Orwellian Threat to Political Freedom

Gove's plan to remove BNP members from schools is an ominous restriction of political freedom.

Michael Gove, the Coalition Education Minister, has allowed his political instincts to take second place to following the vocal crowd, and has promised that schools will be allowed to sack BNP members from their staff. The rationale, if you can call it that, is that BNP membership is incompatible with the ethos of schools, and that clearing these outcasts from schools will be an unalloyed good.

But why stop at the BNP? Which other groups have politically incorrect views that the famously tolerant British should not tolerate?

How about UKIP with their dodgy views about foreigners? Or islamist affiliations who want a European caliphate? Sinn Fein or Plaid Cymru members who want to break up the Union? Tories? A teacher who doesn't want to sign up to the school's statement of 'shared values and beliefs'?

Don't laugh at this last one, though. This has already happened! I have been told during a 'training' session that anyone who voiced an opinion in the staff room that a Sixth Form College should focus more on A Levels, and less on vocational courses, would not be tolerated. The suggestion was that such a teacher should be 'encouraged' to leave unless they buttoned up and signed up.

If the aim of this new policy is to allow heads to sack teachers who use their position to proselytise their political views, then Gove would be pleased to know that this behaviour would already be in breach of contract. I am certain that most teachers with odious views are not actually members of a political party, and also that many members of the BNP are not as unlikeable as their simpleton leader. I am also pretty sure that an hour a week with a maths teacher who holds radical views is more likely to be educational than dangerous for children. They will benefit from seeing a range of political views from the staff instead of the current, uniform Guardianista viewpoints.

OK, I know slippery slope arguments are often spurious, but in this case the motivation behind the policy seems to be a response to pressure groups to keep 'keep them away from our children'. A success here will encourage an extension to teachers who openly support the BNP but have not joined as members, or have resigned. After that, then, which other 'opinions' would become adopted as thought crimes, punishable by summary dismissal?

While I would not mourn the departure of some staff, dismissal for supporting a legally established and state funded political party seems a bit too Orwellian for comfort.

If you don't speak up for others' political freedoms now, who will speak up for yours when they come for you?

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The Sound of Science

A great reworking of Paul Simon's 'The Sounds of Silence', now featuring Darwin and the scientific method …

The Sound of Science, courtesy of Youtube.

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'Unfunded' Pensions for Teachers

Lord Hutton has triggered a furious response from the unions in recommending the end of the final salary* pension schemes enjoyed by public sector workers. (* Also known as unfunded gold-plated pensions)

The pejorative term 'unfunded' when applied to public sector pensions suggests that the taxpayer picks up the entire bill, when in fact it just means that the pension contributions are spent by the government as a cheap loan, instead on being invested in a pension fund. Of course, when the employee eventually retires there is no pot of money, so the treasury must spend from government funds.

Teacher pensions were reformed some years ago, and do not need to be radically reworked in the current final salary pension witch-hunt. Teachers contribute 6.1% of salary, with employers putting in a further 14.4%, making a total of 20.5%. For a main scale teacher paying in for 40 years, this could produce a pension pot of £500 000 to £600 000, if it was invested and averaged returns of 3% above inflation, as the FTSE has managed routinely. A half million quid could easily buy an index linked annuity paying half the final salary - without needing a penny of taxpayer money to subsidise.

The problem comes from the higher earners - the senior management and others who get significant promotions near the ends of their careers. Since these people earn much more than their career average, each pound they pay in to a pension scheme pays out more that a pound from a classroom teacher whose salary is stable for the final 25 years of their career.

In the light of this, Lord Hutton's report, calling for pensions to be based on career average earnings and for the investment risk to be moved from taxpayers to the individuals, seems reasonable. The unions will make a great deal of fuss, but for most teachers, there is nothing to fear from a move away from an 'unfunded' or even 'final salary' pension model.

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'My RSS reader is a Journalist'

The BBC's reporting is going backwards. For years it was my go-to news site as it always sidebar links to all the websites of the source material for a news story. Even if the reporting was poor, I could always read the original papers or quotes. But a recent revamp of their site has dropped all the external links! Was it too hard for the journalists to a keep a track of where they got their material?

OK, I'm being a little unfair, since their main source has been press releases for some years - it is amazing the similarity of the wording when you can read the original press releases on AlphaGalileo. They have been republishing company and university press officer propaganda with barely a change for years.

