Do teachers or exams improve education most?

There were two pieces of news today linked to educational standards in England.

The real gold standard?

The real gold standard?

The first was an evidence session with the House of Commons Education Select Committee by the Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, responsible for monitoring and to some extent improving poor performing schools in England. The second was a High Court judgement about the role of the qualifications regulator Ofqual, and awarding organisations, in the GCSE English exam ‘fiasco’.

Sir Michael has been criticised by teachers organisations in England for not being sympathetic to what is a very demanding job. While he comes across as a bulldog character, I have to say that he made clear in today’s session that he greatly admires good teachers and good leaders of teachers. I believe him.

As importantly, he recognises that in order to ensure continuous improvement within English schools and colleges a range of different strategies need to take  place at regional and local levels. This is to my mind a much broader outlook than that of the English Education Minister, Michael Gove.

For example, Sir Michael repeatedly said that he saw local authorities playing a part in helping Ofsted to improve standards in all parts of the system, including within academy chains.

The other Michael tends to avoid this area.

By contrast, the judgement in favour of Ofqual was a bit of a let down. It went on about the legal reasons why the qualifications regulator had properly carried out its role monitoring grading of GCSE English examinations, taken by many 1000s of teenagers last year in England. It reiterated the point made by Ofqual that teachers had been ‘lenient’ in the marking of classroom-based tasks. No comments about the pressures placed on teachers by the regulator failing to anticipate that this might happen within a new system of controlled assessment, and with the current accountability measures in place (now to be revised).

What was not mentioned today was that a senior AQA official referred to in the judgement (Michelle Meadows) undertook a review of the reliability of exams in 2005. It produced the following strong statement:

“The literature reviewed has made clear the inherent unreliability associated with assessment in general, and associated with marking in particular.”

Given a choice between the two approaches, I will always go for the one which fully acknowledges the role of teachers in improving educational outcomes.

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  1. Pingback: The buck stopped somewhere over there … | behrfacts

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