Yet again the government makes a load of changes to how schools are assessed and how they stack up against each other. Obviously, there’s still a focus on exam results and churning out some good data, but the recent news – worthy enough to make the front page of the BBC News site, no less – that the criterion are changing has prompted quite the reaction from both the state and independent sector alike.
Steps taken by the government to prevent so-called ‘grade inflation‘ and to make the exams a little more rigorous resulted, perhaps unsurprisingly, in more schools being deemed as ‘failing’ – the changes to the system doubled the number of schools failing to meet the GCSE benchmark to 330. One should note that, to be classed as failing, less than 40% of students obtain five ‘good’ (A*-D) GCSEs in a given year at a single school.
It’s like you’re trying to dance under a limbo pole whilst the height keeps on changing when you least expect it.
The changes that we’ve seen from the government include exams getting ‘tougher’, re-sits becoming a thing of the past, and both certain academic and vocational qualifications being stripped out. Hardly the best deal for students but I guess if we work on the basis that this is a political show-piece then it doesn’t surprise me all that much.
Take, for example, the International GCSE (IGCSE) qualification that’s beginning to get some reputation among schools and the like. It’s pretty up-and-coming, and has been seen in some of the more prestigious independent and private schools, including Harrow and Eton. Anyhow, they’ve been cut from the list and suddenly Eton and Harrow are thrown to the bottom of the table with a big, fat 0% and a ‘failing’ label. Since every student studies a variant of the qualification that isn’t recognised – I suspect that really means ‘heavily regulated to suck the life out of everyone’ – Eton and Harrow are failing independent schools with no real merit. Are we really meant to believe that? Not a chance.
I know we want to make sure that academic standards are kept high, but appealing to those so out of touch with education who think that every GCSE and A Level are a doss isn’t going to really do very much for the good of education – especially in a system where the only thing the government cares about is the data that a school can churn out.
The changes to the league table rankings also ensured that only a student’s first attempt at an exam was included in the result, on the belief that schools entered pupils in for re-sits to boost rankings.
There are numerous flaws in that argument that make me shake my head and wonder why the government is actually thinking. Firstly, students have to pay for the re-sits and I’ve never seen a school pay it for a student – if a student has to part with cash then surely they’re doing it for their own benefit and not for a school ranking? Secondly, if it’s true that schools force re-sits on students, then consider why… because it’s to appease the government and their league tables, all of which suddenly changed again to make it trickier anyway.
I wouldn’t at all say that schools throw students through the hassle of re-sits purely for their reputation – that’s a cynical view and shows how out of touch the government is with schools and education.
Richard Harman, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, went on record as saying removing IGCSEs from the league table and shuffling everything around made the tables ‘a nonsense’ and added that “this obviously absurd situation creates further confusion for parents as they cannot compare schools’ performance accurately and transparently.” Brian Lightman, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) general secretary, said more or less the same, saying the confusion makes it easy to question the validity of the results.
Of course, the education secretary Nicky Morgan came out all guns blazing to try and defend what’s happened. However, I think that we can safely take her opinion with a little pinch of salt. Not only does Morgan have no teaching experience whatsoever – therefore unable to truly appreciate the scale of the stress she’s caused and continuing the Tory policy of picking the most inept-possible person to do the job – but she also has a serious political agenda going on – radical changes to appeal to those who think the younger generation has had it easy for so many years. Yeah there’s been a few sound-bites from her about how league tables show a period of transition but maybe if she was actually a teacher she’d see that she’s not seeing the bigger picture. The changes create stress for schools as they find themselves under pressure to adapt or be left at the bottom of the tables… and if they do bend the knee and submit, teachers have to throw out plans and start all over again.
It seems that every week I’m seeing another half-baked political idea turn into policy, backed by a load of politicians with no real interest in the will of schools and the future generations who pay their wages. Tragic really, when you think about it. Half of me wants these General Election debates to get here quickly so the flaws in the plans can be made plain for all to see.
I wonder what might happen if schools were allowed to just educate kids instead of being a tool of war, whereby the results of an exam season are used to legitimise one person over another, only for them to change things over in the blink of an eye to suit another agenda. Even if it wasn’t political, the government has to understand that ‘exam coaching’ is not an education.
If I were in charge? I’d ban it from discussion, ring-fence the lot. And if we want to change it, it’s on the terms of a cross-party agreement where everyone decides, because one party doing it to serve their own ideas and power isn’t working. It’s in the interests of the schools and the students.
As for Nicky Morgan? Well, I won’t be personal with her, but I’ll say this: to be the Education Secretary, you need to have actually taught in school and done it well. That way, you might have a clue as to what’s going on and what really needs to happen. Cutting out qualifications to force people into the exam factory system and to serve a tight agenda isn’t what needs to happen. Somebody please find someone who knows what they’re doing!
Oh, I nearly forgot – what about the original point on if league tables are any use to us? No. They’re no use to us, but we’re being lead to believe that they should be a part of our decision making. Go ahead, send your kids to Eton – they’re not going to fail as badly as the tables say they will.