Kept Awake By Michael Gove

Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds….

Before you start assuming the very worst, let you remind you all that I have not really slept properly since March 2005; it’s called having 3 young children, all of whom are terrible sleepers.

I explored this topic a few months ago in a blog post called Sleep is for the Weak.

My sleep – always pretty bad – is currently beyond terrible. Child number 3 is teething and waking on average four or five times a night. This is fine if my head is clear, as I’m physically tired enough to drop off almost immediately. But if I have something on my mind then it’s bye bye shut eye.

The other night my broken sleep was made even more torturous by thoughts of Michael Gove. I’m due to go back to the college soon and was thinking long and hard about the impact of the deliberate downgrading of GCSE marks – students who thought they would scrape through with a C have ended up with Ds. This may not sound that important to some people but you need to get 5 A-Cs at GCSE to stay on in sixth form – colleges of further education can be a bit more flexible but even so it throws a major spanner into the works for young people planning what to do next, post 16.

It seems an especially heartless thing to do at a time of major youth unemployment.

So far, so very obvious.

But in the middle of the night, my brain started processing the information in a slightly more intriguing direction -intriguing, if like me, you believe that Gove sees education as something for the elite rather than a universal right.

It reminded me of something I learnt about when I did the PCGE a couple of years ago; something that fascinated me then and something that has allowed me to make sense of Gove’s antics. It is about how you mark exams – it is not as simple as it might appear – and relates to a change in the way that exams were marked that came in with the introduction of GCSE.

GCSE was  introduced in 1988 as part of the Education Act that also brought in the National Curriculum – although Gove dislikes it and has made noises about bringing back O Levels (which I did in 1985 & 1986), GCSE was the baby of the Thatcher Government.

In addition to merging creating a one size fits all exam for 16 year olds, replacing GCE O Level (for the clever kids) and CSE (for the less academic), GCSE also saw the introduction of coursework (a Gove pet hate) and something called criterion based testing.

In the days of O Level – only a certain percentage of students were allowed to get an A; this is known as norm based referencing – ie the grade depends on the standard of the student cohort rather then whether you have done everything you need to complete the task. This is extremely unfair; in a year where students are strong, then it is harder to get top marks; vice versa in a weak year. Criterion based referencing is much fairer and also much more inclusive; the criterion does not change according to the standard of the students and there is the potential for far more students to do well (hence the rising numbers of students achieving top marks until this year).

The 11 plus was norm based and it could also be argued that the fact that exam boards shifted the goalposts for this year’s GCSE students to cut the percentage eligible for top grades, was a return to norm based referencing.

A system that says that only a small number of students are allowed to get top marks is in itself as divisive as the 11 plus which chucked 80 per cent of the population into an educational dustbin. Norm based referencing is by definition elitist, which is why it appeals to Gove.

What interested me most, is that some of the most vociferous critics came from the independent sector; heads of posh schools annoyed that their students would not get the clean sweep of As and A*s needed to get into top universities. It reminded me of the fact that the 11 plus was phased out in the 60s and 70s because the middle classes HATED it when their offspring missed out on their expected places at the grammar school; working class families rarely made a fuss when their kids were sent to a secondary modern.

Obviously, this is only one aspect of Gove’s assault on education, but the idea that only a small number of people deserve to get good marks or even pass exams is all part of his philosophy that education is something for the elites, and more worryingly his chums in big business to cash in on. This article here gives a pretty alarming overview of what Gove is up to.

I fear this won’t be the last time I’ll be kept awake by Michael Gove….

This entry was published on August 29, 2012 at 1:21 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Kept Awake By Michael Gove

  1. Pingback: 10 decidedly odd things about Michael Gove » FOLLOWERS OF THE APOCALYPSE

  2. I suppose one problem is that as children’s careers have started at 14 and as, over the years, they’ve worked harder to get better grades because… well with the end of apprenticeships and any other useful form of on the job vocational learning, the other options to staying in school and trying to get to university… (breathes) it means that more and more students are ending up in the A grade category. In a way the grading system needs to extend upwards to reflect improving standards. If half the student body ends up with an A then it becomes difficult to distinguish between one and another in order to offer higher education places or jobs.
    That said the Tories are quite good at seizing on a real issue and using it as an opening for an ideological solution that has precious little to do with the problem itself and a lot to do with their narrow life experience, blinkered world view and their need to make their own privilege seem somehow deserved.
    And as for Michael Gove, he was a singularly unappealing teenager at university and he seems only to have got older but no wiser. He deserves to be put up against a wall and have the cast of Grange Hill set on him…

  3. Really enjoyed this. The current way the grades are determined seems massively biased and exploited by the exam boards and gov in a back and forth tussle, but as you rightly say norm based grading is also unfair.

    In principle I’m all for norm based grading as it avoids the selection pressure (perceived or real) towards making exams easier over time, but in a reality where getting a C or not can determine your entire life it can be literally life ruining.

    I can’t figure out a solution.

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