Moving the goalposts
Recently I made a few comments about the good people of our children’s services department; suggesting that they tend to have a disproportionate influence over the council’s budget.
As if to serve some sort of karmic retribution I recently found myself sent to a meeting of my august colleagues from that very department. However, what I encountered there was absolutely fascinating. The reason for this fascination was that my visit to see my hard working colleagues in children’s services coincided with Michael Gove’s latest policy in his education revolution.
Mr Gove has stated many times that he is committed to shaking us out of our educational complacency and his latest tool of choice was what he liked to call the English Baccalaureate, the results of which were published on the morning of my meeting.
The concept of the English Baccalaureate is fairly simple. As the BBC explained:
Schools in England are now being measured according to how many pupils achieve grades A*-C in five core subjects – maths, English, two science qualifications, a foreign language and either history or geography.
The reason this change exorcised my colleagues so much was that many of the schools in our neck of the woods were scoring fairly well in the old league tables which prioritised schools based on the number of students receiving 5 A*-C grades including Maths and English. Under the new system many of these schools which had been improving for years had suddenly found themselves hurtling towards the bottom of the league tables.
For professionals who have spent the past five, ten or fifteen years, working their behinds off to support our local schools to achieve their places on the league table this is obviously a kick in the stomach. I really felt for them.
However, I couldn’t help but think that there was a wider issue here that needed to be addressed.
I’m a big fan of the Benjamin Disraeli quote:
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
But never has this been truer than on the day the EBacc (I love a good shortening) was published for the first time. Staff who had been doing brilliantly were suddenly underperforming and quite possibly vice versa.
So why do we obsess so much about these league tables? If the statistics can be manipulated so easily why do we rely on them?
I have no problem with the policy Michael Gove is pursuing; I’m not an educationalist so am not qualified to comment on whether prioritising a modern language and a humanity subject is a good or a bad thing (although I do worry about those working in cities or other areas with higher proportions of students for whom English is a second language).
And I have no problem with collecting information that will help parents make informed decisions about their children.
However, the thoughtless plonking of this data into league tables does none of us any favours. It’s not the Government’s fault but if, as a nation, we keep putting all our eggs in the basket of ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ then I fear we’ll never learn any better.