A level choas
A level choas

Some of you will just have received your own or your child’s A level results. I hope you had good news. As a retired secondary school teacher, I’m still very interested each year when A level and GCSE results are announced on two Thursdays in August. I remember being in school to congratulate students who had exceeded expectations and commiserate with those who were disappointed. We knew then that the results reflected the student’s ability and diligence (plus perhaps some luck with the ’right’ exam paper.) Those results were NOT the work of an algorithm.

This year I’ve felt very concerned, obviously because of the lack of exams and the variable learning opportunities, but even more because of the Government’s overall ineptitude.

I remember when Michael Gove was Minister for Education, with Dominic Cummings as his right-hand man. They labelled all those within the teaching profession, the department of education and universities who disagreed with them ‘the Blob’, and rolled back many improvements, bringing back rote learning and setting up a continual testing regime, threatening creativity. One professor of education said: ‘His curriculum is a completely archaic “1870s elementary schooling for the poor” curriculum.’

In 2014 they abolished course work, which particularly saddened me and my children: in the 1960s  I had spent hours memorising quotations in French, German and English to back up opinions in my A level exams, whereas my children had spent their time developing excellent researching skills which have been invaluable in their work subsequently.

Well, Cummings and Gove are hyper-powerful now, (Gove is Minister for the Cabinet Office) and the Education Secretary is surely dancing to their tune. The chosen method of dealing with the results dilemma is not easy to understand but has the mark of Cummings all over it, one part of it being dependent on an algorithm. Teachers’ opinions have been downgraded and it seems the reputation of the school outweighs the individual pupil. According to the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), those with a grade C or above were downgraded from teacher estimations by over 10% among children from the most disadvantaged background.

At Grimsby’s Franklin College the Principal, Peter Kennedy, shared his bewilderment with Grimsby Live: “I’m just gasping at the lack of detail provided by the government. We were expecting a much bigger improvement this year back in February and the results we have been given are worse than last year, overall, which makes no sense. We have had a bigger cohort of students, as well as a lot of changes we have been making to improve results.”

It’s a terrible mess, and unlike the situation in Scotland, where members of the Scottish Parliament turned up in person within days to vote on the reputation of the minister in charge, parliament is not sitting and we have a Prime Minister who prefers to appear in Parliament as rarely as he can get away with. I suppose Gavin Williamson’s fate will depend on how useful he is to Cummings’ grand plan.

Pat Holland

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