Performance Tables or Government Tables? by Trevor Fisher

Janet Downs's picture
This was posted on behalf of Trevor Fisher who is having trouble logging in.

Performance tables come out every January and have less to do with performance than government control of the secondary curriculum. This year will intensify both the control aspect of the tables and the weakness of heads in relation to them, as this is the year of the Post-Wolf developments.

Choice and the myths of the all powerful head teacher, still less the laughable argument that schools are autonomous, have long been countered by the reality of performance tables. Government does not dictate directly to schools, which can do a variety of qualifications. But like Animal Farm, while all qualifications were held to be equal under New Labour, under the coalition some qualifications have been more equal than others. The old rule that 5 A*-C including GCSE equivalents left schools with some freedom. In the world of the autonomous school under the Coalition, freedom became what the Minister said at any moment.

The Ebacc decreed an old academic curriculum was core, whatever the official national curriculum said. And the national curriculum was downgraded as academy/free schools had to be liberated from it. But not from Performance Tables. The post Wolf Report decree ripped out most Vocational Equivalents. This is the big news this year, as the Voc Quals drop out and academies rely heavily on them to succeed. But will media notice?

Then Gove decided only the first sitting counted, denying second chances to pupils. A decision made after courses started, sparking fury among the heads. But will the heads have decided to ignore the decree? We will not know from the Government tables. However the heads have set up their own alternative, and comparisons may be illuminating. If anyone can make the comparisons.

Then the IGCSE has been banned from the 2017 tables, a decision driven by the demand not to have comparisons with the new reformed GCSEs. However private schools can do them, and perhaps state schools. But again, they will not appear in the Performance Tables. The only honest reason for this is to prevent comparisons with the new OFQUAL approved reformed GCSEs. Comparisons could be odious.

The Head's alternative performance tables will not be credible, and will be ignored by media. Every paper in my area runs the government data, often well out of date. This is what the schools are judged on, and what gives head teachers their running orders. The performance tables do measure performance – but only of the heads' obedience to government orders, nothing else. How long can this go on?

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Phil Taylor's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 10:27

I welcome every revision to the performance tables as they all help to bring the whole absurd notion into further disrepute and hasten their inevitable demise.

Phil Taylor's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 12:25

Just heard a BBC clip of the head of a 'high performing school' being asked the secret of her 'success'. The first thing she mentioned was uniform! Closely followed by hair and make-up!!

Why don't these important factors appear in the performance tables? That's what I want to know.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 16:20

The performance tables are turning into a farce. They were supposed to measure attainment over time but this led to an excessive focus on exam results which led to gaming, exam hopping (IGCSEs in, IGCSEs out, voc exams in, voc exams out), teaching to the test, teaching time being eroded by controlled assessments when coursework became untrustworthy, and some schools using admissions to put off pupils whose results would depress league table position.

And then, surprise, surprise, the 'top' state schools are grammars or so-called comprehensives with an intake skewed to the top end.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 16:34

Despite the DfE number crunchers saying it's not possible to compare 2014 GCSE results with former years because of changes to exams, the school performance tables show results for the last four years. This invites comparison.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Fri, 30/01/2015 - 10:08

the DFE number crunchers aside, the tables are not comparable as they take out IGCSEs. The top public schools are now failing - they get no results at all.

This caught out the BBC, which started yesterday with the standard line (rooted in the Black Papers though the reporters are unlikely to have been born when the Black Papers were going, and the roots are unknown in the corporation though, as Richard Pring keeps telling me, we live in the shadow of Black Paper success pre 1977), that state schools had failed.

The headline at 11 37 yesterday was "School league tables : more schools fail to make the grade". Hannah Richardson and Katherine Snellgren wrote about schools failing to make the five pass threshold. And then..... "scores of top public schools have ended up bottom of the tables" noting Eton, Harrow, WInchester and St Paul's.

There was a double take in the BBC news room particularly as the Head Masters Conference (worth accessing their web site) pointed out that these did IGCSEs and were successful. I have to agree. They are successful and IGCSE is a good exam system.

So by 1800 hours the headline had changed to "School league tables branded a nonsense" and a whole different agenda is now on the BBC web site. WIth a comment by the Education Correspondent which I would urge colleagues to read. THe BBC needs challenging.

