The new “Gove Levels” — and Clegg’s bizarre attitudes

Michael Gove — a man with a mission

At last we’re trying to make school examinations more rigorous — one of the rather few areas where we can commend Coalition policy.  But I’m especially interested in Nick Clegg’s reported attitude, which beautifully illustrates how ideological preconceptions trump common sense.

Clegg apparently insisted that there should be only one exam.  We should not go back to the old two-tier system of “O” Levels and CSEs, because that would be “discriminatory”.  But Nick, the whole point of exams is to discriminate — yes, discriminate, let’s say it out loud — between good and less-good pupils.  That’s what exams are for.  If you insist that exams should not discriminate, then you might just as well give everyone 80% and save all that trouble of setting and marking papers.  You’d save the pupils a great deal of stress too.  To quote the immortal title of Melanie Phillips’ excellent book, “All must have prizes”.

It may be anathema to liberals, and socialists, and the bien pensant educational establishment, and the teachers’ unions, but the fact is that in any age cohort of children there is in fact a wide range of ability.

The primary purpose of school exams is to enable employers and/or universities to select appropriate candidates for jobs or for further education.  And this is good — essential, even — for the universities and employers.  But it is also beneficial for the pupils.  Places in university are not like lottery prizes — valuable and relevant, no matter who receives them.  A university course studying (say) particle physics at Cambridge is no use at all to a school-leaver who is marginally literate and has no qualifications.  If we send such a student to university, we are wasting educational resources and damaging the reputation of a great university — but also damaging the student, who will be embarrassed and frustrated, and will very likely drop out, and return home laden with debt and with his tail between his legs.  Clegg’s idea of “non-discrimination” damages everyone involved.

If early reports are correct, there’s been a coalition tussle between Gove, who wanted a two-tier exam system, and Clegg, who insisted on a unitary system.

The result looks likely to be an exam paper of two halves.  The first half will consist of simple questions which more able students will zip through in ten minutes before getting on with the serious questions later on.  Less able children, on the other hand, will spend their hour-and-a-half struggling through the early questions, knowing that they have no chance at all with the difficult bit at the end.  So to maintain Clegg’s daft idea of “non-discrimination”, we’ll effectively have put a two-tier system together into a single exam.

These are the absurd subterfuges forced on us by the Lib-Dems’ refusal to engage with reality.

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11 Responses to The new “Gove Levels” — and Clegg’s bizarre attitudes

  1. Charles Wardrop says:

    Time for the PM to put his foot down in support of Michael Gove in this issue?
    Cameron said he wished to be the “Heir to Blair,” but the only two useful aspects of such an otherwise strange ambition would be to insist his Government stress “Education…”
    That might give him a better chance of re-election, which otherwise must be very unlikely, and deservedly so.
    Blair was, after all, a dab hand at winning elections, albeit undeservedly so.

  2. Kevin says:

    As someone who failed to convince perspective employers that CSE grade 1 was an O level equivalent, I think Clegg is right on this one.

    • I think if the new exams, ideally Gove’s original 2-tier idea, are created and presented to employers in a right and proper manner, it should be fine. I think Sue’s view (below) is exactly right; you can’t have the less academically gifted struggling with a tough paper which is beyond their capability merely to satisfy “equality” rules. We should all be intelligent enough to understand that not every child has the aptitude for university, but that doesn’t make them a failure. Practical skills, learning a trade and other employment are just as valuable and youngsters should be able to take pride in their achievements, even if they weren’t sitting the harder papers.

  3. I think just having the one exam is unfair to those children who are less academic. Imagine, getting D’s or F’s when all your friends are gaining A’s and B’s? Much better that they do an easier paper coupled with some coursework grades for those not great at exam time.

