I attended a high level seminar yesterday which attempted to tackle the issue of policy makers cherry picking from the world’s education systems to apply the bits they like to theirs.
This relates to the broader case of international league tables associated with PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS global assessments that I’ve blogged about before. As it was the seminar was very helpful in clarifying some of the tricky methodological issues around international comparisons in education. It couldn’t, however, ensure that politicians will actually take heed of these.
On the same day the English Department for Education (DfE) and the qualifications regulator (Ofqual) launched a joint consultation on new, ‘harder’ GCSE examinations to be studied by all 14-16 year olds from September 2015 onwards. The date is interesting as it is four months after the last possible date for a UK General Election. In this case politics and education are very much intertwined. The justification is that we are slipping behind other nations, even though many of them think they are slipping behind us (images of dogs chasing tails come to the fore).
I have rapidly surface-skimmed over the consultation material and below are some bullets from me with initial reactions:
- in general I am happier with the proposed changes at GCSE than some of the proposals we have seen for changes to the 5-14 National Curriculum in England, especially for the younger age groups (History comes to mind). This last still needs to be rectified, as well as clarification on how many schools will actually end up following a national curriculum.
- there will be debates about the various processes involved in preparing, assessing and grading school students in order that those who receive them post16 in sixth forms, colleges, on traineeships/apprenticeships or other vocational/employment destinations, will be assured of the knowledge, understanding and skills these young people have actually acquired so far. This is healthy.
- there will also be debates about the roles of DfE, Ofqual, the Awarding Organisations, examination centres etc in all of this. This will inevitably see different views depending on favourite education funding and ‘supply’ mechanisms and the impact of planned Government spending cuts etc.
- the debates that I still cringe at the most are the ones that take place in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, where politicians on both sides throw deliberately contrary educational assertions at each other often based on the same cherry picked international data. This has become almost childish to my mind, and supports the case for education reform (linked to behavioural issues) in the House of Commons. Enough said.
Now back to the real world.
Qualifications and curricula don’t in themselves improve education systems. They may help bind together equity of provision, where this is required, but what matters is what teachers do .
For this reason I am very supportive of teacher-led initiatives such as Headteachers’ Roundtable, which is re-grasping the thorny issue of a broad and inclusive 14-19 English Baccalaureate, but also looking at other areas of education.
The Prince’s Teaching Institute now has a committee of teachers developing proposals for a ‘college of teaching’, that could help teachers self-identify good practice and associated professional development.
And there is the new ‘ResearchEd’ annual conference on evidence-based education taking place for the first time in September this year in London – it’s open not just to researchers and policy makers, but to teachers and others, including knowledge brokers like myself.