50 Shades of Gove

Gangster Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes* Gove’s recent announcement that he is no longer considering the reintroduction of a two-tier examination system represents a major U grade turn on the statements he made in the House of Commons less than a week previously.  Instead he even more ridiculously suggested that  ‘slower learners should take their O levels later in life’. As such it reveals the true extent of the superficiality of his understanding of the education system, and his complete lack of credibility in making decisions that will affect millions of children over the coming years. It has also become clear that his motivation is not so much to improve the education provision for the country as a whole, but more a shady attempt to further his own career ambitions.

Following the Daily Mail leak last week Gove was called the next day to the House of Commons to answer questions, most of which he skilfully avoided (as politicians always do), presumably as he didn’t have any answers. He could have explained that these were just early proposals due for full consultations. He could have immediately quashed the idea that a return two-tier system was not a serious idea, or that it could be realistically put in place by the timescale indicated. He could have been a lot more convincing about providing an innovative new approach to the process of examining learning at 16+ and a proper alternative for those who are unlikely to achieve academic excellence. But he didn’t do any of these things.

Then on Monday there was an announcement of a speech he was about to make in which he was extremely disparaging about vocational courses as a whole, intimating that they were all a waste of time, and emphasising as a fact that employers were more interested in academic performance than real knowledge and experience of the workplace.

And then there have been recent news reports about the lack of appropriate qualifications and experience of, admittedly probably a very small number of Ofsted Inspectors, but nonetheless something that Gove must be held responsible for. It is difficult to tell exactly what is going on, and there are optimistic rumours that he is about to be re-shuffled, and that in terms of his legacy, wants to be seen as the man who introduced the return to so-called Gove levels, whatever shape or form they might eventually take.

However, just in case there are no plans to move Gove on to a different department over the summer, or that any attempts to introduce Gove levels have not now as expected been put off until after the next election, it is time for all those in education to find a way to make it clear to the country the ways in which his reforms will be so destructive, and that they have no confidence whatsoever in his ability to develop a clear and cohesive policy that will be to the future benefit of the nation’s children.

Finally it’s good to know that there is at least one MP who not only gets it, but has done her homework as well. Pat Glass, Labout MP for North West Durham spoke in the House during the subsequent debate on the GCSE reforms, and revealed Gove’s statements on PISA scores and Singapore for the nonsense they are. Her speech is contained in the comments section below. Now here is someone who really should be the minister for education.

*The title of the film Mickey Blue Eyes comes from Michael being forced to impersonate a gangster, who Frank names “Kansas City Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes”.

2 comments on “50 Shades of Gove

  1. Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I think that we must give the Secretary of State’s speech eight out of 10 for style, but nought out of 10 for content. It was a very good speech which, I am afraid, did not deal with the issue in hand at all. The Secretary of State was asked on numerous occasions whether the Daily Mail had reported him correctly, and he was completely evasive. He was asked again and again how the abolition of GCSEs would raise the bar, and I have to say that his responses were divisive, evasive and at times even destructive.

    What is so important about GCSEs is that they are examinations for all pupils of all abilities. They were introduced in 1988 by Margaret Thatcher and Kenneth Baker in response to huge unhappiness, largely among parents. Those of us who were in the education system at that time will remember that it was middle-class parents whose children were sent to underfunded secondary moderns and forced down the route of CSEs who brought about the abolition of CSEs and the introduction of the GCSEs that we have now, which have brought together the best of what was in the CSEs and the old O-levels.

    That approach was welcomed by the whole education community, but it seems likely that it will be abolished on the say-so of the Secretary of State, who has apparently not consulted anyone on his proposal. As far as I am aware, there has been no consultation with pupils, parents, teachers or the wider education community. The Secretary of State convened a two-year curriculum review group consisting of the great and the good to consider the issue of the curriculum, but appears subsequently to have completely ignored everything said by that group, choosing instead to develop an education policy that has no evidence base and is founded on personal prejudice.

