Friday, 22 June 2012

Education policy by dictat.

I had thought it was R A Butler, among other things one of our greatest ministers of education, who coined the phrase "democracy is government by discussion" but a quick glance at Wikipedia says it was Sir Ernest Barker.  Maybe Butler just publicised it.

Whatever the source, the present Secretary of State for Education,(an example of title inflation?) Michael Gove, seems more interested in dictating educational policy rather than discussing it with those who know what they're talking about.  His ridiculous prescription for he primary school curriculum is the subject of a previous post.  Now, in addition to his covert reintroduction of selection at 11+ via a melange of so-called "free" schools and "academies," he wishes a further sorting of our children into sheep and goats by re-introducing what he fondly believes is a more rigorous "O" level style examination at 16+ for the academic elite.

I've never been much involved in 16+ teaching and examining, and when I have I've avoided course work options as far as I could.  I also prefer examination questions which require reasoned coherent answers rather than the ticking of boxes. I'm quite sure that those involved, and particularly those who do the actual teaching, are perfectly capable of producing a range of examinations to suite various talents and abilities under the same umbrella and without a major overhaul of the system to take us back to what Mr Gove sees as a golden past.

The irony is that education specialists increasingly question the need for any national external examinations at all at 16+.  Now that most young people are required, one way or another, to remain in education or training until hey are at least 18, abandoning national 16+ assessments  would free up schools to concentrate on the excitement and fun of  both  learning and teaching rather than obsessing with grades and league tables.


  1. What's in a name? O levels were intended to discriminate the top %20 bound for university but now it is %50 this seems irrelevant.
    Gove seems to be obsessed by publicity and sensationalism.
    he should be told to shut up.

  2. I notice that Mr Gove is now being spoken of as a leader of the Tory party. Doubtless his consensual manner will be an asset there. Meantime I rather expect that schools will mourn the day that the local authority shield against the whims, fancies and obsessive micro management of central government has been taken down.

  3. Stuart: I think there's quite a lot in a name. When CSEs were introduced they were clearly seen as "second class" and for the "less able." I think it is far better to have a range of levels under the same umbrella. As is often the case the Australians are half a century ahead of us. When I was at Port Moresby High School in the 1970s we worked to the New South Wales curriculum. At 16+ the "students", as they were called even then, took a minimum of five (I think - it's along time ago) subjects for their School Certificate, but each subject could be taken at any of Advanced, Ordinary, Modified or Activity level. So everyone who completed the compulsory school course gained a School Certificate, but you needed to look "inside" it to find the various levels of achievement and ability. "Drop-outs" of course, didn't get a School Certificate. I think that was an egalitarian system which told those who needed to know what they needed to know. Now I hope they've abandoned external testing at 16+, as we should too.

    Richard T: I entirely agree with your sentiments about local authorities. Today the phrase "free from local authority control" which applies to so-called "academies" and "free" schools implies that LA control is restrictive and even stultifying. What nonsense. Local authorities use economies of scale the better and more cheaply to perform various functions (negotiating building and employment contracts, paying wages, providing psychological and counselling services etc and, in my day, a generally helpful team of advisers. I was educated under the old West Riding Education Authority, then led by Sir Alec Clegg, whose innovations, especially at primary level, were admired and copied in many parts of the UK and, indeed the world.