Wow, Mr Gove! Back to the future!
Published in: Daily Mail
Much excitement over the political implications of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s stunning decision, leaked to the Daily Mail, to scrap the 16+ GCSE exam and bring back in its place the academic O-Level and more vocational CSE.
Maybe so, but what’s really important is the simply stunning impact these proposals – if they and Gove survive -- will have in starting to reverse Britain’s education disaster. Much more than foundation schools, they represent the first major attempt to get to grips with the fundamental driver of educational collapse.
What Gove has understood is that the reason why GCSE has become unfit for purpose is also the reason why education standards in general have disintegrated. This is the doctrine of equality of outcomes, the ‘all must have prizes’ mentality that made GCSE into a one-size-fit-all exam that no-one could fail.
The inevitable result was that not just academically able children but all children were short-changed as standards overall plummeted. Under the rubric of ‘equality’ the lowest common denominator took over and the entire system slid disastrously from top to bottom. Even many of those with university degrees today are inarticulate and innumerate. And those left most high and dry have been those who depend so much upon school to lift them out of ignorance and disadvantage – the poor. All this I charted in my 1996 book All Must Have Prizes.
Today’s uproar is because the doctrine of equality of outcomes is the sacred shibboleth of the left. Anyone who wants to understand Britain’s education disaster only has to listen to the asinine knee-jerk reactions from teachers and Labour and LibDem politicians all baying for Gove’s blood because he wants to raise education standards. Thus the left sets its face against Gove’s determination to give children a good education and positive life prospects – in which cause parents are cheering him on --and instead lines up in defence of lousy education, mass ignorance and entrenched social disadvantage. Well done, comrades!
The farce of worthless public examinations has arisen from the farce that education has become. The education world believes with every fibre of its being that tailoring education differently to meet different pupil aptitudes is to crush the self-esteem of the less academic. The result of that piece of idiocy – which would be laughed out of court in say Germany or Switzerland – is that not only academic children are short-changed but the non-academic who need high quality vocational education.
Britain’s educationists were also zealots for ‘child-centred education’, which held that what a child brought to the classroom was as valuable, if not more so, than anything a teacher could deliver.
Education thus stopped being concerned with the transmission of knowledge. Teachers stopped teaching and turned instead into ‘facilitators’ of pupil learning. The tried and tested structured reading schemes were abandoned because -- horrors! -- some children were faster than others at mastering these, and children were told to guess or memorise words instead, leaving them functionally illiterate. Creativity was fetishised over knowledge. The essay, which taught children how to think, was replaced by stories which allowed them instead to make things up.
Children were thus abandoned to ignorance and unreason. It was an approach whose wickedness was exceeded only by its imbecility.
But it proved the devil’s own job to get the education world to abandon this madness. When in the late 1980s the Thatcher government finally work up to this disaster, their remedy blew up in their faces. They brought in the National Curriculum to force teachers to teach. But since this was itself written by the very educationists who had promoted this rubbish, the result was merely state-imposed rubbish -- including heavy doses of pc propaganda about gender, race and man-made global warming. Telling children what to think soon meant they lost the ability how to think.
Now Gove is saying head-teachers can abandon the National Curriculum. His intention is to revert to the old system of incentives whereby a rigorous public examination system meant teachers had to make sure pupils knew enough to get through.
That shift will be effected by another significant reform –abolishing the market in examination syllabuses for O-level and CSE. Instead only one exam board will set them. This will prevent schools from shopping around for syllabuses which give their pupils most chance of achieving good grades – ie, through dumbed down questions, which in itself has been a major driver of plummeting exam standards.
With these proposals, Gove is attacking the very belly of the beast. My goodness, he’s now going to have a fight on his hands. I just hope the Prime Minister really is behind him.
There is one further thing he needs to do, however, which David Cameron won’t yet allow -- reintroduce academic selection.
Academic selection is a non controversial feature of European education systems where standards are so much higher. One of the cardinal mistakes of Britain’s post-war education policy was to look to America and its comprehensive schools as the model. But in America, education standards are also going through the floor. Britain should have looked instead --on education at least --to Europe.
Back to the fifties? We should be so lucky.