However the real issue is why the IGCSE vanished. My records show no evidence of the decision at all. Quite the contrary. So when was the decision made? Any hard evidence like a date, statement from the DFE etc... very welcome.

Trevor Fisher.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 30/01/2015 - 11:43

Trevor, you are right that the media coverage has been dire - as usual. BBC news covered Havant Academy with a commentary that implied that it had improved as a direct result of its Academy conversion.

On Channel 4, Jon Snow was hopeless in his questioning of the Minister. Jon argued that the league tables were NOW unfit for the purpose of helping parents choose a good school because of lack of comparability with previous years.

They have ALWAYS been unfit for that purpose. The Minister was right in his response that the league tables (while still useless in my view) are now better, as various routes to 'gaming' have now been closed.

I think that the DfE has a sound argument in stating that the exam system has an important role in positively influencing the curriculum and teaching methods. The problem is that this is not the business of any government. John Mountford is absolutely right about this.

I am in favour of a compulsory National Curriculum for all schools. I think it is necessary to protect the universal entitlement of all pupils in the face of possible ulterior motives of particular schools and parents.

However this is no business of governments either.

There should be a non party political National Commission for Education that supervises a National Examinations Board. The current privatised exam boards cannot be trusted with this job.

As for a National Curriculum, there is quite a lot of consensus amongst the academics that have helped me with my book that it must be primarily developmental in nature. The aim should be to encourage (but not stipulate) pedagogies that promote the growth of understanding and general cognitive ability through all key stages, emphasising co-operation between teachers and schools, not competition driven by a market.

Obviously, physical, affective and aesthetic development should be encouraged in parallel.

Yes there would have to be some specified knowledge content, but only in general terms. There should be nothing like the current level of dictatorship (eg stipulating compulsory authors and texts to be studied).

As I have previously argued, the attaining of all this can be a step-by-process starting with the granting of true independence to a newly empowered HMI.

There is a lot of consensus around these ideas, which is growing all the time. Those of generally like mind (we don't have to agree about everything) should all be pushing forward on a broad front supporting each other. Janet and Melissa's new book and Henry's analyses, along with all the critically supportive posts and debates on LSN all help.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 30/01/2015 - 12:34

Roger and Trevor. The reporting of GCSE results has been laughably inept. Even when journalists actually write that league tables have changed they don't appear to understand the implications. They still compare this year with previous years. And the school performance tables still list results for the last four years which, as I said above, invites just such an invalid comparison.

BBC's 'Look North' lambasted Haven High Academy in Boston for its 'poor' results (24%). But the true figure was 56% - some of the GCSEs taken by Haven High pupils didn't count.

But the worst-performing state school in Lincolnshire according to the league tables wasn't shamed like Haven High. That's because it was a grammar and has ignored what counts for tables and what doesn't. Bourne Grammar School reported 0% - but its real GCSE pass rate was 97%. The school is so laid back about its 0% league table result that it includes a link to school performance tables on its website.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Fri, 30/01/2015 - 14:11

of course media report badly. We do not advise them, and they don't read small blog networks. I am pleased LSN has an academy document - when are we going to do a media document?

Trevor Fisher.

John Mountford's picture
Fri, 30/01/2015 - 23:35

The fact is, the whole purpose for data is that they, among other things, allow comparisons. In the case of league tables, this will only have significance, leaving aside for now the practical/ethical/moral considerations, if it is meaningful for people to be able to compare schools over time.

Even the 'donkey' media that Trevor speaks of elsewhere can surely grasp that.

With respect, Trevor, the media has access to all the documentation it could possibly need but it chooses not to want it. The work has been done through this site and many others. The challenge is that of changing the perceptions of key outlets and for that to happen will take an 'education spring' involving social media.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 31/01/2015 - 07:06

John - And there lies the problem, because at the heart of the issue is the fundamental fallacy that aggregating the exam results of individual pupils in a school is not a statistically valid way of evaluating the school. When you base a whole education system on such a big fallacy then that education system is in big trouble.

There is an enormous amount of truth in the saying that 'the devil has the best tunes', but interpreted as, 'the devil has the best wrong ideas'. Such 'wrong ideas' are often wrong in two equally important senses.

