When does doing your best become cheating?

In the recent January Maths GCSE exams foundation pupils had to get 17 more marks out of 200 than they did last Summer to a get a grade ‘C’. So if they apply for a college place in a few years time and their next door neighbour, 18 months older with exactly the same Maths ability, is also applying it is likely the elder boy will get the place as this year’s student will have a lower GCSE grade. This whole situation was better explained that I could manage by William Stewart in the TES this week

Yet at the same time the schools are under ever increasing pressure to get more of their pupils the magic 5 A* – C (Including English and Maths). It is like the government is both turning up the heat and pushing down on the saucepan lid at the same time. I mean, we may squeeze out some more ‘C’ grades in the short term, but sooner or later the pot will explode. This is not a sustainable situation. Schools have a choice; head teachers have an important decision to make. Do they continue to play the game to curry favour with their overseers? Or do they come clean and take the honest and truthful path by bravely stepping away from the present day preoccupation with data, predicted grades, FFT and headline figures?

I am not a member of SLT and am no longer a governor, so that dilemma is not mine. But I can tell you what it looks like from the classroom. This Year’s Year 11 are already more dead on their feet than I have ever seen, they are more concerned, stressed and pale looking than before – and its only April. They have been entered early to Maths in January. If they get their predicted grades then they stop studying that subject, and if they didnt they can take the exam again.

For English there is another wheeze that the Guardian’s Secret Teacher pointed out. I am not an English teacher, so please read it to get a proper grasp of what is going on. But the short of it is that someone has found out that one exam board syllabus is easier to get a grade ‘C’ at so it is worth entering your ‘D’ grade students into that one.

Now I bet you that if you asked a head teacher in a school that was trying one or other (or possibly even both) of these schemes, then they would tell you that they are only doing the best for themselves. Others might question whether that headline figure of 5 A* – C including English and Maths might have something to do with it. After all with a higher figure, schools will have a better chance of either delaying an OFSTED inspection or getting a higher grade in one. so why wouldn’t you consider it?

One problem with this approach is that it is undermining the importance of other subjects that are not English and Maths. Teachers of these subjects are feeling less valued and presumably pupils are looking at the subjects in the same way.

But that is not my point. I want to know what effect this is all having on these 15 and 16 year olds. If English is so important, what are the A, B, E, F and G students thinking as they see some of their peers getting extra time and help in this key subject? If Maths is so crucial to their futures, why is not worth the whole year group re-taking? Pupils know what is going on, they can see that a GAME IS BEING PLAYED HERE.

And it is being played with them. Secret teacher is right, they are being reduced to statistics. They don’t count as actual people. Teachers have been moaning at Michael Gove for this. But how can schools claim the moral high ground, when the pressures pupils are increasingly under play second fiddle to getting the right set of results for only of their pupils? This isn’t playing fair or clean; it is playing the system.

But worse, if all the pupils know that some are being entered for an exam as it is easier to get a ‘C’ grade in that syllabus, then  how can we hold ourselves and our school up as a paragon of virtue? And what are we telling our young people about how to get on in life? Is success at something so vital that all rules must be bent and loop holes exploited? Is the only way to get on in life to sneak your way to where you want to be? Does doing your best include not getting caught at cheating?

The way it looks to me is that we are educating children to see the world as somewhere where your own success is more vital than how you achieve it, that winning at all costs isn’t such a bad way of living. We are creating a generation of people who wont mind pulling a fast one on someone else to get what they want. It is up to schools, to teachers, to governors and to head teachers to take a moral stance. Otherwise we are not doing our job properly.

Did George Orwell Know Michael Gove?

I might a bit slow on this one. Maybe better read people have already commented on the link between George Orwell and Michael Gove. They both seem to have been greatly affected by going to to a lesser known Public school. The latter though has a more positive view on his experience and now wants to base the new National Curriculum on his education where the former has a less rosy view of his experiences. I have found these words from an essay Orwell wrote in the early 1940s entitled “Such, such were the Joys” It is easily to be found online at a few sites and you can also download a pdf copy of it if you wish. The excerpt I have copied below I took from this site I am not an expert so I hope the wording is all correct.

When I read it I could not but think of the debates I have seen taking place about all the curriculum but history in particular and so I copy it here with no added comment.

 

“Over a period of two or three years the scholarship boys were crammed with learning as cynically as a goose is crammed for Christmas. And with what learning! This business of making a gifted boy’s career depend on a competitive examination, taken when he is only twelve or thirteen is an evil thing at best, but there do appear to be preparatory schools which send scholars to Eton, Winchester, etc. without teaching them to see everything in terms of marks. At St Cyprian’s the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick. Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else. Subjects which lacked examination-value, such as geography, were almost completely neglected, mathematics was also neglected if you were a ‘classical’, science was not taught in any form — indeed it was so despised that even an interest in natural history was discouraged — and even the books you were encouraged to read in your spare time were chosen with one eye on the ‘English paper’. Latin and Greek, the main scholarship subjects, were what counted, but even these were deliberately taught in a flashy, unsound way. We never, for example, read right through even a single book of a Greek or Latin author: we merely read short passages which were picked out because they were the kind of thing likely to be set as an ‘unseen translation’. During the last year or so before we went up for our scholarships, most of our time was spent in simply working our way through the scholarship papers of previous years. Sambo had sheaves of these in his possession, from every one of the major public schools. But the greatest outrage of all was the teaching of history.