Don't just take my word for it: if you want a pithy and knowledgeable statement of all that is wrong with science journalism, you can't do much better than read this, by The Lay Scientist blog at the Guardian. 

That post is a great parody of most of the British media's science output, fitting all research into a bland identikit structure that neither educates the masses nor informs those who already know something about the subject. The masses do not benefit from the patronisingly shallow overview that is so simplistic that even the basic principles are left out as potentially too confusing. The educated do not benefit as there is not even a useful link to the research abstract , the researcher's homepage or even the organisation involved.

And all the “important” words are put in “scare” quotes, so the “journalist” does not even have to take responsibility for the words they have “written”. 

The parody is great, and the writer has now followed that up with an inside, in-depth analysis of why the mainstream media, the BBC included, sadly, has allowed itself to abandon the honourable traditions of scientific journalism.

Depressingly, a lack of money to do the job properly is not on the hit list, but the journalists themselves are. A picture is painted of aimless journos wandering around conferences being distracted by all the unpublished PhD poster work in foyer, and not understanding a word of what they are told.

A great comment from the piece repeats and comment from Ed Yong sums it up:
“If you are not actually providing any analysis, if you're not effectively 'taking a side', then you are just a messenger, a middleman, a megaphone with ears. If that's your idea of journalism, then my RSS reader is a journalist.”
Thanks to Toby Marshan for drawing my attention to this blog.

Edit 2010-10-10: The BBC has just updated its online linking policy to repair some of the damage mentioned above, described in this Guardian blog post.

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Cable's Barmy Plan

Much of the current focus in the education press is on the threat to funding for Universities, with the Telegraph reporting a plan to allow badly run universities to go bust and close, and the LibDem Minister Vince Cable announcing that his department will in the future only fund the highest quality university research.

Cable's plan is especially barmy, even if he does have a crystal ball to sort the research wheat from the chaff (who saw the value of lasers, developed solely to test a subtle prediction of Einstein's, or knew that the quantum physics of the 1920s would lead to the digital revolution?)

If only the top research centres survive, where will the career progression for freshly qualified post-docs be? Where will Ph.D. students find posts to cut their teeth on and develop their skills? Why would the most talented students in schools be attracted to research instead of banking?

Britain's research base is still world class, which is a near miracle given how much is done with so few resources. But the structure of our research base is lean already. If Vince Cable seems intent on reducing it back further, he will find that it is not the fat he is cutting away. Real and irreversible damage to the country will be done. It will not be easily reversed by cash injections in a few years time when the damage becomes apparent.

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Gove's Cunning Plan to Recruit Better Teachers

The ongoing crisis in school Physics teaching was not improved much by the last government, leaving most lessons taught by biologists or chemists. Most English teachers have first class degrees, but a quarter of new Physics teachers have third class degrees, more than any other subject. This is for two main reasons.

First, physicists are drawn to the abstract and the impersonal, and so not many are cut out for the intense social experience that is teaching. This leaves teacher training colleges accepting almost anyone who applies.

Second, few qualified physicists and engineers are willing to work for the kind of salary that is intended to be attractive to people with English or History degrees. Industry pays what is needed to attract those with shortage skills.

The Education Minister, though, has a cunning plan: bar those with a third class degree from funded teacher training places. This will, apparently, make teaching more attractive to the better educated and improve the quality and standing of teaching as a profession. And, to give Gove some credit, there is some logic in this.

Courses Desirable

Modern students deciding on their career choices do see the most difficult to enter professions as the most desirable, so the elite students gravitate to Medicine, with its history of insufficient training places to train all the physicians we need. The restricted entry leads to high levels of salary and a social standing out of all proportion to the skills actually needed to work as a GP.

So Gove's solution is to raise the entry bar for prospective teachers, without a corresponding pay rise for those with shortage skills. Pay has not risen above inflation for the last decade, and it is still impossible for many schools to fill their Maths and Physics posts with specialists as a result.

The problem Gove has, though, is that teaching is a profession accepts anyone with a non-honours pass degree from a university which may only ask for two grade E's at A Level. Rejecting third class honours wholesale says that a Third in Physics from Oxford or in Engineering from Imperial College is not as desirable as a Lower Second Class degree in Textiles:Knit from the University of Westminster.

Shortage Skills

An engineering company short of skills or experience would offer a rewards package to attract the best people to apply, and then employ the best amongst the applicants.

Teaching will not become a desirable career for the best qualified and most able people until the salaries reflect the level of ability needed for each post. It takes more money to employ a good mathematician or physicist than it does to get high quality English teachers.

