can only be taken once.

Assessing modules at different times and resitting to get a higher mark is, in any case, on its way out. GCSE pupils will now have to sit all their modules at the end of the course.

Gove also said, "I am, as it happens, a huge fan of teacher assessment, properly designed and administered but teacher assessment alone cannot bring the benefits proper external testing can secure." If he's a "huge fan of teacher assessment" then he's been keeping very quiet about it. The consultation for the EBCs makes it clear that exams will be assessed 100% externally.

Leonard, above, is correct in saying that the controlled assessment regime clogged up teaching time. That is why a folder of coursework, compiled and marked according to exam board's scheme and externally moderated, is preferable. Girls, in particular, do better with this kind of assessment. There is no reason why an exam should not have a coursework AND an externally validated assessment - this was what GCSE was like when it was first established.

Exams at 16+ are, in any case, doomed. The rest of the developed world is moving (or has moved) to graduation at 18 often by multiple routes. The CBI has added its voice to those calling for a rethink about exams at 16+ (second link below).

FJ Murphy's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 20:30

The fixation on abusing Michael Gove is rather juvenile, and the false parallel between re-sitting a driving test and retaking bits and pieces of A-levels and GCSEs ad infinitum has been correctly pointed out. I would like to labour the point further with my own analogy: imagine running a marathon in half a dozen sections, months apart, re-running certain sections for better times and then adding up all the times and announcing a new record. A proper mastery of a subject, according to the particular level, can be demonstrated far more convincingly if it is all tested in one session.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 21:23

Sometimes the whole is different to the sum of the parts. Sometimes it isn't. It's unwise to generalise. It's important to specify what it is we're trying to assess and to pick a method of assessment which allows us to assess that thing.

Oh whoops we can't do that any more - we have to create a syllabus which revolves around criteria which can be effectively tested in a terminal exam. This is the case because we've got a woefully inadequate SoS for education.

I would like to hypothesise that it is not me who is juvenile Finbar - I have sufficient maturity both to know what I'm talking about and to talk about subjects I understand.

FJ Murphy's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 21:34

You did not make any ad hominem remarks about Mr Gove, so I hope you realise from what I originally wrote that you are not included in my criticism. I also know what I am talking about, having taught for 25 years. Perhaps you are also an experienced teacher, though some of those who contribute to LSN value their study of various surveys and papers as having more weight than any actual classroom experience and intimate subject knowledge.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 21:49

In maths education we use the term 'mastery' to refer to having both understanding of the subject and fluency in it.

Terminal exams in themselves do not necessarily test either mastery or holistic understanding you are correctly drawing attention to. It's perfectly possible to have a terminal exam which tests neither. To test mastery you need questions which specifically probe structure and understanding. To test holistic understanding you need carefully designed synoptic questions, high quality questions, good mark schemes and high quality marking. Or you could use teacher assessment.

If you want to check my career history it's easy to find on linkedin - with references to my blogs. Is Finbar your real name? If not that's fine!

FJ Murphy's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 22:00

What you say is true: a well designed synoptic paper is required, something which, alas, is rather rare, to say the least, in most GCSEs. A well-written multiple choice paper can play a very useful role in this respect, along with questions expecting extended writing, again, unusual at the moment at any level in schools.
Yes, it is my name, as I do not like to hide behind anonymity.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 22:04

Me neither.

Have you thought of joining There are some good discussion forums there and nobody is anonymous, so you can see what each person's background is against their post.

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