Admissions, accountability and uninformed choices – Part 2

This is the second part of a post on a related theme. It’s a personal admission, as opposed to a university one.

I’ve tried to be as positive as possible about Michael Gove, the English Education Minister, but this is gradually coming to an end.

I have previously been pushed to the limits on his highly contested plans for the History programme of study for the National Curriculum and the rushed introduction of a more selective, academic qualification at age 16. Both of these have not come to fruition, thankfully.

My perception is that Mr Gove’s words speak louder than his actions as he plays to a gallery of Conservative admirers. Many of these probably read the Daily Mail, a newspaper whose recent robust stance on a ‘political’ issue he admires.

The final straw for me is the announcement by the Secretary of State for Education made last Sunday. This was on immediate changes to accountability rules on GCSE examinations usually sat at age 16, to prevent them from being taken too early by students. The original drive for this has come from bodies like the maths education committee ACME, which has valid concerns about the dangers of students being accelerated too early in that key subject.

However Mr Gove’s response, that from hence forward only the grade of a student’s first GCSE attempt in a subject counts in their school’s performance rating, is being applied across a swathe of subjects with little regard for the individual circumstances of students already committed to their GCSEs or the ratcheted pressures of existing accountability measures on schools and colleges – all before he has shared publicly the outcomes of a large and complex consultation exercise on changing these very accountability measures. This strong statement yesterday from a respected Headteachers’ union and professional association hits the nail on the head. UPDATE: Ofqual, the English qualifications and examinations regulator, has responded to an ASCL/NAHT letter to parents connected to the ‘strong statement’, pointing out some inaccuracies – I’m not sure how this really helps. More usefully, Keven Bartle, a teacher, has blogged about why he thinks the SoS’s decision may have been inevitable because of changes to GCSE English Speaking and Learning assessment.

Some compare Michael Gove to a potential Margaret Thatcher, who moved from being Education Minister to Party Leader at a similar age. The Iron Lady was made of a much stronger metal, with an evidence-informed background as a scientist, like Angela Merkel, another female leader who had to fight her way through a male-dominated field.

Of course Mr Gove should be credited for implementing some successful policies – controlling grade inflation might be one, promoting the role of high quality, subject specialist teaching in schools another – I feel the jury is still out on the impact of new-style Academies and Free Schools.

However, I fear any positives may be overshadowed by some of the uninformed choices of delivery method the Education Minister is using for his policies. Teacher training and careers advice are two other areas, apart from the GCSE decision, where potential damage may already be happening in the English education system.

It can only be hoped that Mr Gove’s Coalition partners are fully aware of this and take appropriate action.