The first is that while they have what sociologists call, 'face validity', they are in fact logically false.

The second is that such devilishly false ideas are wrong morally, in the sense that basing real social policies on them results in morally wrong and offensively unacceptable outcomes.

Another example is the devilish policy of selling council houses to tenants at an enormous discount. This too has 'face validity'. What a great idea. It is win-win. The tenants are happy because they have been gifted a formerly communally owed asset that they can sell at a profit. The council is happy because it gets some income from selling off its (our) assets. The politicians who thought it up are happy because they think it will turn Labour voters into Conservative voters.

The historical consequence is absolutely disastrous - evil even. Our sons and daughters cannot find decent secure housing at a price they can afford from which to lay down social roots and care for their children.

There are many other examples. Trevor is right to identify this as a natural but false way that humans behave, as identified and accurately described and analysed by Thomas Kuhn. What these devilish ideas all have in common is false 'face validity'. They rely on Kahneman's fast System 1 thinking always trumping the slow cerebral thinking of System 2. But we are all capable of the latter and that's what schools and education are really for - to bring about in pupils the habit of mind of not jumping to System 1 conclusions about anything.

The other aspect of human nature that the Devil relies on to do his work is captured in the Hans Anderson story of, 'The Emperor's New Clothes'. When society has collectively bought into a false idea (like school league tables empower parents in their choice of a school) there is an inertia that makes nearly everybody blind to the truth.

That is what we are fighting against. The positive lesson of history is that Copernicus won in the end. The educational war that many of us are fighting through the medium of LSN and elsewhere will be won in the end even if some battles are lost along the way. Melissa and Janet's book will help build the pressure towards the necessary Kuhnian tipping point.

Trevor Fisher's evocation of Thomas Kuhn in respect of the fallacies and failures of the marketised English education system gets a whole section in my book (5.13).

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sat, 31/01/2015 - 04:03

dear john

sorry, having the evidence does not mean understanding it. I am increasingly a Kuhnian, he showed that evidence is ignored by followers of a dominant paradigm. THe evidence showed the geocentric theory of the solar system did not work, but until Copernicus astronomers ignored it.

And for medicine, doctors in the C18th could see that if they bled their patients they died, but still kept on doing it. They killed George Washington by doing so.

As for social media, the press don't read it. There have to be game changers. I welcome the ebook by Melissa and Janet, we need more of these.

However as Kuhn says, to secure a revolution there has to be a paradigm shift. How to lever that is the big issue.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 31/01/2015 - 08:00

League tables are becoming increasingly meaningless.

League tables are pernicious. They stunt innovation, encourage gaming and teaching to the test. But this hasn't stopped the media obsessing about ranking schools. It sells papers.

Worse is to come when the hastily-introduced 'reformed' GCSEs come on stream.

Ofqual, which should have stood up to Gove and said the timetable for implementing these exams was too rushed, is now in more bother. It appears the National Reference Test, already opposed by the Royal Statistical Society and exam board AQA, has hit the buffers. TES reports that no organisation has bid to run this 'key aspect of GCSE reform'.

agov's picture
Sat, 31/01/2015 - 13:44

Having paid actual money for your book I will one day read it but no guarantees about timescale. Meanwhile here -

is a little anecdote -

"Sometime in the mid 1970s I was browsing the Philosophy of Science section of Dillon’s the London University Bookstore. I pulled out Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a look. A professorial type appeared alongside me and glanced at what I was reading: he said: ‘Scientific revolutions, my ass’ and walked off. It was Karl Popper."

[Again with the reply thing]

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sat, 31/01/2015 - 20:29

re karl popper, we can never underestimate the role of academic ego, which is one factor Kuhn neglected for obvious reasons. Many of the top people ignore data that they don't like, as they don't like being proved wrong. The tragic example are the Curies, whose discovery of radium and radiation was brilliant, and led to X rays. Alas they did not realize that exposure to radiation was lethal, they ignored the warnings

On Popper and Wittgenstein, the two leading lights of the Vienna School of the interwar years, there is an absolutely fabulous book by David Edmonds and John Eidinow which makes the point with hilarity and sadness. Called WITTGENSTEIN'S POKER Faber and Faber 2001 it tells of the only time they every met. Which lasted 10 minutes at the Cambridge Philosophy Society in 1946. The issue concerns the poker used to stoke the fire. There was an argument as Wittgenstein picked up the poker and waved it around. Popper alleged he was being threatened by the poker. W claimed he was merely making a point about the nature of pokers, is this a poker what is a poker, can we establish that poker's exist, is there an epistemological space that is occupied by pokers, I am making the terms of the argument up from memory but you can work out the gist.