Does Gove have the courage to introduce differential pay in the face of the unions? The current funding squeeze is the perfect cover with the unions weakened, and will be the only chance for a generation. I won't be holding my breath.

Related posts:
How to Recruit a Physics Teacher
Biologists Shouldn't Teach Physics
Modular Physics Courses harm Learning

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Will Big Donation Cost Blair a Penny?

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, starter of four wars and one national debt crisis, has sought to ease his conscience and improve his reputation as home. He has rushed out his memoirs ahead of his successor as PM, Gordon Brown, and now promises the profits from its sale will go to armed forces charity The British Legion.
But such is his history of using a rather flexible interpretation of the truth, more is learned from what he hasn't said than from what he has.
Is he donating just the profits, that is, payments less expenses? Is it the royalties without the 4 million pound advance he has already received? Is he paying tax on the donations or is he Gift Aiding it so that much of the charity's gain will be at the expense of taxpayers?
And most importantly, will the donation be routed through one of his several companies and so be entirely written off against corporate tax?
Blair's donation may cost us more than him, but since at least one of his companies does not file accounts, we may never know if this is a genuine act of altruism.
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Write to Your MP

MPs have tabled an Early Day Motion to raise awareness of the importance of the shortage of Physics teachers. I've written before about the chronic and worsening shortage of Physics teachers (here, here and here), and the attempts by the TDA to hide the decline in which they claimed that all specialist teacher recruitment targets had been met, and it is worth while keeping the issue alive.

Although EDMs don't often get debated on the floor of the Commons, they do get picked up by the media, and perhaps ministers, if they are well supported, so use the link here to contact your MPs and ask them to sign this one.

The full text is below:
Physics Teachers (no. 467)

“That this House expresses its concern at the lack of specialist physics teachers and the consequent drastic drop in the number of entrants to physics A-level; recognises the threat this poses to UK physics and engineering and therefore to the UK economy; and calls for greater incentives to attract physics graduates into teaching in order to create access to high-quality physics teaching for every child.”

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Flying the Flag, Costing the Earth?

England flag flying from a car, World Cup 2010, South AfricaOK, so I object to anyone flying our national flag who feels the need for the word England to be printed across the middle. But is there a better reason for banning the flags flown from car doors?

Flags are not very aerodynamic, and cause drag, making the car burn more petrol than normal. One to two percent more than normal, so over the couple of months before and during the World Cup in South Africa, each car with a pair of small flags will use an extra five litres (or a gallon) of petrol.

If a million cars in England (almost typed the UK there — but no-one in Scotland will be flying the Cross of St George!) had two flags each, that amounts to five million litres of petrol spent dragging flags around the country's roads.

Banning these silly little flags would have the same environmental effect as shutting down a large power station for five days, and save British motorists over five million pounds of expense. It is enough petrol to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools,

So what is holding the government back in these days of austerity?

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General Teaching Council 1998-2010 RIP

Michael Gove, the new Education Secretary, has announced that the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) is to be abolished in the autumn, and not a moment too soon.

It has cost a small fortune to run and was never going to be a rallying point for teacher professionalism, and has failed even to act as a guarantor of teacher quality by disciplining us.

When the GTCE was created in 1998, it had so few teachers paying their subscriptions, even under the threat of de-registration, that it had to arrange for salary deductions to cover its expenses. I, like many other teachers, saw no benefit in the extra layer of bureaucracy. All teachers were already registered with the government Department for Education (and its heirs and successors), many were also members of unions and teacher subject groupings (such as the ASE) and felt we were already quite well represented and regulated.

For my own part, I did not pay any subs until salary deductions started, I responded to no letters, and was pleased that when I moved to a Sixth Form college which didn't require my registration, the GTCE was unable to take any further money. I had a letter saying that I would be de-registered (struck off) if I didn't pay up, so I was surprised that two years later they wrote again to say I owed them two years' payments. They couldn't even get that right.

The GTCE is, and always has been, a complete irrelevance to teachers. When it finally goes, few will notice and none will care.

So what did the GTCE say on hearing the good news? Did they respond by apologising for wasting everyone's time and money? Promise to do better? No, they said that they were "seeking legal advice on (their) position".

Parliament will surely vote to abolish the GTCE later in the year, and it can be finally buried, unloved and unmissed, in the graveyard of the Quangos.

