We’ve been here before. Last month it was Allison Pearson in the Telegraph
describing how a Michael Gove in brightly-coloured hosen was fighting the Blob
. Today, Toby Young reprises his earlier attack on Blobbery.
Only the Blob has morphed into an amoeba.
The headline hovers over a picture of Education Secretary Michael Gove (is he performing the “vanilla rap
” getting down wiv da kids, do you think?). But the article trudges familiar ground: UK pupils have slumped in PISA tests since 2000; “A fifth of British children now leave school unable to read or write”…
But the 2000 PISA figures are Zombie stats
… they should have been killed stone dead by the OECD warning they were flawed and shouldn’t be used for comparison. But up they pop justified, apparently, because OECD’s Andreas Schleicher once told the Guardian
there’d been a “relative decline” in UK position in PISA tables since 2000.
I’ve no idea why Schleicher should have ignored the warning of this own organisation. But the warning still stands – the 2000 PISA figures for the UK should not be used for comparison.
Despite this caveat, Schleicher again made the comparison with 2000 in this video
. But he actually says there’s been “very little change” in England’s performance in the ten years. “Very little change” is not “decline”.
In any case “relative decline” means a fall in standing relative to other countries. That happens to be true when measured from 2006 – the first year of reliable PISA test scores for the UK. But UK scores remained more-or-less the same.
The facts don’t support the statement that one-fifth of UK children leave school illiterate and innumerate.
The Office of National Statistics defines the threshold for literacy as a Level One qualification. According to School Performance Tables 95.3% of the 2013 GCSE cohort in England gained at least Level One in English and Maths. The difference between 100% and 95.3% is not 20% (or one-in-five, or a fifth).
So, what caused Young’s ire? It was the decision by PISA to test “collaborative problem solving” in the next round of PISA tests. It’s these kinds of woolly “skills” that are causing “social apartheid” because poor children aren’t allowed access to “knowledge”, according to Young. He’s written a pamphlet about it*.
Young’s argument is tired and wrong. It constructs a false dichotomy between knowledge and skills when both are needed. It’s not a question of “either or” but “both and”
. Or, in the words of Young’s guru, E D Hirsch, knowledge and skills are like scrambled egg – they can’t be unscrambled.
*available free from Civitas, purveyors of the Core Knowledge Curriculum, inspired by E D Hirsch, rehashed for the UK market by, among others, the short-lived head of Pimlico free school, Annaliese Briggs, and promoted by Gove and his junior minister Elizabeth Truss.
30 March 2014. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a critique of someone else's argument will contain at least one howler. And so it was when I wrote "It's these kinds of skills that is causing...". This has now been corrected.