There was in those days a piece of nonsense called the Harrow History Prize, an annual competition for which many preparatory schools entered. It was a tradition for St Cyprian’s to win it every year, as well we might, for we had mugged up every paper that had been set since the competition started, and the supply of possible questions was not inexhaustible. They were the kind of stupid question that is answered by rapping out a name of quotation. Who plundered the Begams? Who was beheaded in an open boat? Who caught the Whigs bathing and ran away with their clothes? Almost all our historical teaching ran on this level. History was a series of unrelated, unintelligible but — in some way that was never explained to us — important facts with resounding phrases tied to them. Disraeli brought peace with honour. Clive was astonished at his moderation. Pitt called in the New World to redress the balance of the Old. And the dates, and the mnemonic devices. (Did you know, for example, that the initial letters of ‘A black Negress was my aunt: there’s her house behind the barn’ are also the initial letters of the battles in the Wars of the Roses?) Flip, who ‘took’ the higher forms in history, revelled in this kind of thing. I recall positive orgies of dates, with the keener boys leaping up and down in their places in their eagerness to shout out the right answers, and at the same time not feeling the faintest interest in the meaning of the mysterious events they were naming.

‘1587’

‘Massacre of St Bartholomew!’

‘1707?’

‘Death of Aurangzeeb!’

‘1713?’

‘Treaty of Utrecht!’

‘1773?’

‘Boston Tea Party!’

‘1520?’

‘Oo, Mum, please, Mum—’

‘Please, Mum, please Mum! Let me tell him, Mum!’

‘Well! 1520?’

‘Field of the Cloth of Gold!’

Second Thoughts on Mr Gove’s new Proposed Curriculum… let’s not worry about it

I wrote my first thoughts on the evening Mr. Gove announced his draft changes to the school curriculum. Now I will have another reflection at them……..

The bottom line is that on second thoughts we don’t really need to worry that much. The document clearly says that it is NOT a directive on how to teach, but rather on the content that needs to be covered. In my small area of expertise (mainly Geography and partly History) I can see that this is not a slimmed down list as was promised. What we are being given is a collection of what some rich old white men with broadly traditional, conservative views of their world think pupils should be learning and more importantly what these children should KNOW.

But why should I be concerned about this?

Firstly, like many I now teach in an academy and officially don’t have to follow all these lists.

Secondly, who would actually ever find out if I didn’t teach Glaciation? After all, in 2o years and 5 inspections I have never had a Geography expert either inspect my department of observe one of my lessons.

But most of all the biggest influence on pupils’ Geographical learning is not what the DfE decides up in Westminster, but in how we in our departments choose and plan lesson and activities, in how we individually deliver and adapt these lessons to our own styles and our own classes needs and interests. for example, sustainability is no longer a ‘must cover’ any more in geography; it doesn’t even get a mention in the draft document, whereas previously it was all over NC levels 5, 6, 7, 8 and exceptional performance. Now, as tricky an idea as it often is to my less able pupils, I will continue teaching it because I think it is important to have an idea of how to plan carefully and compassionately for the future.

Additionally, I have just finished reading “Dancing with Architecture” by Phil Beadle. If this book said one thing to me, it is that the how of our teaching is more important than the what. So if I tell pupils at the outset that “all will be able to describe” Russia or the geological time line or whatever, “most will be able to describe in detail and partly explain” and “some will be able to explain fully,  compare and analyse” then sure enough that is what they will happen. We will all go home satisfied, unsurprised and within the fortnight, have forgotten the whole drab and boring hour we spent together in room 47. Mr Gove will be pleased and I will be a day closer to retirement.

However if the department trusts in our own professional “fascination and curiosity” and we encourage our pupils to do the same, then the learning will memorable, relevant and of a high quality, even if OFSTED couldn’t find a way of measuring it. As Phil Beadle also says “Who cares what OFSTED thinks?….a generally outstanding teacher will be sufficiently confident in their own abilities to not bother engaging in any real way with the centralised attempt to define what it is they should be doing.”

Immediate Thoughts on Mr Gove’s new Proposed curriculum

Channel 4 have kindly uploaded to you tube Michael Gove’s  9 minute statement to parliament …..

Michael Gove has not got his way on curriculum change in school, or has he? Okay there will not be a single exam board for each subject (but this step down is only due to being told it wouldn’t pass EU regulations on procurement).