Popper still claimed he was being threatened by the poker, walked out and never went back. The book is about the continuing row, which was still going on half a century later, as no one could agree about what happened, Popper's people saying he had been threatened, W's that it was just a device for an argument. Reading the book you do understand why the fine line between genius and madness is so fine.

W of course went right over it, as F R Leavis notes in an essay on his friendship with Wittgenstein.

However, paradigms. They are harder to pin down in politics than science, but the key point to take up Roger's very welcome entry is that Copernicus did not win on the geocentric universe, Galileo did. Copernicus did the maths and proved the case. The universe is heliocentric. But it made no difference. it was when Galileo clashed with the Roman Catholic church that the ballon went up and the paradigm shifted. Brecht's Galelio dramatizes what happens brilliantly.

From our point of view, LSN etc are Copernicus. Ultimately we are going to have to challenge the Papacy of the Academy Movement. We have yet to find our Galileo.

I am glad we are starting to discuss fundamental issues of how thought develops. As Copernicus discovered, just getting the facts right is necessary but not sufficient. You have to take on the entrenched habits and power structures which are not as obvious as those of the Catholic church. They are, as the row between the Mail and OFSTED over inspecting Christian free schools, embedded in the power structures.

Trevor Fisher

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 01/02/2015 - 10:18

Wow - Thank you Trevor and agov. We are getting heavy - and I like it. You are right to emphasise the difference between amassing overwhelming evidence and getting 'leaders' to act on it. Kuhn brilliantly illuminates and explains this facet of human nature in relation to scientific advances.

You are also right about academic ego battles that spill over into personal abuse. There are many famous examples. In relation to Popper and Kuhn, I have never been able to see why there is any conflict. They both provide sound and well argued responses to different facets relating to fundamental questions about the nature of science. They are both right.

A personal digression: I grew up as a council estate kid who in 1958 entered a new Birmingham selective Technical School. In 1965 I was accepted onto a degree course in metallurgy at Aston University, which was in the process of gaining its new 'university' designation. This was a four year 'thin' sandwich course - 6 monthly academic education/industrial training periods over four years. This was an uncompromisingly industrial education for the son of a Brummie toolmaker.

Yet the Aston degree course had a compulsory 'General Studies' component that was taught over all four years. The principle was that anybody with a 'university education' was also required to become 'an educated person'. (As for universities, so for all schools in my view) One of the study topics was Brecht's, 'Life of Galileo'. I loved it. Apart from the Kuhnian perspective mentioned by Trevor, it was the first time I learned of Gallileo's conflict with the Papacy - surely a must in any National Curriculum worthy of the name.

I move on to the degree congregation of our eldest daughter in 1993. She got a first in Chemistry at Sheffield following seven years schooling at the notorious Countesthorpe College in Leicestershire. The Vice Chancellor gave a moving address about the public duty of the university's graduates to 'pay back' the public's investment through general 'good work's' rather than to pursue personal ambition and enrichment.

Fast forward to 2000 and our son's degree congregation at Leeds University. Here the message was a sustained and tedious eulogy to the excellence of the university in the competitive international market for students, with particular reference to the Business School.

Rewind to 1992 and you find me on a full time, M.Ed. Studies course (part taught, part research) at the Leicester University School of Education. This was a full time secondment from my teaching post with my teaching salary and all fees and personal expenses paid by the Leicestershire LA. This completely transformed my professional life. It was here that I learned about Popper and Kuhn and where the foundation was was laid for the rest of my teaching career and also for the major themes of my book.

Which brings me back to Trevor Fisher and his application of the Kuhnian perspective to the issue of how to transform the English education system from its current dire state.

Read more at p151 in my book.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 08:07

Nous sommes Copernicus. I like it!

