Gove: Expect No Significant Improvement in English Schools for 10 Years

Henry Stewart's picture
In this week's session in parliament on Education, there was a short and curious exchange:

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What would be a realistically ambitious date by which to expect significant improvements in England’s programme for international student assessment scores?

Michael Gove: Ten years

(See 6 Jan 2014 Col 21 in Hansard. That was all. There is no further context)

Where has the ambition gone?

Rather than the "ambitious date" requested, this is surely an incredibly cautious one. It means that Gove expects no significant progress in the PISA standings in 2015, 2018 or even 2021. Not until 2024 does he expect to see real change.

PISA is based on the performance of 15 year-olds and so those being assessed in 2021 will have been 4 years old when the Coalition took office. (We must presume that the prediction is based on the Tories still being in power.)  So would a Conservative Education Minister in 2021 still be blaming Labour for the performance of pupils who would have spent their entire education under a Conservative Secretary of State, and - imagine - possibly entirely under Michael Gove?

Michael Gove has sought to implement a whirlwind of change. But he does not appear to believe that the conversion of thousands of school to academies, and all the changes to curriculum and other elements, will have any significant effect on educational outcomes over the next few years.

Many have suggested that Gove's focus on structures is mis-directed and a waste of resources and will have little effect. Does this response indicate that the Secretary of State is in agreement on this?

Caveat: how are our schools doing internationally?

Government ministers have been highly critical of the performance of UK schools in PISA and other international rankings. Gove this year blamed the UK's "lack of progress" on Labour but see Janet Downs's LSN post for a more balanced view, showing a slight improvement in UK results in this PISA. Or Janet's earlier piece challenging the argument that the UK is tumbling down the international tables.

Or, as Jeremy Paxman put it on Newsnight: PISA shows the UK  is "ahead of US and most of Europe". This gives a different perspective. However the government has set a clear agenda of needing to improve the UK's standing but Gove seems to have revealed that his has no confidence that they will do so in the short or medium term.

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