Sunday, 10 May 2015

If We're Supposed To, Why The Hell Aren't You?

As a teacher, I know it is my duty - as well as my pleasure and my destiny -  to move EVERY CHILD who ever crosses my path, let alone sits in my classroom, up to a C grade at GCSE.   This holy grail  is a constantly moving target which (in the subject I teach, English) now has remarkably little similarity to what it was when I took the O level, what it was in the generation who first took the GCSE after that, or the one after that, or what it will be in five or ten years' time.  Whether a qualification so widely varied in its requirements is truly a gold standard, I leave it to my readers to decide for themselves.  The frequent changes certainly serve the purpose of keeping both teachers and students in a ferment of confusion and hopelessness, which may be its very aim, or just a lucky by-product; again, I leave it to my readers.

But what the exam is designed to do, clearly, is to create hierarchy.  If the standard is the same, and the teachers know it, they can teach to it.  This is highly likely to lead to "grade inflation" because if you can teach something and do so, outcomes improve.  If the standard is obscure and constantly changed, it cannot be taught for, and will thus by default favour those who are - well, socially advantaged by having native English speaking parents with big vocabularies.  Socially advantaged by being sent to schools who don't teach any children with learning difficulties or a disproportionate number of other special (social) needs.  The children of people like our governing elite.  Education must fail to close that gap, or how will the governing elite justify - or indeed maintain - its advantages, particularly while pretending we live in a meritocracy.

Meanwhile, teachers are supposed to "prove" they are worthwhile by ensuring every student exceeds the average result, because the performance of the mathematically impossible is the only proof anyone should ever accept that they are adequate.

Interestingly, teachers have accepted this narrative as a condition of their jobs (whether or not they believe it in private) and lo, they spend a huge amount of time and energy and resources on "coaching" (or cramming, or intervening, or whatever you wish it called) Year 11 in a headache inducing frenzy around this time of year.  This involves using and applying endless reams of data to calculate which students might conceivably gain a C grade and breaking down their individual strengths and weaknesses in each part of the exam and coaching them into it.  A treadmill of past papers, analysis of answers, modelling and re-doing and re-marking.  History, of course, does not provide negative proof, but I am personally a little wary of believing that kids who were never going to get a C grade increased at the last minute after eleven years of not having the potential.  Into such dark and hideous paths does the accepting of the narrative lead us, however.

Accepting the narrative was also a key part of the election.  Many and various have been the economists who have spoken out against the Austerity Will Solve Everything narrative; not the Labour party, however.  

They also rejected the horrible truth that to get an MP elected a decent candidate helps.  The harsh truth is that Jacob Rees Mogg writes long chatty letters to my Dad when he complains about every condition of the human lot, because he is his MP., and on one occasion caused the tax office to call my Dad after a particularly annoying refusal on their part to answer the telephone.  Dawn Primarolo never responded in a human way to any of my requests or lobbies over the many many years she held the position of my MP, because she was a shockingly lazy one.  

Also not present was the belief that they should, like the tragic teachers, Crunch The Data.  Labour lost marginal seats by mere hundreds of votes - seats it should have been making sure of by asking the local questions, when the last majority was equally small.  And failing that, it should look to what highly successful schools have been doing to alter their achievement profiles over the last decade - the sweep of kids who are removed from the roll over the year before the GCSEs, one way or another.  They are small numbers, but - as we are all supposed to know - every voter counts.

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