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Lazy Teachers

Teachers have to be wary if they want to contribute to education discussions, and they have to tread especially carefully in discussions about children taking holidays in term time. Exchanges have a habit of turning towards the long school holidays, and how teachers dare complain about families taking pupils out for term time holidays. Or about workload. Or pay. Or, indeed, about anything. But it always comes back to the holidays.

And since teachers get 11 weeks holiday (plus the bank holidays), it is difficult to challenge the view that it is a valuable perk.

So why does it bug me when we are attacked for our lazyness? Because of the belief that worth can be measured in hours and the explicit assumption that long holidays equates with less work than other workers. And, generally, this is not true.

Government workload research regularly finds teacher hours around 50 hours per week term-time, which amounts to around 2000 hours per year, not including work done during the holidays (and this is verified by independent studies, such as from PWC). This compares to the figure for 'all professionals' of 39 hours which, taking 44 weeks worked (6 weeks holiday plus public holidays), comes to 1700 hours. Or, to put it another way, the average prefessional would need to work for 50 weeks of 39 hours to match the 39 weeks of 50 hours for the average teacher.

So, as they say, do the math.

Edited 19 May 2010

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MaST Programme Not Good Enough

In 2006, only two hundred out of ten thousand trainee primary teachers had technical, numerate (STEM) degrees, and this number was half the figure from 2004. It is clear that teacher subject knowledge is a key factor in the success of pupils (e.g. here), but it is also plain that specialists are very rare: out over a hundred Initial Teacher Training courses, nearly half offer an emphasis on a modern foreign language, one offers mathematics and none science.

The Williams Review into primary school Maths teaching recommended in 2008 that much of the current malaise in maths education could be solved if every primary school had at least one teacher with a 'deep understanding' of mathematics, so we ought be pleased that the government has announced a program to provide maths 'specialists'.

But, as with many government solutions, the Maths Specialist Teachers Programme (MaST) is more about appearances than solving the shortage of expertise. In service teachers are to be given three autumn-term days of training at a university, two weekend residential and twelve half-days of in-school support over two years, after which they will be described as Maths Specialist teachers.

I don't know how long it would take to turn a primary school teacher, with perhaps a Fine Arts or English Literature degree, into an expert Maths teacher, but I'm sure it's more than the ten days offered in the MaST program.

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A Law Professor, Research and Feminist Rhetoric

I have spent some years arguing from a position of ignorance and opinion that feminism is founded less on a desire for equal opportunities than it is on seeking extra rights for women over men, whom they despise. Having just sat through an inaugural professorial lecture by an academic lawyer, who specialises in European law with a focus on feminism and the Strasbourg European Court of Human Rights, I am more convinced that is true.

I attended with an expectation that a legal academic with a taste for evidence and rational, unbiased judgement would present a much more attractive face of feminism than I see in the papers, with images in my head of CND campaigners and Harriet Harman foaming at the mouth at the unfairness of it all. But I was wrong.

The professor did not, to her credit, talk at all like Harriet Harman, nor look like a shapeless 'Nukes Out' Greenham Common camper. She was well spoken and lucid as she presented her research, but the research was not what I expected from academics at a good university. I had, in my naïveté, assumed that most research was similar to the physics papers I read, suffused as they are with original data, error margins, logical deductions, principles and proposals for falsification.


The reality was that the research was a survey and tabulation of just over a hundred cases heard by the European Court. Not the sample size of a thousand favoured by pollsters, despite figures reported to a tenth of a percent. There was no study of failed cases. No statistical analysis of the data to find significant differences. Just cases divided up into groups based on the sexual identity of the claimants and the type of right allegedly infringed.

Everything is a Feminist Issue

The main approach taken was to recast every rights claim as a sex discrimination case if a woman was involved. So, a woman as a single parent traveller, fighting a planning decision preventing her from setting up home in a green belt, should has claimed sex discrimination. (Why? Would a man have been treated differently?) A student at a Turkish university wanted to be able to express her religious identity by wearing an Islamic headscarf should have framed the claim 'as a female autonomy case' instead of a religious freedom one. Domestic and sexual violence, since they were 'female-specific harms', should require the state to intervene pro-actively to prevent breaches of the Act. This last point prompted a (male) member of the audience to query whether these were really female specific harms (and, by implication, whether framing all infringements affecting women should be twisted into gender issues). This drew sneering, eye-rolling and "for goodness sake" responses from others - how dare a MAN critique a feminist argument!