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 01/02/2015 - 10:21

Sorry - Typo

Rewind to 1982 not 1992

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sun, 01/02/2015 - 10:44

yes we do need a philosophically sound perspective, one of the strengths of the Black Papers was having heavyweight philosophers involved. They still gain from their apparent academic credentials, as Gove kept saying.

But there is a danger in getting too academic, and your history and mine, Roger, should alert us to it. We both entered selective Birmingham technical schools. Mine was Lordswood tech, and it was problematic. School OK, sixth form inadequate. Small sixth forms are dreadful as OFSTED said before xmas. And Adonis loves them.

There is a wider issue here however, which relates to Hunt's vocational 50-50 split. Technical has always been the poor relation, so much so that I can't find anyone now under age 50 who knows there was a tripartite system. Grammars, secondary moderns and the eleven plus live on. Technical schools vanished.

I only know 4 people who went to techs, including us two. Yet there were hundreds of thousands, and in cities like Birmingham you had to pass the eleven plus to go there - in other cities they were a middle tier between grammars and seconday moderns. But not in Birmingham and we both benefitted from that.

The big question is, pace Mr Hunt..... why has technical education been the poor relation since the Victorian period? As it has not been in Germany?

Big cultural issues here to consider, though not imminently

Trevor Fisher.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 01/02/2015 - 11:33

My view on explicitly vocational education pre-16 is clear.

There shouldn't be any - at all. There are no pupils at any ability level that don't benefit more from a broad and balanced curriculum provided it is taught in a cognitively enhancing way.

This is from Section 3.3 in my book.

"Intellectual development however has in the past always been regarded as what schools are for. Subjects are studied not just for their own sake but also for their value in developing the wider cultural, scientific or artistic understanding of the individual. These fundamental educational assumptions are rooted in the rational values of the European enlightenment and the comprehensive school movement was about ensuring that the advantages of such an education were made available to all. The levels achieved as a consequence of such schooling obviously depend on the prior cognitive ability of pupils as well as on the quality of teaching so a wide range of performance is to be expected.

This does not mean that broad and balanced education only benefits the most able. A participatory democracy requires the highest possible level of development of intellectual development in all sections of society. The national curriculum was introduced in order to secure this aim. The difficulties in implementing it with the less able half of the ability range give rise to pedagogical challenges that our comprehensive schools were meeting with ever increasing success before the introduction of arbitrary standards that the government defined as thresholds that all pupils were expected to meet.

By this argument a less able pupil, and society in general would benefit from and should feel able to value, D to G grades obtained at school in mainstream GCSE subjects more than pseudo-vocational qualifications that fail to stimulate or provide intellectual challenge and lack credibility with Further Education providers and employers; despite there having equivalences with GCSE that all sections of the educational community, except the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) at that time, came to regard as ludicrous.

[This is why this element of the Gove reforms reflected in the 2014 GCSE results are right - What is wrong with them is the pernicious continuing high stakes emphasis on the C grade as the definition of a 'good' GCSE]

This is not to devalue vocational education in general. Mechanical Engineering is clearly comparable in difficulty and esteem to physics."

And also from my LSN post here.

"Should the ‘pleasure of finding things out’ be confined to the minds of Nobel Prize winners?

I am sure it must not. I am equally certain that it is a universal human characteristic to take deep pleasure in gaining understanding and intellectual development from the application of curiosity.

Watching my pre-school grandchildren conducting an enthusiastic bug-hunt in the garden convinces me that such curiosity is not only an innate characteristic of the human species, but is also too precious to be dulled or squandered in an education system driven by the testing needed to provide school performance data that drives false ‘choice’ in a marketised education system.

I argue for a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils up to at least the age of 16. This is because if curiosity is the driver of learning then the full spectrum of possible exploration should be available as a resource to all pupils.

I also believe in ‘plastic intelligence’. This implies a dynamic interaction between perception and the mind, leading to the enhancement of general cognitive abilities. When a pupil gets absorbed and mentally challenged in (for example) a historical study topic, then she also gets better at maths and science, and vice-versa. This is a powerful argument for maintaining subject breadth in the school curriculum for as long as possible and certainly at least up to the age of 16.

Eclecticism as a quality was greatly valued and apparent in the lives of our great Victorians in diverse fields of human endeavour. It is in need of restoration in our schools.

