Archive for June, 2009


Thursday, June 18th

This is another quick posting to highlight some research, which was covered quite extensively in the press yesterday, about the dangers of teaching to the exam at A-level.

The research was carried out by the think tank Reform, about which I have some reservations, but I highlight it here since it chimes very closely with what other studies have shown in recent years.

The main point of this and other studies is that very tight definition of what is going to be in the mark schemes for A-levels, and the pressures on teachers (and pupils) to improve results on those exams, combine to create what I think is a less than ideal form of education. However much this is pointed out, though, other forces seem to be at play to prevent anyone doing much about it, despite the intentions behind moves such as the introduction of the new A-level A* and the use of more “unstructured” questions in these exams.

For similar concerns, particularly around the problems the exam regime may create for pupils when they get to university (but this system is good for raising A-level results, so it must be OK then), see:

- My posting on a study of A-grade students’ approach to recent exams:

- A report by the Nuffield Review of 14- to-19 education which saw university admissions tutors complaining about students arriving through their doors and expecting to be guided towards answers.

- A PhD thesis by history teacher Barbara Hibbert, who studied students’ progress between studying A-levels in the subject and university life.

Meanwhile, on a not-unrelated subject, a report in last Friday’s TES said league table pressures are pushing pupils away from studying history GCSE.

- Warwick Mansell

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posted on June 18th, 2009

Monday, June 15th.

Well, just a quick posting at the moment to acknowledge the momentous news, from yesterday’s Andrew Marr show, that a Conservative government would scrap Sats.

In its place, pupils would sit tests straight after transferring to secondary school. These would be marked by teachers, subject to external moderation, with the results then used to form league tables ranking each pupil’s primary school.

There are many ways of looking at this proposal. Teachers’ unions appear to be split on it, and there will doubtless be unintended consequences, which need, of course, to be taken seriously.

But I believe the most fundamental shift behind what Mr Gove said concerns his apparent acceptance that test-driven teaching can – and by implication, is – bad for children’s education.

He said: “One of the many concerns that people have is that [the testing regime] completely narrows teaching during the final year of primary school and all the focus is on drilling children just for those tests.”

If you accept that the current system of test-based accountability is bad for children educationally, some sort of fundamental reform becomes inevitable.

I will be writing more on this soon.

If you’r interested, a transcript of Andrew Marr’s interview with Mr Gove is here.

- Warwick Mansell

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posted on June 15th, 2009