    So what is the evidence behind the Secretary of State’s review? We have heard a lot from him about our cascading down the OECD PISA scales for English, maths and science. I am sorry, but no matter how many times he says that, it is simply not true. In the three years leading up to 2007 many more countries entered their data in the PISA tables, so the outcomes in 2007 did not measure like with like. When the Secretary of State talks of cascading down the scales, what he is really talking about are a couple of percentage points in a table that would now include many more countries than it did at the time when it was last drawn up. That is not measuring like with like. If the Secretary of State were a teacher instead of a journalist looking for the best negative headline, he would understand that.

    The Secretary of State used Singapore for his evidence base. The Education Committee visited Singapore last year just to see what was happening there. It must be said that there are many good things in the Singapore system, but what he failed to tell us was that in Singapore education is not free, and is not compulsory for children beyond the age of 11. When PISA measures the outcomes of 16-year-olds in England against those of 16-year-olds in Singapore, it is measuring the outcomes of all 16-year-olds in England against those of some 16-year-olds in Singapore. Again, like is not being measured with like.

    In Singapore the curriculum is restricted to English, maths and science, and there is no creativity whatsoever. Here we have a broad, advanced curriculum. Again, like is not being measured with like. The Secretary of State failed to tell us that in Singapore seven out of eight children have up to three hours of additional tuition every day paid for by the parents, over and above the tuition that is received in schools. So again, like is not being measured with like. He also failed to tell us that the Singapore system is one of the most centralist education systems in the world, where the Minister for education dictates what is taught, how it is taught and when it is taught. It goes so far that head teachers do not even apply for places in schools; they are allocated a school and they are moved on every three years—and they have no say whatever about which school they move on to.

    In using Singapore to provide evidence for his plans, the Secretary of State is comparing our state-funded, diverse, teacher-led, innovative, autonomous system with a broad and balanced curriculum that caters for all children up to the age of 16 and beyond with an almost Soviet-style centralised system where education is not free, compulsion ends at 11 years of age and there is a highly restrictive curriculum. That is not measuring like with like.

    The Secretary of State also looked for his evidence base to polls telling him that parents want to see a return to O-levels. He may well cite the recent YouGov poll that shows that 60% of those who are old enough to have sat the old O-level want to see a return to a two-tier system. However, that is what we would expect from any poll that asked questions of people over 40; they hanker back to what they know. The YouGov poll also shows, however, that 40% of those who sat O-levels do not want to see a return to a two-tier system, and that 65% of those who took GCSEs do not want to see a return to a two-tier system either.

    I accept that the system we have is not perfect, but I do not believe that the answer is to return to qualifications that were designed a lifetime ago for a world that no longer exists in which children without qualifications were able to find jobs in low-skill industries—in factories, mines, shipbuilding, steel-making and agriculture. That world no longer exists. Today’s young people need skills that were not previously taught: resilience and reasoning skills, negotiation skills, team-working, speaking skills, interpersonal skills. Those are the skills that employers are telling the Education Committee that they need. They are taught in private schools; we should be making time for them in our state schools.

    In designing our state education system, we should say, “If it’s not good enough for my child, it’s not good enough for your child.” That should be our guiding principle in designing an education system, rather than, “Outcomes for some at the expense of others.”

  2. The comments from Pat Glass hit all the nails on the head.

    If what she says is true, and I’ve every reason to believe it is, then Gove should not be allowed to carry on in government. He has twisted facts and interprets data to suit his own thought processes which have been shown to be seriously flawed.

    Quoted from the above
    “…but appears subsequently to have completely ignored everything said by that group, choosing instead to develop an education policy that has no evidence base and is founded on personal prejudice.”

    By not listening to advisers, committees, people, parents and just about everybody I’ve met, while blundering through with his ill-conceived ideas, he is not working for the good within a democratic society, he is dictating rather too much.

    Why is he allowed to carry on? It’s insane!

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