The knowledge gained from an eclectic education is important at all ability and attainment levels. Not only do we benefit from well-educated employees and professionals at all levels but even more so from well-educated mothers and fathers."

agov's picture
Sun, 01/02/2015 - 15:42

Wittgenstein's poker is a famous story. Perhaps almost as famous as his temper that does seem to have lead to actual assault -

How many assaults did Popper commit?

Copernicus didn't prove the case. He retained much of Ptolemaic theory (fixed stars on an immovable sphere) and the predictions arising from his model were little or no better than the Ptolemaic ones.

It might be better said that Tycho Brahe and Kepler did the maths (but Brahe argued against the Copernican system and proposed a compromise). Not to mention Aristarchus who had already proposed a heliocentric system.

Why the church - why not Aristotle? Why Catholics - what about Luther? Why Galileo rather than Newton?

The Catholic church mostly didn't much care about the science one way or another provided it didn't attack religion. Galileo's problem was that he didn't just want to do the science he wanted to dictate the theology. This is quite good -

Plus much of Galileo's science was wrong. He continued to insist on Aristotelian perfect planetary circles rather than ellipses (as Jesuit astronomers were well aware). (He also clearly fabricated his Leaning Tower experiment.)

What the Copernican Revolution from Copernicus to Newton did do was to present evidence. Evidence that was increasingly more persuasive than what had been before. Not until Newton was the heliocentric view generally accepted.

Taking on established power structures is politics rather than science: facts are never sufficient and not always necessary.

And that's where Kuhn comes in. No-one denies that scientists are human least of all Popper. A (critical) comment here -

says this -

"Kuhn and Popper saw eye to eye on most issues but the key issue on which they were divided was about the extent to which Kuhn’s model of normal science was prescriptive. Popper essentially recognized its insight but rejected any notion that it should be the way to go about doing science. His focus was on the logic of discovery not the society of scientists."

With Kuhn you might as well say 'one lot happen to believe one thing and another lot believes something else, so just wait for one lot to go away or die and then a new lot might happen to believe the actual evidence'.

I'm really not sure why there is all this focus on Kuhn.

Germany didn't get conquered by the Normans and have a class system imposed on it.

[And again with the Reply thing]

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 12:41

Agov and Trevor. Despite Trevor's justifiable concern that we are talking to ourselves, this diversion into Galileo, Popper and Kuhn is so interesting it is hard to leave it alone.

On the question of Galileo's contribution vs Copernicus, Newton, Aristotle etc, I think you are both too dismissive of Galileo's contribution.

Galileo deserves his credit for his emphasis on experiments and evidence.

Regarding his dispute with the Papacy, I think the key evidence lay in his observations of the moons of Jupiter. His careful observations with his home made telescope clearly showed that the moons are orbiting the planet.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa experiments were not the crucial ones in relation to the key evidence in relation to the acceleration of gravity and role of the mass/weight of the falling object. Galileo's experiments rolling balls down slopes were more conclusive. By slowing the acceleration down in this way the measurements could be more accurate and conclusive than simultaneously dropping objects from the Tower and trying to show that that they hit the ground simultaneously (which they never do in practice).

By placing markers on the points reached by the balls in equal time intervals down the slope, Galileo showed not only that the mass/weight of the balls made no difference, but crucially that uniform acceleration was taking place. This must have had a profound influence on Newton.

As a teacher, trying to drop objects of different weights from the same height at the same time (by standing on a desk, rarely achieves simultaneous contact with the ground. But any differences are very small leading into a very fruitful discussion about the role of 'experimental error' in all experiments. This then extends naturally into the effect of air resistance leading to further experiments with a ping pong ball, a sheet of paper of the same weight and the same sheet of paper crunched up into a ball.

This then leads into class experiments on drag by dropping differently shaped pieces of plasticene of the same weight down a measuring cylinder filled with runny wallpaper paste - the key observation being that regardless of the different speeds of fall, they all fall at a constant speed - leading to observations and experiments with parachutes.

What joy! How I miss being a real science teacher.

There is nothing about this in 'Learning Matters'!

I recently saw a Brian Cox programme that repeated Galileo's falling weights experiment inside a massive, cathedral size vacuum chamber. He also repeated the rolling balls experiment with equal time interval markers. I think Brian Cox is a genius at presentation. Can we recruit him into our education debate?

