#500words from Michael Gove on #purposed

I’m sure my readers, if there are any, are familiar with the fantastic 500words project running to get people thinking about the purpose of education. I wrote my own contribution a while back, but today – because of all the fuss of the last few days about #govelevels – I wanted to write one from another point of view.

Obviously this is a parody, and I intend to write something more constructive over the weekend. If you’ve not already seen it, I recommend @xtophercook‘s excellent and prompt post. In the mean time, I hope this makes you smile. Or snarl. Or something.

#500words from Michael Gove

I dream of a Britain in which bright students are challenged with world-class exams. I want to live in a country where teachers prepare these pupils in quiet classrooms, and so do the people of this country. I want our teachers to learn from the best of the private sector, and from countries like Finland and Singapore. Learn the bits about recruiting the highest achievers, of course, not about taking responsibility back from the state or abolishing inspections.

I want our pupils to achieve the very best that they are capable of, according to a single assessment at age thirteen. The purpose of education is to prepare students for the real world, a world in which an offhand judgement at a young age cannot be appealed or changed. I want clearly able students, making up the top three-quarters of the population, being tested on their memory and ability to parrot back their notes. Or maybe the top two-thirds. Because the purpose of education is surely to encourage competition and excellence, and we don’t want too many doing the useful exams. These gold standard exams will be a familiar sight for those of us who studied at the best schools, due to ability, hard work or having parents who sent us there. That such students then receive a one-sided view of education is in no way a disadvantage, as they can then make judgements without being bothered by facts. These young people, who will disproportionately live in the South and come from higher income families, will learn a great many facts. This is clearly what schools are for, although equally clearly the facts in question must be chosen by politicians, as teachers can’t be trusted to think for themselves. Furthermore, it is obvious that these facts should be about classics of English Literature, classical music and obscure dead languages.

For the remaining pupils, we expect a different outcome, suited to their lower abilities. By choosing their future path early on, there will be more time to prepare them appropriately. Their education must focus on relevant skills, because they will have no chance to continue to A-levels or university. Unlike the old ‘foundation tier’, part of the failed GCSE experiment, there is no danger that they will work hard and achieve a C grade, or even a B. We don’t want to encourage that sort of attitude – far better that they are clearly told, by politicians and teachers, that they need have no aspirations beyond menial jobs and being denied state support. Education is about preparation for life, and far better that these students are labelled with an exam so that no matter how hard they work, it is clear that they were second-class students from an early age. Giving people chances to improve themselves is rarely successful, and encouraging achievement for all is only useful as long as we don’t actually help them succeed.

So this is the purpose of education – to celebrate those who are the best at what I think is important.


11 thoughts on “#500words from Michael Gove on #purposed”

  1. As a parent with 2 children currently at GCSE level, I sympathise with these views and am fed up with teacher bashing and ever changing exams and structures. I live in Wales so Gove’s views don’t have a direct effect but obviously do have knock on effects. Changes do need to be made to the current system. I feel that children are already put in to sets in a similar way to the old CSEs by having Higher and Foundation tiers. Some of these children may raise their game and achieve a C grade, but I feel the system fails the children who could raise their game and achieve B grades. For many exams at Foundation tier the B grade is no longer an option. Until the emphasis on league tables and banding is no longer dependent on A-C grades, many children will be still be achieving a ‘safe’ C grade rather than having the chance of doing that little bit better.

    1. Shirley, thanks for the comment. I would never dispute that changes may be necessary, but as both a teacher and parent I would prefer them to be evidence-based. Getting a B grade at Foundation tier is indeed challenging, but if I expected a child to achieve this I would be entering them for Higher anyway. As for how grades are used for 16+ courses, this is a result of the grade value rather than a cause.

      1. Ian thanks for your reply. Don’t get me wrong I am not in favour of a return to O levels and CSEs but feel that many are not seeing that there is a division between pupils in the current system. My daughter has been told that it is no longer possible to get a B in Science at Foundation tier, the system has changed apparently. She is pushing herself to do better as she feels she can and also feels that a course that only gives her the chance of a C grade no matter how hard she works is a little demotivating. I think that the present system that is a mix of evidence and memory based learning is a good one but there are still glitches 😦

      2. Shirley, I start to see the situation you and your daughter are in. I’m sure the teachers are thinking of her best interests, and if a weaker student enters the Higher tier there is a real possibility of not achieving the grade they are capable of. This page from ofqual http://www.ofqual.gov.uk/help-and-support/94-articles/907 also shows that in science particularly getting higher grades is harder than it was.

        If I can advertise, your daughter may find some of the study ideas on my partner site, http://studenttoolkit.co.uk useful while she continues with her GCSE exams.

    1. Mary, thanks for the link and comment – and the compliment! I must have been channeling the secretary for state (a frightening thought indeed) as I’m not normally so eloquent. A more serious post discussing strengths and weaknesses of his ideas will appear some time this weekend. Hopefully.

  2. Hi Shirley students can get grades A* to D on higher papers but the style of questions is different. In my experience students who achieve a secure C on a foundation paper most often achieve a D or E grade on a higher paper

  3. I’m glad Gove has confirmed that moving out of the English education system is the right thing for our family, both the adults (teachers) and the children.
    How nice it would have been to actual teach more than one cohort the new GCSEs before changing to linear exams, then maybe seeing how that worked before changing the system again.

  4. IMHO the move to ‘O’ levels will never take place: its is backward looking, divisive and disruptive. But Gove’s move to stop the dumbing down of GCSE’s by Exam Boards competing to make the easiest exams might just happen. Just because he is objectionable doesn’t mean everything he does is wrong.

    1. Michael, thanks for the comment. I agree, some of his ideas are better than others – something I have tweeted several times, on the basis that criticism is undermined if we don’t recognise the positives.

      I have two main concerns. One is that due to his lack of knowledge, and apparent refusal to pay attention to those who do know what they’re talking about (see http://www.bera.ac.uk for examples), he can’t tell the difference between good and bad ideas. The second is that even his good ideas, such as a terminal exam, will cause disruption and difficulties for students and teachers. The implementation is weak, for example four new GCSE science specifications in four years.

      I plan to blog about his ideas, both good and bad, over the next few days.

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