Friday, 13 February 2015

Education, Politicians and Conjuring Tricks

Readers of this blog will know that I have the habit of making cynical assessments of OFSTED and the "initiatives" in Education advanced by "concerned" politicians. Before I retired from full time teaching, I was accused several times of being a cynic (usually by Headteachers). My reply was always the same -  there was only one thing wrong with being a cynic about education - I was always right.
Two recent events, which I believe to be nothing more than political sleights of hand,  have done nothing to change my view. One is the recent change in school league results, which is, as Richard Garner said in the Independent :
"...a result of changes to the tables which make it harder for schools to obtain top grade passes.
First of all, those who allow their pupils to sit the IGCSE exam – the international equivalent of GCSE’s based on traditional O-level lines – have been told the exam is no longer recognised for the tables. 
Secondly, only the first sitting of an exam counts towards the tables – thus stopping many schools attempting to bump up by their grades by allowing pupils to sit the exam early and then retake it if they do not get the correct pass rate."
So, at the stroke of a pen (or a wave of the wand?), schools which were thought to be doing well, suddenly are not doing well at all. This has caused much dismay in the schools themselves and understandable anger on the part of the teaching unions. Perceptive commentators have noted that these new league table results will be used by this government to advance their policy of creating educational academies. Quite right, but there are a number of aspects that have not been noticed.
To begin with, there is the question of OFSTED inattention. By this I mean: if any schools are not now up to a good standard, why has OFSTED not detected it before? After all, they have been in existence for two decades, and never seem to achieve a perfect school system.
Next, arising from my first point, I think it obvious that OFSTED does not want perfection (whatever that may look like), nor does it want to leave schools in peace. If they did, there would be no need for OFSTED. As I have pointed out before, Emile Durkheim wrote of the "dialectic of ends and means" whereby a means to an end becomes an end in itself. We have no better example of this than the history of OFSTED.
The next educational conjuring trick that has been presented by a politician comes from no less a person than Mrs Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove's successor as Education Secretary. Mrs Morgan has said:"We will expect every pupil by the age of 11 to know their times tables off by heart, to perform long division and complex multiplication and to be able to read a novel,".
The implication of Mrs Morgan's comment is that schools are not teaching times tables, long division, long multiplication or anything else. As a teacher for 33 years, I can state with some authority that this is utter rubbish. Having taught in a number of schools in Liverpool and London, both as a full time member of staff and as a supply teacher, I can say that I have never been in a school where these subjects were not included in the teaching of Numeracy. In every school where I have taught, there have been regular weekly tables tests from Year 3 to Year 6. Also, Mrs Morgan does not give examples of the novels she expects children to read that are appropriate for their reading levels. I believe that Mrs Morgan and her advisers (including Michael Gove), if they implement their new measures, will, in several years time, trumpet their achievements in improving results for knowledge of times tables by 11 year olds. In other words, they will take credit for what is being done already. Paul Daniels could do no better.

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