The tale wagging the dog…….how stories drive education policy.

A little bit of craft, driftwood and copper

A little bit of craft, driftwood and copper.

Well it has been a long time since I last set finger to keyboard.  There has been some good news and some bad news on the Design Technology front.  The good news is that following an extraordinary level of comment from a whole host of interested parties, (to many even for Mr Gove to label them all as Marxist pressure groups!),  there has been some sign from the relevant government department that they now accept the inadequacy of the proposed curriculum for Design Technology.  Some nifty work by DATA and others seems to have born fruit and we are now faced with a further review.  It is even possible that the government may take advice from those who have extensive expertise in design education.  Amazing thought, take some advice from those who know a great deal about the subject.  (If you are reading this from outside the UK you may not recognise the heavy sarcasm so I had best point it out. ) 

The bad news is that after announcing the Ebacc, for which there was no exam, no structure and no method of delivering the promised certificates, then changing the revised exams to a number of other names, all of which caused problems, we are now back with GCSE exams but still in the revised format.  The government are going to deliver increased rigour, they assure us.  The most laughable change is that instead of grades A to C we will now have grades 8 to 1, so much better I think you will agree.  Along with this magic new grading system we have the continuing promise of an end to modular exams, and end to coursework and longer written exams.  For an alternative view of this arrangement have a look at:  Suffice it to say for the moment that this will be welcomed by the small proportion of pupils who like and do well in written exams; yes there are some, it’s a question I often ask classes and some are prepared to admit that this style suits them.  Worryingly the number who will admit that they far prefer coursework is much higher.  Now lest anyone should wonder, coursework is far from a soft option.  The quality of the work produced and the thinking that is evidenced in a good piece of coursework is amazing.  The pressure that this puts on pupils is considerable.  Both of these I think are very good things, learning how to handle and manage pressure and deadlines has to be a significant life skill.  Being able to look at something you have achieved and be proud is also a great thing for us to offer our children.

What I find problematic is the seemingly willful ignorance of how people learn and how cognitive activity actually takes place.   I have yet to see any sign that the government are attempting to do anything other than prepare children for a very small range of university courses.  Surely no one can take seriously the dogma that simply by making examinations more difficult we can drive up standards?   Which brings me to another point.  the idea has become commonplace that the current GCSE system is not fit for purpose.  It might be an important question to ask what evidence we have for this assertion, certainly one retired teacher did just that and got a response that you might find surprising.  If you already know the story I am referring to then you will probably still enjoy reading this article;  Gives you a warm, snugly feeling to know that government policy is being driven by good solid academic research rather than just ideology, doesn’t it?  Truth be told the idea that GCSE exams are not fit for purpose comes about because some people have said that it is so.  Guess who?

I suppose that you need something to be wrong so that you can change everything and then claim to have fixed it, if you are a politician that is.  In another example plans to change the scheme of teacher training move on apace.  Increasingly training courses are being moved into schools and out of the hands of those desperate left wing academics who have been brainwashing their charges with their warped ideology for years.  This will naturally result in an improved teacher workforce.  What was that?  Those academics have spent their lives working out how teaching and learning take place and how to pass that on to the next generation of teachers?  Never mind, if we can get all these gullible trainees out of their clutches at least they will be less inclined to strike in protest against government reforms.  Oh wait a bit, the head teachers have just passed a vote of no confidence in government education policy.  Those are the headteachers who will be responsible for the training then, will they?  Never mind, we should make it much easier for ex service personnel to become teachers, even when they don’t have a degree.  After all we have got a lot of them hanging about after all those defence cuts and they will bring a bit of right wing common sense to the profession won’t they?

Well the news is mixed on that front.  I have had the privilege of working with colleagues who have joined the profession from the services and many of them are first rate teachers who love their work and inspire their charges.  I have also worked with some who find the transition too difficult and have never made it through training.  Of course there are overlaps in the skill sets required but there are some quite challenging gaps to overcome as well.   Good teachers come from a huge range of backgrounds, interests and experiences.  One of our current problems is that whatever their previous experience they are coming into a profession which is challenged on every front and not too many people want to live their lives that way.  As increasing numbers of teachers are leaving the profession and the available supply of high quality entrants is in danger of being stifled by the constant barrage of criticism and condemnation from what seems like all sides I wonder just how the government are going to be able to claim success in education.  They will probably just change the grading when they need to.


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