There will be linear exams only and internal assessments and exam aids will only be used in extremis  (2 minutes in)

There will be no more higher and foundation tiers (about 2: 50 minutes ) so i am presuming there will be a one paper only for all approach. However it seems the more able will be able to sit ‘extension papers’. does this mean that AG&T students will be sitting longer and more exams than everyone else? (3:12)

There will be new GCSEs in English, Maths, Science ,History and Geography (called the core academic subjects) ready for teaching in 2015. these will bring about a ‘swift and significant rise in standards equipping young people with the knowledge they need”. This sounds ominously like his idea for a return to O’Levels by the backdoor.

He is going to get rid of the measuring schools by how many pupils get 5 A* – C passes (3:55). This, I must say, I completely agree with.It has always greatly irked me that pupils on the C/D borderline got more assistance from their school than those predicted either higher or lower grades. As Michael Gove says this should now mean that “the achievements of all pupils is now recognised equally.” (5:30). However I await to see how his point score system of “how pupils have progressed from KS2 to KS4” (4:46) actually works. Again, this seems to be EBacc by the back door, as it will include “at least 3 of the 4 EBacc subjects” (4:57) So schools will still be making pupils choose certain subjects as a priority, even if 3 other subjects are now included in this new measure.

The new draft National Curriculum for the 21st century (6:02) is out today. Of course, it is too early to respond to this as a whole. All subjects have been retained, which I know is a relief to those who teach Citizenship as a separate subject in their school. also the idea that the statutory national curriculum should only form part of the whole school curriculum may seem somewhat ironic by history teachers when they see the long chronological list of events and people they have to cover. For a subject that currently has equal weighting with Geography in most schools, they now have 3 times as many pages to describe their curriculum.

He has stripped out any mentions of “how to teach” (7:25), yet has instructed teachers on a core of what to teach in each subject (capital cities in geography for instance).

But if you teach in an academy can you ignore all of these core topics and teach what you want anyway?

Also where are the national curriculum levels?

As a Geography teacher I disagree with the EBacc

So schools are measured on 5 A*-A  including English and Maths and this has turned into the EBacc. One of these five has to be a humanity of either History or Geography, but not RS. This should mean more people choosing Geography GCSE and therefore a higher profile for my subject. You would think I would be delighted.

I am not.

Pupils need a rounded and full education, one they can engage with and want to be a part of; one that excites and helps them grow into useful, thoughtful and caring adults. If you give people a choice based on a 50 year old society full of dates and capital cities, grammar tests and recall, then there will be much less engagement with learning and as a result many more adults in future years with less to offer society. A restrictive curriculum that interests only a minority is a backward step.

Additionally, the prioritising of some subjects over others divides the staff room and creates an unnecessary heirarchy in schools. Most staff begin to realise that because the government doesn’t rate their subject as important as others neither does OFSTED. And if OFSTED values it less, so will headteachers, and if the school cares less for your subject that will seep through to pupils and parents.  So you are left on the fringes.

This is happening to Geography even tough we are within the magical Ebacc ring fence. Pupils are taken out of our lessons for extra maths and English revision classes. They miss content and teaching they rarely care to catch up on. There is no recourse “It is best for the pupil.” we are told. Or even worse, “You should plan for this sort of thing, pupils missing lessons before your exam is no reason why your results arent as good as they should have been. It is your responsibility to overcome this.”

Now if that is occurring to Geography for the benefit of English and Maths, heaven knows what is happening nationally to other more marginalised subjects. I want to be part of a rounded and full education system. I dont want Geography to be king or rather part of the court of ‘Queen EnglishMaths’. there are many pupils for whom my subject does not rate as important or interesting and they should be allowed to choose other subjects that are equally as valued, funded and supported as every other area in the curriculum.

If Headteachers and staff allow our curriculum to be segregated in this way then the quality of education being delivered and received, the teaching and learning in our classrooms will deteriote and morale in the staffroom will fall further. the NAHT and NUT have a joint petition on the matter if you would like to sign it then please go to http://www.ebaccpetition.org.uk

Being a Governor

At the end of this term I shall be standing down as a Governor at a local infant school. For 3 of those years I have been Chair. I have tried to work closely with the Headteacher as a critical friend. I have attended many, many meetings and met with the Head and/or Clerk to the Governors at least once a week and often more. I care wholeheartedly about the education the pupils are receiving. This is the exact reason every member of our governing body volunteered. We do all this in our own time for no financial reward. This is work to improve the education system on a not for profit basis. I like to think that we have played our part in helping to make the school such an outstanding place for the children to learn and all this at no cost at all to the taxpayer.

This week Michael Gove has called us “Local Worthies” after a “badge of honour” with which to pose around the High Street on Saturday and increase their social standing

This is an insult to all the work we all do. Michael Gove is out of order to make such an unfounded rude and nasty statement.

I ask him to completely retract the statement and apologise for his thoughtless and mean comments.