Freedom for the elite

The following is one key point of the Queen's Speech proposals, from the front of today's Telegraph:

Academy schools introduced in England and Wales under plans to free outstanding primaries and secondaries from local authority control.

So the plan appears to be to take those schools for whom the current arrangements are working well and change those arrangements, while those schools for whom the current arrangements are failing are to remain under the current arrangements.

Teach them to learn, not teach

Education, education, education.  I wonder how many blog entries I have started with those three words over the past year?  Incredible as it is to believe, but it was education that was the single biggest issue the Labour government was going to all about way back in 1997.  Shame they have done nothing of any good in this area whatsoever.  It is only recently, however, that people have really started to cotton on to this.  Usually the "exams are getting easier" stories last for about two weeks in August.  These days they just rumble on and on and on.  But what should we really do

Missing the point on investment... again

The education debate has rumbled on longer than usual it seems this year in the aftermath of the annual GCSE/A level dumbing down standards debate.  One of the reasons, I suspect, is that the mass investment from the Labour government is coming home to roost with little to show for itself.  An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report today certainly backs this up.  It states that despite a decade of reforms when education spending nearly doubled, exam results did little better than keep pace between 1996 and 2006.  That is to say while spending on education increased by 83 per cent in ca

Education standards are too low from an early age

Continuing the theme of declining standards in education, government statistics from the Department for Children, Schools and Families reveal that for the second year running writing standards amongst seven year olds had fallen.  They also showed no improvement in areas such as Maths or Science.  Now, what this means it is hard to sure – it does indicated that at least they aren’t lowering the standards to improve the headline figures.  The results have shown, however, that one in five seven year olds is not reaching the minimum requi

Easier exams means bad doctors

The Daily Mash has really hit the nail on the head today. Yesterday I wrote about the incredibly stupid idea of encouraging more people to take up science at GCSE by making the exams easier. Today the Daily Mash reports:

Brain surgery exams are to be made much easier because not enough people are applying to become brain surgeons, the Government has announced.

Educayshon, Educayshon, Educayshon

As the education dumbing down debate continues where one side argues that exams are getting easier while the other suggests that teaching is getting better, it seems that the Joint Council for Qualifications is looking to resolve the debate once and for all. They are going to dumb down science papers. There, no more need to quarrel over the state of our education and examination system - it is crap. Official. The JCQ says that, from next year, exam papers should consist of 70 per cent “low-demand questions”, requiring simpler or multiple-choice answers. These currently make up just 55 per cent of the paper. This is all in the name of getting more kids to take up science - i.e. bribe them with a good grade. What a brilliant way to get the new generation of scientists, hand over top grades to a bunch halfwits.

This comes with the news that in the past five years, the proportion of students gaining a grade D or better in one of the combined science papers has leapt from 39.6 to 46.7 per cent. So now they are official going to get easier, it seems there won't even be a need for a D grade anymore - which is just as well because most of the students taking science probably won't be able to get that far in the alphabet anyway.

Take this example questions from a GCSE paper (from today's Times):

Many people observe the stars using:

A a telescope

B a microscope

C an x ray tube

D a synthesiser

I am not kidding. That is a genuine question from a GCSE paper. It's like some sort of Richard and Judy phone in quiz.

Mickey Mouse degrees

How do you fancy an outdoor adventure with Philosophy?  How about some fashion buying?  Some Aromatherapy and Therapeutic Bodywork?  A bit of lifestyle management?  Not got a clue what I'm on about?  Believe it or not you can do all these things and get a degree at the end of it. The Tax Payers' Alliance and Burning Our Money have identified the most ridiculous "Mickey Mouse" degrees that you can do - all funded by the tax payer.  At £40m a year. 

One in four is an A, but at what cost?

It's that time of year where we mock the students who have worked hard for the past 12 months for being handed A grades on plate.  Gradually over the years, there is more and more truth in the accusations that standards have slipped with the convenient spin for government that education standards are rising.  The problem is, no one believes the spin anymore.  It is being reported today that one in four grades at A level is now an A.  One in four?!  Not only that, but pass rates are now at 96.9%.  A-levels are now no longer a qualification in themselves, but rather another stepping stone

More un-needed "investment"

In another example of the government seemingly having more money to spend than sense, private nurseries are being forced out of business due to an oversupply of places created by state-funded nurseries and day care centres. The Government is opening hundreds of children's centres providing full day care. By 2010 there should be "one in every community".

The great big PFI scam

Private Funding Initiatives (PFIs) - the best way to finance a major project at the same time as keeping the risk away from the taxpayer.  In theory.  The latest example of where the taxpayer always gets shafted in the end is the new build in PFI schools.  In a report today, MPs said that half the Government's £45 billion investment that was financed by PFI was a "risk" which could result in local councils paying over the odds for new schools.  The problem lies in the length of the contracts.  PFIs are usually signed for 30 year periods.  If a school closes before the contract

Education stagflation?