Trevor Fisher's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 10:26

this is a very important debate, but I think we are in danger of losing the audience. The key point is that ideas get accepted and then are totally resistant to change. I was told last night that the Guardian is so totally committed to the Blair-Adonis-Gove view of education that they will not accept even that staff shortages are occurring.

I also understand that the media - mostly public school educated - get their ideas from meeting the Westminster elite (inside the Westminster bubble that they all belong to) at dinner parties.

However there are closer links. For those who saw the Marr interview with Nicky Morgan yesterday on BBC 1, the obvious question is what Marr interviewed the Minister the day BEFORE the Prime Minister's statement which he should be questioning the tories on, but could not do so.

is this dereliction of duty laziness or something more? WHat Kuhn Popper or Wittgenstein thought is entirely relevant, but the key problem for us is that the Westminster bubble regards us as idiots and the real idiots as unquestionable geniuses - even when they are clearly failing.

Lets address ourselves to the problem of how to break this cosy consensus. I remain a Kuhnian. But I suspect the BBC newsroom would react with anger if they were told they are reporting the propaganda of a dominant paradigm

trevor fisher.

agov's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 11:23

It has been noted in various media outlets (the PM programme a year or two ago for example) that journalists tend to be keen users of alcohol and drugs. If anyone could be bothered to do it I expect it wouldn't be difficult to show that most 'reporting' is actually a regurgitation of government press releases. Journalists are lazy, part of the bubble and therefore certainly part of the problem.

As to breaking the ruling class consensus I'd go with George Osborne's plan to revive the economy of the north and the midlands - doubt if he's considered that though. Of course, the Guardian problem could be entirely got rid of by ending the habit of advertising public sector jobs in it. That's the only thing keeping it going but it's still loss-making.

[And again.]

Trevor Fisher's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 19:12

essentially there are only 3 people involved in the Kuhn debate, and I sadly do not know who agov is. I agree with Roger it is vital, and one of the reasons why the Black Papers won - which as Richard Pring keeps reminding me, is the defining moment of the last forty years - is that they had some heavyweight thinkers. Rhodes Boyson was the exception CBCox and Kingsley Amis and all simply outgunned the opposition.

However its best to have this debate someplace else. What makes for the dominance of the neo liberal paradigm today is not that people read the Black Papers, they do NOT. Its that they caught the mood of the times, anti state education, in favour of centralized politics, and the techtonic plates shifted in the Westminster bubble.

As is clear from studying London challenge, it was the chatter around dinner tables about London schools that gave Brighouse his chance. Earlier, and the last time we shifted the paradigms, it was the combination of solid academic research and the fear of the aspirational middle classes their kids would fail the eleven plus that fuelled the comprehensives. We never won the argument for comprehensives, but as Nicky Morgan now seems prepared to make an issue, exams at 11 plus were the key to shifting the paradigm.

I suggest a separate debate on paradigms, and for this site focusing on the continuing shift to the right. what Nicky Morgan is doing and how to counter it. There is an election to win, and unlike Gove she is winning the PR battle.

trevor fisher.

agov's picture
Wed, 04/02/2015 - 19:38

and so, back from the demands of school work...

Galileo deserves his credit for his emphasis on experiments and evidence.

Absolutely, as part of a rational reconstruction of the development of scientific method. Historically he was up to more than that.

Regarding his dispute with the Papacy, I think the key evidence lay in his observations of the moons of Jupiter. His careful observations with his home made telescope clearly showed that the moons are orbiting the planet.

The Papacy didn't really have any problem with the observations.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa experiments were not the crucial ones in relation to the key evidence in relation to the acceleration of gravity and role of the mass/weight of the falling object. Galileo’s experiments rolling balls down slopes were more conclusive.

Yes, but the mixture of his fakery and his solid evidence combined with other factors such as his retention of Aristotelian dogma would seem a curious way to establish the decisive importance of scientific method.

This must have had a profound influence on Newton.

Indeed. It was a process, not an event. By the time of Newton, his fascination with astrology did not really detract from his scientific work. If you were seeking a role model for delivering a decisive blow against an orthodoxy the Einsteinian experiments might be a better choice. I was kinda hoping for some sort of substantial process before I get to be dead.

