An Exercise in the Bloody Obvious

Yesterday’s Observer, some of today’s and the BBC have been full of the story of the GTC suggesting that all pre-16 testing be stopped after submitting a report to the Commons Education and Skills Select Committee.

Predictably of course, the Government and the Tories come out and say that this is not going to happen. Both parties have way too much tied up in the “marketisation” of education to even think of daring to back out now. League tables and testing are the very things that underpin a so-called choice agenda. In reality of course, this choice only really extends to nice middle-class parents like me, but even then really only the ones in metropolitan areas. Both parties will not rock the boat because that is exactly the constituency they will be chasing come the next general election; any possibility of upsetting them is simply not an option.

Alan Johnson’s reaction to this is frankly pitiful. He has apparently said [testing] had helped raise attainment and provided a transparency and accountability that parents valued. I am not convinced that this rosy picture is one that resonates with many. The statistics that define testing and tables are inherently simplistic and do not take into account many of the qualities that embody a good school. Many parents don’t even fully understand what the statistics actually mean; not their fault when everything seem to be lathered in a layer of impenetrable management-speak bullshit. And, just like other market drive reforms, the layers of extra bureaucracy needed to support this are shocking. Eve worse, the pedagogic benefit of such exercises are hardly conclusive if the research is to be believed. And yet, parents are falling for it.

“Parents don’t want to go back to a world where schools were closed institutions, no-one knew what was going on in them,” Johnson told the BBC. He doesn’t mention the increased levels of stress in children or teaching designed to make children do enough to pass the tests and little (or nothing) else. We don’t want our children to be the most examined in the world. The worries that the GTC have about testing regimes utterly alienating children are not without foundation.

Even those who are not utterly dispirited by the exam system and do progress to HE are not being served well. The universities are seeing the results of increasingly narrow syllabus, taught in an ever more rigid style. We may be pushing more people into Higher Education but the reality is that fewer and fewer of the ones who enter are in any way prepared for that type of education. So what happens? Degree programs have to dumb down to accommodate them. This is a plain fact that many in the HE sector are having to grapple with, but no one in government wants to admit. Who wants to tell all those nice middle class parents paying out all that money that young Jermey or Phillipa’s degree is simply not worth the same as a degree 15 or twenty years previously, when they themselves were in HE? No one, that’s who.

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