A lot of commentary today on the results of Key Stage 2 tests of 11-year-olds' abilities at the "Three Rs" (Reading, Writing, Maths and Science). As a statistical observation, the problem appears to lie particularly with the Writing part of the "Three Rs". 33% of children did not achieve the standards in Writing (and possibly some of the others too). Only 7% seem to have reached the necessary standard in Writing but failed on one or more of the other elements.

I'd be interested to know to what extent language played a part in this, but the much greater success in reading than in writing suggests it is not just a question of language. Dyslexia ought to have impacts on both reading and writing, and is anyway pretty thoroughly detected and allowed-for nowadays. Is it problems of coordination (hand-to-eye)? Or could it be problems with imagination and application? If the latter, are the quick-fix adrenalin-buzz and hypnotic effects of computer games and TV in some way related? Or is this to make the false assumption that things have got worse? In recent years, results indicate that things have been getting better, but we know to be sceptical about grade-inflation - even the Government has admitted it has been occurring.

Or is it about self-motivation and -discipline? Reading, maths and science are all about responding to questions or performing tasks as instructed. Writing requires you to work out what you want to say and the best way to say it. It is (in the ghastly lingo) more proactive and less reactive than the others. Could we be knocking up against a simple constraint in the range of human natures and abilities, that some people prefer to follow than to lead, and that this may mean that some people are irredeemably poor at expressing themselves?

Whatever the causes, critics ought to remember that they can't have their cake and eat it. It is inconsistent to complain about grade-inflation one day and lack of sufficient improvement the next. For myself, I am more concerned about grade-inflation, so in a perverse way, the fact that there has been little overall improvement this year is reassuring. Unless, that is, we have education stagflation, where falling standards and inflating grades result in apparent stasis masking chronic decline.

A record breaking exam year! (Again)

In just a couple days the nation's sixteen year olds will be receiving news of how they have done in their GCSEs and the following week it will be the turn of A-level students.  It is traditional, therefore, this time of year to tell all the kids it was much harder in my day and they are, effectively, a bunch of numpties who have been given straight As on a plate.  But is that fair?  In part, I'm afraid, it seems it is.  The numpties part is unfair, granted, but the dumbing down, easy to get an A grade bit is not.  From the criticism that flies about, you would get the impression ch

Throwing away money and in the wrong direction

Economists from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have slammed the government’s new grant system to be introduced next year to university students. The reforms are aimed at attracting the poorest students to university by handing out grants worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year - something the IFS has described as a waste of time. They claim that taxpayers' money would be better spent on improving the school results of youngsters from poor homes. They also cited universities as coming out of the deal worse off since they would have to give bursaries to more students.

The arrogance of power

Yesterday bgprior asked, in the comments to my post about scrapping targets, why did this announcement come from Treasury? And well he might, it seems the department it concerns is playing a different tune. Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Children, Schools & Families) has told teachers that national testing and school league tables were here to stay.

29 graduates for every job

I posted the other day criticising the government for setting a target for 50% of school leavers to head on to university. Not only does it dumb down the standards and achievements of the universities, but it simply isn't wanted by business. We are creating a generation of graduates qualified to do absolutely nothing. The Times today reports that there are twenty nine graduates for every degree-level job in the market. Proctor & Gamble claim they have 100 graduate applicants per job.

The slow death of British rationalism

This isn't new or amusing, but it is important. We hear all the time about the lowering of educational standards (JG posted on it only yesterday), but it is rare to find it set out so clearly and chillingly as in an open letter to the AQA exams board and the Department for Education from Wellington Grey, a secondary-school physics teacher. You would have to have little understanding of the importance of scientific rigour to read the examples given of the obfuscation, subjectivization, dumbing-down and politicization of science exam questions and not fear for the future of science and scientific understanding in this country.

The complicity of those institutions, like the Institute of Physics, and quangos, like the QCA, who should be fighting this lowering of standards, is illustrated in the IoP's response to the consultation on the change of the KS4 curriculum that legitimized this sort of pseudo-science in the GCSE curriculum. The IoP agreed or strongly agreed with most of the proposals, disagreeing only with the timing. But then, we know that the scientific academic establishment has been increasingly politicized on pronouncements on issues like Global Warming, so it should be no surprise to find them supporting the education of children in a way that drums these political views into them as accepted science.

Wellington is asking for your help to publicize this terrible trend. Please give him all the support you can.

(Hat-tip to Freebornjohn who spotted Wellington's amusing example of the subjectivization of physics questions.)