  4. Phil J says:

    I have always coined Nick Clegg as “the schoolboy in long trousers” and this idiotic stance of his demonstrates exactly why! It is a well known fact that there are a few genius’s, a hell of a lot of clever kids and sadly (especially nowadays) even more of the less bright variety so there is absolutely no point pitting the latter category against the more intelligent at exam time. It is also well known fact that less bright hold back their cleverer counterparts in the classroom which is why (in my day) Grammar School & Secondary Modern worked so well.
    I would re-introduce the 11+ (backed up by the 13+ ) again – mind you, watching today’s completely disrespectful youthful society I would also re-invent the cane!
    Perhaps Clegg ought to return to the scholastic habitat and to being a “schoolboy in long trousers!”

    • Heather Alibakir says:

      When I was at Primary School (a long,long time ago) there were brave teachers who were not afraid to tell parents that their little darling had no chance of getting through the 11+ and steering them and the pupil (who often was capable of great things using his hands) into a direction appropriate to his talents and the best possibilities for his or her future. Im
      agine that – instant dismissal? Just saying!

  5. mikestallard says:

    Roger things have changed sine we went to school!
    In the old days, everyone stayed until the end of Year 9 doing all the usual subjects – but including Domestic Science and woodwork, metalwork and PE. quite often, they stayed on after school too for a hobby.
    Only after that did people specialise in their own subjects – if they could be accepted by the teacher, that is.

    Nowadays the whole process has changed. Every child is now at Grammar School. That means that “dumb” subjects like Domestic Science, Metalwork and Woodwork (and IT and Art and Drama (never a school play though) and, yes, PE) are pushed out in favour of Grammar School Subjects like English and Maths and Science. PCHE and Citizenship are very important too. History, RS and Geography can sometimes peep round the corner.
    At 16 therefore everyone sits the GCE as befits Grammar School Pupils (who are not allowed to do paper rounds or indeed any kind of hands-on work by law).

    And round here 3/4 fail completely to learn subjects which are totally irrelevant, which they have not chosen and which they really do not need. This is revealed, and then quickly covered up in the disastrous GCSE results. They all then go on to “College”.

    What we need is a leaving exam which people are interested in, which they can pass and which they actually need to pass. I hope that Mr Gove has at last got something right.

    • Rich Tee says:

      When did it become illegal for children to do paper rounds?!?

      Children will never be interested in exams. I know I wasn’t. It’s impossible to create and exam that “people are interested in”. They have to be coached through what they don’t want to do on the understanding that older people know better.

  6. John Carter says:

    The main post on this site and the responses are classic examples themselves of ‘how ideological preconceptions trump common sense.’ I wld bet serious money that none of the correspondants actually know how the curent GCSEs work, nor have even the beginnings of an idea of the underlying principles of the 87 reform (e.g. norm-referencing versus criterion-referencing). No way is Clegg or anyone else with a wide understanding of school level education being ‘idiotic’ to be concerned about our qualifications system excluding sections of our school population. And to add to the already considerable confusion of posters to this site whose moral steam engines are no doubt getting stoked by the second, I actually support reform of GCSEs, AND for reasons to do with raising standards and giving credibility to the qualifications. But no way on the basis of the crass posting that heads this thread. I only wish I could live in that simplistic know-it-all everyone-else-is-an-idiot world.

    • Rich Tee says:

      Two weeks ago I sat an hour long technical test under exam conditions for a job interview. I found it very difficult. There were ten people there and only three passed. I scored the highest with 80 per cent.

      I am absolutely delighted. I achieved something difficult. The company also offered me a job confident that I can do it.

      But I knew kids at school who could build go carts and my best friend could draw the most incredible pictures in technical drawing, two things that were completely beyond my ability. What is bizarre about Britain is why practical and vocational education has been downgraded in Britain unlike, for example, Germany.

    • John, It’s not that we know it all and everyone else is an idiot. It’s the bien pensant, left-wing academic establishment, that has taken our school system hostage for decades, that thinks it knows it all. Everyone else knows they’re wrong, and the results prove it, but we’ve been unable to change things. I now have high hopes for Gove, though he’ll have a massive battle on his hands with the producer interest — his civil servants and the teachers’ unions.

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