Compare and Contrast

I’d just like to contrast two parts of the speech that Gove made (taken from the online document, not sure how closely he stuck to the script) at the Spectator Conference. I promise, after this I’m sticking to pedagogy for a bit, I’ve had enough of politics.

Michael Gove faced criticism from an unexpected source yesterday; his own speech to the Spectator Conference. In this he condemned those who used ‘alternative’ qualifications to exaggerate claims of performance or improvement, before quoting them himself.

For a decade now we have steered hundreds of thousands of young people towards courses and qualifications which are called vocational even though employers don’t rate them and which have been judged to be equivalent in league tables to one – or sometimes more – GCSEs, even though no-one really imagines they were in any way equivalent.

Adults who wanted to keep their positions, and keep their schools’ league table positions, used these qualifications to inflate their schools’ performance in these tables.

Later on, Gove praised several academies as part of his lead up to launching a funding boost for groups that take on ‘sponsor’ status.

…another Harris school – South Norwood – where 29% of pupils reached that measure [5 GCSEs at A*-C] in its last year as an LEA school; 100% last year.

The figures for 2011 he didn’t mention tell a very interesting story.

  • 75% of students achieved 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths.
  • 2% of students achieved the English Baccalaureate.
  • 46% of students achieved 5 GCSEs if we exclude ‘equivalent’ qualifications.

So if you discount the qualifications which Gove stated are in no way equivalent, his example is rather less impressive than he would like.

I notice that at the quoted school, the ‘average student’ is entered for 6 GCSE subjects, but has a total of 13.9 entries – that’s a lot of equivalents. These figures are from the BBC website, checked where possible at the DfE listing for the school (which interestingly does not list percentage results without equivalents.)

Please let’s be clear, this is not a condemnation, or even a criticism, of a specific school. Many schools have been encouraged – effectively forced – to change their entry patterns in order to boost league table scores, due to political pressure. This has also been seen with the EBacc so Gove can’t blame it on previous governments.

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5 thoughts on “Compare and Contrast”

  1. I think we’ve all had enough of politics (though not you writing about them!).

    I’m astonished that Gove didn’t think that someone would notice this – or perhaps he was handed a set of figures that he didn’t question because they fitted his purpose.

  2. Yes he does like to play with facts and did in his Commons speech yesterday. If that doesn’t work he just ridicules the Opposition (though they all do that in our adversarial political system). My latest post questions the relevance of the whole debate given the tightening recession and the need to prepare all young people for the world of employment, which requires self-confidence and ability to work with others etc.

  3. An interesting take on it, certainly. Claiming 100% achievement in anything will always arouse suspicion, and it was clear that Michael Gove was playing the marionette manipulator with the stats he claimed.

    From what I read and understood, however, his point regarding equivalent qualifications was specific to those that he considers poor equivalents (although just specifying Btecs and Diplomas hardly narrows it down) rather than baccalaureate or robust equivalent VQs. There are many scenarios:

    Learners achieved grade A* – C in just GCSE
    Learners achieved grade A* – C in just robust equivalent VQs
    Learners achieved grade A* – C in a combination of robust VQs and GCSE
    Learners achieved A* – C in a combination of ‘poor’ VQs and GCSE
    Learners achieved A* – C in just poor VQs

    Each of those scenarios offers a very different argument to how accurate, or otherwise, Gove’s statement was.

    As for 75% achieved A* – C in English and Maths, of the remaining 25% we don’t know how many achieved one of English or Maths, and how many achieved neither:

    If a learner achieves A* – C in Maths, History, Science, Spanish and Economics that is still a strong set of qualifications and possibly of particular use to those wanting to work in particular fields. In an area where ESOL is higher than many areas, that scenario is not beyond the realms of possibility. The lack of full grasp of English does not mean the learner is not analytical and can’t excel in science and maths.
    The same could be said with those achieving A* – C in English, History, Geography, Science and Theatre Studies – those with a more creative mind who may struggle more with maths but still have a firm grasp on language and would be considered ‘strong students’.
    Or did those 25% achieve neither English nor Maths?

    Again, each scenario gives Gove’s statement considerably differing levels of credence.

    Anyway, I found your article very interesting and enlightening and will keep my eye out for updates. I now have to go and try to wash away that awful feeling that I’m defending Michael Gove. I’m not. But with the country having no choice but to accept Academies are here to stay, the figures that point to their success or failure should not be manipulated by anyone, no matter what their position. That way we can ensure when they are reviewed, we review how much they actually benefit our children rather than how much they are perceived to benefit them.

    All the best

    1. Thanks for taking the time for such a thoughtful comment – it’s appreciated!

      I take your point that there are better and worse courses to explain the gap between 100% and 46%. I strongly suspect that the school will have used at least some of the less valuable/worthwhile courses. This belief is reinforced by the sheer number of average entries (13.9) and average GCSE entries (6). I haven’t contacted them to ask – I don’t know if that’s unfair? My reasoning is that my article was critizing Gove – a viewpoint that I still feel is entirely justified – rather than the school, which after all is operating within the system that politicians set up.

      Maybe a proper journalist might like to pick this up and see just how much Gove was fudging his figures.

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