But the point was a good one. Equality for women under the law is a good thing, and pretty much achieved already. But to grant half the population additional rights, simply on the basis of their gender, is not equality. It is a single issue group advancing the political cause of those under the feminist umbrella at the expense of those outside. And that is not good.

Trying to be Right

Is this a case of lawyers trying to win an argument instead of trying to be right? The professorial lecture the following week was by a female science education researcher, who spent her time showing evidence (real research!) that girls' and boys' brains (minds?) are objectively different, and it is possible to teach them in such a way that far fewer girls will be put off studying physics and maths. No sneers here, just questions about the implications of the data. The lady was a self identified feminist, but instead of trying to bias the legal system, she had set to to find the causes of and solutions to the problems she has identified.

OK, so the social sciences have an unhealthy regard for weak correlations and use limited experimental procedures, but they seem to stand head and shoulders over the legal-eagles.

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Ed Balls Shocked by My Question

Ed Balls shocked by Glen's questionSince the Schools Secretary has failed to answer any questions I've addressed to him in posts, I submitted a question to Sarah Ebner's blog over at the Times. She had managed to get Balls to join a live Q&A session and had asked for questions to ask his. Needless to say, the slimy minister read all the questions and proceeded to answer the ones he had prepared earlier, in true Blue Peter style.

The full discussion is here , with my question down at times 14.02 to 14.05. The accompanying photo, captioned http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/live_debate/article7012253.ece is reproduced here — does he look shocked at the quality of the question?

The edited sequence goes like this:
14.02 Sarah Ebner:
This is another point which comes up often on the blog. Glen asks: why persist with judgements of schools based on raw percentages of students achieving 5 grade C GCSEs? It penalises schools serving deprived areas - schools which need a hand up, not a kicking. It also pressurises schools to focus on grade D students, and encourages entries into easier ICT online courses and such like.

14.05 Ed Balls:
Sarah, you are completely right and so is Glen, as parents we all have to look at the current league table and try to work out what they really mean on the basis of what we know about the school itself, the catchment area etc. And league tables can sometimes suggest schools are 'high achieving' when they actually do a poor job at raising standards and supporting progression. Our new Report Card is designed to give parents much more information - about raw results but also whether all children make progress, discipline, parent satisfaction etc. I think it will be much fairer and more informative - it will be in all schools over the next 2 years.
So, I had asked him about the huge pressure that the government and Ofsted puts, often unfairly, on schools in difficult circumstances, distorting their priorities, and he answers an imaginary question about league tables!

OK, he did that to all of the questions, but then why did he bother to travel to the Times offices, just to act as if he were in the House of Commons (not) answering questions put to him there?

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Election Poll News: No Change Really

Looking through last week's papers (our paper delivery boy made it through all the snow disruption last month, but seems to have forgotten today now the weather's fine and the sky is blue) I found a story I had missed.

The small front page story started with
“Gordon Brown has insisted Labour could still win the general election outright as another poll showed the Tory lead narrowing.

Research by ICM for the Sunday Telegraph put David Cameron's party down one point since last month on 39%.”
I know it might indicate something about my personality type, but the story irritated me. Down one point, with a sample size of a measly thousand?

Now, results of course vary from sample to sample in a predictably random way, which puts a limit on the reliability of any judgements made from the data from just one sample. But how much? Trust the data to within 0.1%? Or 10%?

Here's the maths bit — skip to the next paragraph if it's not your thing.

If the poll results over time can be represented approximated by a Poisson distribution (a reasonable assumption), then the variance of the number of people preferring one party is equal to the mean number of people choosing that category. For opinion polls, we don't know this mean, but it is close to the reported figure, i.e 39% of 1002 in the sample. With this variance, we can be about 95% sure that the true mean number of people in repeated samples choosing Tory would be 390 (40%) plus or minus twice the square root of the variance (about 40 votes, or 4%).

And the result is:

So the real result is "The Conservatives polled between 35% and 43%, which is consistent with no change at all." OK, not a good headline, but even newspapers have an obligation to at least try to be right. I'm sure papers used to put this sort of information at the foot or the article (where hardly anyone would see it), even if the article writer ignored such a basic check. But to have every outlet from newspaper to the TV news run a similar story is laziness.

Every newsroom must have someone with enough maths skill to do this right, haven't they?

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Mass Produced Target Grades

Sixth form students will by now have dragged themselves through the January exam series. They can relax until scores are released in March, when most will be judged according to their college 'target grades'. And it is likely to be a miserable experience for most.

