Welcome to Lake Wobegon – where all the children are above average

Janet Downs's picture
According to the National Curriculum page on the Government website, Gov.UK, Level 4 is the average level of attainment for 11 year-olds. The page was last updated about six weeks ago on 30 May 2013 so it should be bang up-to-date. And if Level 4 is average then it follows that there will be some pupils above average (Level 5 and above) and others who will be below (Level 3 and under).

But the deputy PM Nick Clegg and schools minister David Laws haven’t read that page. According to them, “level 4 [is] the expected level”. (My italics)

But Level 4 is no longer good enough. Clegg and Laws have decreed that 11 year-olds are not "secondary ready" unless they have a "good" Level 4. So they’re going to scrap Levels and replace them with something which will show a “good level of attainment.” This unknown something will be a new “scale score” which will be set to reflect the “higher expectations of what pupils should achieve.”

So, let’s get this straight:

1 An official Government website says Level 4 is the average level of attainment for 11 year-olds;

2 Clegg and Laws contradict this – Level 4 is the expected level;

3 So average achievement has become the expected level below which no child shall fall.

4 QED: All must be average.

But Clegg and Laws want Levels replaced because they're “unambitious”. Being average, it appears, is not enough. The Government’s aim is for England to be like Lake Wobegon, the fictional Minnesota town where “all the men are strong, the women are pretty, and the children are above average.”

The Government can’t do much about the first two so it’s working on the last one. But it should beware the Lake Wobegon effect first noticed when results from standardized tests showed that all US school districts claimed their pupils were above average.

The history of Lake Wobegon could be read as a parable for the Government’s education policies (and some from the previous administration, it has to be said). According to Wikipedia:

Lake Wobegon’s founders “decided to settle at Lake Woebegone because they had gotten very lost and did not know how to get back to where they had last been. To celebrate this, the colony's motto was Ubi Quid Ubi ("We're Here!...Where are we?").

Ubi Quid Ubi – “We’re Here!... Where are we?”

Does anybody know?

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