Morgan’s week: standardized tests, the value of qualifications and the vagaries of fashion.

Janet Downs's picture
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has had much to say this week.

She’s a huge fan of testing and inspection. League tables and Ofsted would ‘always be essential’, she said. Standardized tests are necessary to see how children are progressing, argued Morgan citing the work of John Hattie. But when Hattie talks of standardized tests he doesn’t mean mandatory, centralised tests used for ranking schools. He means ones that inform pupils how well they’re doing so they can improve. Hattie describes three features of good standardized tests:

1The test’s contents should be ‘defensible given the teaching context’.
2Analysis of the test data should be prompt enough to make a different to teaching.
3The tests are not high stake – consequences should be ‘low enough’ to prevent cheating or ‘gaming’.

SATs and GCSEs don’t fit this model. Summative testing at the end of courses has its place, of course, to demonstrate pupils have reached a certain standard and to decide future progression. But end-of-course exams are not what Hattie means by ‘standardized tests’. This didn’t stop Morgan name checking him to give academic credence to her utterances and make it appear Hattie supported league tables based on test results.

But what of qualifications? Destination data would appear in league tables in 2017, Morgan said. But parents and children required even more information as “choice and competition" increased. It should be possible to link qualifications to earning power by using tax data, she suggested. This would show the ‘true worth of certain subjects’.

It appears, then, the only value attributed to subjects is financial. Those which result in a higher income are more valuable, according to Morgan. Pupils should forget their interests and avoid studying any subject which doesn’t result in high earnings. This implies high-paying employment is more ‘valuable’ than jobs with low pay. But it is the low paid worker who cleans the House of Commons loos, who empties Morgan’s wheelie bin, who hands her coffee-to-go and who will care for her if she ends up in a residential home.

Finally, she entered the world of fashion.

Education fashionistas will remember when Sweden was la mode du jour. But there were rumblings that Sweden’s free schools increased segregation and their performance wasn’t as robust as claimed. Sweden’s allure finally expired when Sweden slipped down PISA’s greasy pole in 2012.

Singapore had twinkled but was eclipsed by a stronger trend: the USA. But its praised charter schools were found to be no better than non-charters and the ‘no tolerance’ policy prevalent in many of these schools was found to impact negatively on ethnic minority groups. And then the USA, like Sweden, fell down international PISA tables.

There’d been an attempt during the States’ ascendance to introduce African elements. The ex-education secretary had invoked Kenya but emulating Masai warriors never really took off.

The education fashion limelight has since been hogged by Shanghai after its stellar performance in PISA tests. But the OECD admitted 25% of the Shanghai cohort was missing from the last PISA round. Shanghai’s attractiveness has dimmed.

What, then, will replace the Oriental trend that has gripped for so long? Morgan had the answer: Poland is the new black.
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