11 May 11

Do we transform the pupils or the qualifications?

"British education system is our 'greatest national crisis' says David Starkey" according to an article in The Daily Telegraph:

"Billions of pounds spent on state education is making 'not a blind bit of difference' to the life chances of up to half of schoolchildren, claims David Starkey. And he said Ministers may as well 'burn' much of the money pumped into schools and colleges because it has failed to make any impact on pupils' long-term development.

"Starkey, the author and broadcaster, said it was our 'greatest national crisis' that almost 50 per cent of teenagers currently finish compulsory education without five decent GCSEs, including the key subjects of English and mathematics."

"In a speech to a headmasters' conference, he suggested money was being wasted on expensive facilities, teaching materials and staff pay without a corresponding improvement in standards. Government spending on education soared from £35.8billion in 2000 to £71billion in 2009. But Dr Starkey said students often simply needed strong discipline to achieve better results."

We have pointed out in this Blog that standards are actually rising, but the media tend to portray an improvement in exam results as a lowering of standards.

However, what should the standard for "good GCSE" be? If 50% is not acceptable, what should it be: 60%, 80&, 100%?

Labour's education team recently proposed an 'English and maths guarantee' that would aim for "every child to leave school with a grade C or above in their GCSEs in the subjects". As we pointed out at the time:

"How will this work? Do you lower the standard of the grade C, devaluing the qualification, or if "just 49 per cent of pupils achieve a grade C in English and maths", perform some miraculous transformation of the remaining 51 per cent?

"For everyone to achieve grade C would appear to devalue grades D-G and, therefore, do away with level 1 qualifications altogether, which raises the question of how to bridge the gap between Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4. To achieve 100% at grade C would mean raising the national IQ level by at least 20 IQ points!

"There will always be children, such as some with special educational needs, who will not be able to achieve a particular grade in conventional qualifications.

"Raising standards is a laudable aim and, with smaller classes and one-to-one tuition, more children could achieve grade C.."

To this, could be added Dr Starkey's point about pupil behaviour and discipline which are clearly of considerable concern to many teachers although, again, this is a more complex picture than it might seem and the whole question of parental responsibility has to be included too.

In another blog post, which looked at the Dream School programme, we asked:

"How should we hold schools to account?

"How do we do so without stifling creativity?

"How do we allow teachers to be creative and inspirational, and even take risks, in a politically-enforced regime that encourages teaching to the test and ticking targets?

"Are we assessing the right things?

"How do you or should we try to measure 'inspiration' and all the other aspects of education that aren't about exam results and producing economically useful citizens?"

To sum up, should

  • the standard of GCSEs be lowered so more pupils gain more of them?
  • schools perform some miraculous transformation of 51% of pupils?
  • schools, with the appropriate support and investment, be able to raise the number of pupils gaining GCSE passes to a, yet-to-be-defined percentage between 50 and 100%?
  • society accept that not all pupils will achieve "five good GCSEs"?
  • the whole assessment system be transformed, with more teacher and ongoing assessment, a greater range and type of subjects on offer to inspire pupils, parity between vocational and academic and an end to the constraints of the narrow and pointless EBacc?

Like Dr Starkey, Voice has been "very sceptical of whole aspects of the current Government's programme with education or indeed the previous Government's programme with academies which seemed to me to be grossly and unnecessarily expensive. Do we have to spend these sums?"

Surely it is what is taught that is more important than the type of school it is taught in

Do let us know your thoughts...

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