Has Michael Gove done anything worth praising?

I take this serious idea from a blog on the Daily Telegraph site. Has he done anything really worth praising? Are his ideas sound and worthy of praise? Or are they idelogically flawed? Lets take the changes made by or soon to be made by the Education Secretary one by one.

Free schools.

Introduced with the idea of creating parental choice, we must first ask ourselves what is the level of cost associated with this idea? Toby Young the advocate of free schools wrote that the DfE was going to spend another £600m of free schools. At the same time, the NUT is finding that free schools are not serving everyone, only those parents that we can easily classify as “middle-class”.

More worrisome is that free schools are free from the National Curriculum, which the Education Secretary is determined to remove in Secondaries anyway (more on this later), meaning that Religious ideology can be the mainstay of a free school education.

Academies.

Introduced under Labour, these have been the biggest reason for the issues that are now spiralling out of control in education. Taken out of LEA control and influence, many academies removed pupils from academic courses purely to boost examination results. Pupils were placed on courses that gained them the “equivalent” to up to 4 GCSEs, yet were seen as having little or no value by employers.

When league tables were amended to state that pupils having 5 GCSEs grade A* to C including English and Maths, these schools were initially found wanting, then amended their curriculums to increase the time spent on teaching these core subjects to the detriment of a more rounded curriculum.

Have academies increased outcomes beyond those schools that were still under LEA control? Not as far as the statistics would suggest. In fact, when the EBacc reporting was added to league tables, some academies were the lowest performers.

It is easy to argue that academies have decreased choice for pupils, not improved it. Increasing the numbers of academies only further decreases choice.

The Reformation of GCSEs.

The initial proposals for reforming GCSEs looked ambitious and purposeful. There was the thorny issue of a two-tier examination system to be resolved, but the amendments to those intial plans seeked ways to overcome this. They argued that the present GCSE was already a two-tier system, having Foundation and Higher levels for most subjects; which is quite right, they do.

What is not so apparent is how these new qualifications are going to be an examination to stretch the brightest, yet be accessible for all. Will certain subjects that are most easily determined by types of learning outcomes, such as Maths and Science, where they are best suited to examining skills use to answer problems or explain systems. It is far harder to examine and grade these subjects through developed skills in answering the same problem, than it is for Geography or History. So, do we create a totally diferent style of examination for these subjects, or have swathes of questions that don’t test the most able and are only there to fulfil quotas?

As the Education Secretary appears to see these examinations as a return to O level style exams, we could expect the latter, rather than a new style of examinations. The only alternative would be that large numbers of pupils never attempt or expect to pass theses exams and that is a far worse position than we currently find ourselves in.

The New National Curriculum.

Again, this was an ambitious endeavour that looked promising in its scope. At a time when SATs results had plateaued, it seemed a far idea to find a new stimulus for improvement, but then this year’s results arrived and there has been considerable improvement. Is a new NC required at all? Or doesn’t Michael Gove and his colleagues trust the KS2 SATs results and eyye them with mistrust in much the same way that secondary teachers do?

Then there is the new phonics test. I think I’d have failed, unless primed to not question non-words. I was a good reader and like anecdotal evidence suggests, would have questioned certain words as either spelt wrongly or possibly I’d have asked what they mean. Such testing suggests that educationalists advising Mr.Gove don’t trust teachers to teach reading skills, even though test results at KS2 would suggest the opposite! Yes, it is a scandal that 15% of pupils don’t reach the expected level, but this would be improved by careful intervention methods and indentification of causal reasons, rather than a blunt instrument like phonics testing.

By all means strengthen the NC for primary schools, but is a complete overhaul required?

In Summary.

To me, these are the four main areas that Michael Gove has endeavoured to change. Many have had the right intentions, but appear rushed or just plain pandering to the “chattering middle-classes”, i.e. Free Schools. Grade inflation at GCSE has been excepted by politicans of all parties, so here was a real opportunity for creating a cross-party system of new examinations.

At the moment, his policies appear too rushed and poorly conceived. His denigration of teachers and appointment of Michael Wilshaw at Ofsted appear as nothing more than an attack on those than are most required to implement these changes.

It is impossible not to find that Michael Gove is failing in his duties towards our children.

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