I used to talk to my students and get to know their individual strengths and weaknesses. I would encourage those who I perceived were studying hard, and chide those who were just attending class without the necessary intellectual engagement. Reports to parents and managers were based on my professional opinion of each child. But not any more.

Teachers still get to know each of their charges, but their professional judgements are now routinely tempered by the knowledge that performance against their grade target trumps all other information.

Value Added

Target grades are now the ubiquitous tool of comparative assessment in schools: Key Stage 3 results are used to predict GCSE grades, while GCSE grade averages are used to compute the most likely grade a student might achieve at A Level. This is a very good process for working out if the school is doing a good job, since if a year group cohort gains a mean score above the mean predicted grade, then the group has learned more than could reasonable been expected. The school thus has recorded some value added, in the language of education.

Using the same data for individual teachers is only likely to be reliable over a period of several years, since the sample sizes from individual classes are much smaller, leading to more variation from year to year.

Blinded by Numbers

The big problem stems from applying these statistics to individual students. It is very easy to calculate an expected grade from a single child's previous achievement, but with a sample size of just one, the precision is poor. The reliability stemming from a cohort in the hundreds is lost, and the prediction is routinely in error by a whole grade or so. (See my post Physics Exams Too Easy, Says Ofqual

Now, this would not be a problem if these figures were just another piece of the puzzle to be understood by the teacher, but OFSTED, the government overlord of teaching standards, thinks students should know these rough predictions, and be challenged to achieve them. And leaned on if they don't come up to scratch.

Once upon a time, I got to know my own students, and made judgements as to their individual abilities and potentials, and assessed their effort accordingly. Not perfect, but at least both teacher and student were in the loop.

Forget the Child – Press the Button and Set That Target

Now, each student is given a grade to achieve by the end of a two year course, during which they will mature and develop. If they are very lucky, they will get several target grades which take into account the historical difficulties of each subject they are studying. If not, as is happening more commonly now, they will get a single grade to span the range from Photography and Media to Chemistry and Maths. And to make the target aspirational, a grade will be added to ensure that only a quarter of students will be able to meet their targets, with poor reports and disciplinary procedures for those souls unlucky enough to keep missing impossible targets.

  • Simple and cheap to operate.
  • Keeps OFSTED happy.

  • No educational merit.
  • Can turn keen students into serial target-missers.

An open and shut case for school managers. Shame about the children.

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Government Buries 'Good' News

Even though the new Academies have done so well in last summer's exam period, the government can still not bring themselves to publish usable comparative data to prove the case.

The recent publication of the GCSE and Equivalent Results in England was accompanied by a government press release which declared:
“Even more encouraging is the clear fact that children who have faced the most challenging circumstances over the past 12 years have not been cast adrift and left at the bottom, but thanks to the Academies, National Challenge and City Challenge programmes have actually seen a more rapid improvement in results than those in the least deprived areas.”


The biggest concern with the steady and dramatic increases in the figures, after grade inflation, is the widespread tactic of entering weaker pupils for the laughably easy vocational courses that have 'GCSE equivalence'. For example, half of all schools enter almost everyone into the vocational ICT course instead of the more challenging GCSE ICT, as it can be completed in one year and can be worth anything up to four GCSEs at grade C or above. The Telegraph reports:
A report last year by Ofsted, the education watchdog, found that qualifications such as the one run by OCR were “less demanding” than other mainstream exams. It said pupils were able to pass “whether or not they had understood what they had done”.
It is true that the number of students nationally that gain 5 A*-C grades is only 3% less if you exclude the 'equivalent', vocational courses, but there are categories of schools which have a lot to lose if their pass rated don't improve sharply.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker's press-release said that the new Academies A*-C grades had increased at double the national rate, so I looked at the accompanying data.

Sneaky Tricks

The data looks comprehensive, and even breaks down results for different types of school and with/without the vocational courses. The time series do indeed show Academies improving faster then any other major category of schools, but the figures for the Academies without the vocational courses are missing!

Vernon's minions emphasised the Academy raw percentage increases, but rolled their key data in with that for comprehensive schools, making it impossible to see what effect the dash for vocational courses has had.

Since it is just these schools that are most desperate to bump up their figures quickly to avoid the Wrath of Balls, it is very suspicious that the data, which was released with some fanfare, should have been airbrushed like this. What is the government afraid of? Given the obsession of the government with media manipulation, one can only assume that Academies have achieved their politically essential successes through a choice of courses that benefited the school more than their unfortunate pupils.

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