...‘experimental error’...

But you only know it's experimental error because you already believe the theory. The theory was established over a period of time by various people. You believe the theory because (apart from any personal qualities) it is already established. Galileo at the time made almost no impact in establishing the belief and was more or less ignored. Galileo was effectively using the tests/observations to establish the theory but simultaneously undermining the theory with his other shenanigans.

I sadly do not know who agov is

Absolutely no-one of any Importance, just ignore.

the Black Papers won

Perhaps a little too soon to be definitive.

the techtonic plates shifted

Eventually, but only after the repeated, and entirely deserved, defeats of a Labour Party that had gone mad followed by a restoration to sanity that primarily featured identity confusion so that NuLab did little other than make the country safe for Conservative Party opinions.

it was the combination of solid academic research and the fear of the aspirational middle classes their kids would fail the eleven plus that fuelled the comprehensives

Don't know about the research but the middle class realisation that their children might be seen to fail was certainly hugely important.

We never won the argument for comprehensives

Nor did anyone win the argument for secondary moderns (even though some did very good work).

but as Nicky Morgan now seems prepared to make an issue, exams at 11 plus were the key to shifting the paradigm

Not quite sure that's relevant. A key point about free schools/academies is that they are their own admissions authorities.

I suggest a separate debate on paradigms

Include me out, even if I were invited. Way too many computer games to be getting on with - disgraceful I know. And still not sure why Kuhn has anything to do with this anyway.

Nicky Morgan is doing and how to counter it. There is an election to win, and unlike Gove she is winning the PR battle.

Winning in large measure on the basis of champagne and sweet talk. Admittedly the weapons that persuaded or prevented President Lincoln from invading Canada but that was in a very different context. The champagne is transient and will soon be forgotten especially when the invitees to her soirées realise that they were only there for the election photos. The sweet talk will be undermined by realities starting with call-me-Dave having already confessed that the education budget will be cut in real terms but also because the policies haven't changed. If only there was a major opposition party to take advantage of such things rather than just wanting to be the ones in charge of the same policies.

[And yet again.]

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 04/02/2015 - 20:13

I largely agree with you agov, as I am sure you realise. And I don't care who you are.

Your criticisms of Galileo may well be correct and the arguments you make sound good in hindsight. But poor old flawed and confused Galileo was the poor sod in the right (or wrong from his point of view) place in history at the crucial time. Someone had to be the historical spokesperson for rationality v revealed truth and it just happened to be Galileo with all his faults.

Also it's a great story - or at least the Brecht version is. I just love Galileo's hopelessly optimistic device of a dialogue between an intelligent person and an idiot (with the Pope clearly cast in the latter role) as his way of arguing the case.

As far as the history of science is concerned, whatever his flaws, it was Galileo to whom the Pope's thugs showed the instruments of torture, resulting in the further development of science migrating permanently from the Roman Catholic south to the Protestant north of Europe.

Je suis toujours Galileo.

Come on agov, stop moaning into your beer and join the battle. Labour may be hopeless but they are still the best hope for our education system.

agov's picture
Wed, 04/02/2015 - 21:16

I largely agree with you agov, as I am sure you realise.

I do.

Galileo was the poor sod in the right (or wrong from his point of view) place in history at the crucial time.

Perhaps so.

it was Galileo to whom the Pope’s thugs showed the instruments of torture

A bit suspect as it is not clear that he or the 'thugs' took the threat seriously.

resulting in science migrating permanently from the Roman Catholic south to the Protestant north of Europe.

Or, just a minor power readjustment within the Latin Christian West consequent upon the fall of Byzantium; the economic undermining of Venice and Genoa; and the emergence of the Atlantic powers best placed to profit from the new trade routes.

Je suis toujours Galileo

Why not Descartes? At least he did something useful (i.e. invented a new sword stroke), did he not? Galileo might easily have been entirely forgotten had history developed slightly differently.

Come on agov, stop moaning into your beer

A good moan into one's beer (or even cheap wine) is characteristically English. Je ne suis pas français (as Google translate puts it) - I don't just drink, cry and shrug.

join the battle.

Seriously? In what way? Helping to fill in the postal votes?

Labour may be hopeless but they are still the best hope for our education system.

Let me know how that works out.


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