Thursday, August 27th Do today’s GCSE results, which show another improvement to a new record, amount to testimony that our students and teachers are working harder than ever before and that education standards are rising, or that the papers are getting easier? It is the routine question at this time of year. And the honest answer is that there is no answer. The statistics, the principal means by which the Government is supposedly being held to account for its education performance, provide no good way of answering the question as to whether underlying standards of teaching and learning are rising or falling. Put together withRead More →

Tuesday, August 25th. A report on mathematics teaching in secondary schools offers some further disturbing insights into how the push for better reported grades for schools (and their pupils) can come at the expense of building genuine understanding of a subject. The “Evaluating Mathematics Pathways” interim report was carried out for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, to whom it reported in April. It was set up to investigate changes to the qualifications structure in maths. The report says: “One of the most significant challenges to improving learner experiences in mathematics classrooms is the effect of high-stakes external assessment on the experienced curriculum, particularly the ways teachers are compelled toRead More →

Thursday, August 20th, 2009 I’ve just returned from the annual A-level results conference, where the heads of England’s three major exam boards present the yearly grade statistics. For the last three years, much of this has been taken up with an elaborate  and detailed attempt to take some of the heat out of the ritual dumbing down debate. And I have to say that, despite having a great deal of respect for those running the exam boards, I find this exercise in explaining away what are in some cases valid criticisms of the system a tad unconvincing. In what has now become a well-established pattern at theseRead More →

Thursday, August 13th Another defence of high-stakes testing from Conor Ryan, the former education adviser to David Blunkett and Tony Blair, in today’s Independent. The article, though well-drafted as usual, is weak in several ways. Apart from leading in on the one percentage point drop in English results, which as pointed out last week really means nothing, Mr Ryan offers an unconvincing explanation for why the test results are higher than they were in the 1990s, and why the data has shown little such improvement in recent years. He argues: “Around 175,000 more youngsters still reach the expected level each year than did so 14Read More →

I woke this morning to quite a dispiriting discussion on the Today programme. The topic was social mobility, and the presenter, Ed Stourton, was interviewing Lee Elliot Major of the Sutton Trust charity about a report the trust is about to publish. This will show, it was said, how independent school pupils with similar grades to those from the state sector are “far more likely to apply to leading research universities”. So far, fair enough, and I should say at the start that I like Ed Stourton and think the Sutton Trust does good work in highlighting the issue of the dominance of leading universitiesRead More →

  I’m not going to write a huge amount about yesterday’s national results for key stage 2 English, maths and science, (well, actually, it seems I have) but one thought does leap out. A great deal seems to be being made about a one percentage point drop in the results for English. The proportion of pupils reaching the “expected” level four or above edged down, from 81 to 80 per cent. This is the first time the headline English results have fallen since the introduction of the tests in 1995. It  prompted, I am told, a front page story in London’s Evening Standard and a mention near the top of most other articles.Read More →