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JohnbaldJohn Bald argues that exam results not coursework should decide GCSE grades

A mixed bag this week, starting with Telegraph's collection of quotations from teachers interviewed over the GCSE marking fiasco, and Ofqual's impressive report.

I've been a teacher and worked with teachers for nearly forty years, and I've never seen executive bullying of such intensity and scale. Requiring a teacher to submit "all folders to the required grade" is such an outrageous and dishonest abuse of authority as to lead anyone subjected to it to ask themselves how much they need the job. To see it revealed as systemic, in interviews covering 100 schools, is truly amazing.  The management is always right, or the management would not have done things in this way. Who are you – parent, teacher, inspector, secretary of state – to criticise the decisions of the people responsible for making the schools work?

This approach to management is the result of Labour autocracy, beginning with Charles Clarke, David Miliband, Sir David Bell and Ed Balls, which built the whole of school evaluation on test and examination scores, put their ideas into "training" programmes and phoney MA courses, and made headteachers King or Queen, with a guillotine waiting for them in the form of a debased inspection report if they did not deliver. The technology of the guillotine should not be underestimated – a skilled operator could easily deliver thirty heads an hour.  These heads are under just as much pressure, and in some cases just as unfairly,  as the teachers who are their victims.


The Ofqual report includes this from a teacher, taken from the Times Educational Supplement website:

"Just got on to this thread – and I feel I am being made to cheat. I've taught the kids and then let them do the tasks – we have to do them in the classrooms, except for those who need access arrangements, who are under the beady eye of external invigilators. I taught my kids, gave them the opportunity to make notes, and then did the damned things like an exam. Result? Lots of them underperformed against their targets. Not good enough. This work, I am told, is really coursework, and has to be at target grade, or they will not reach their targets at the end of the course.

Others in the department have done marked drafts. I'm now feeling pressured to get some of mine to redo various pieces. I've voiced my objections, but have been told that the long and the short of it is that they have to be nannied through at every stage – there is disbelief when I say that some schools are doing the CAs as exams. I resent the implication that I am failing my kids, when actually what they produce is probably more accurate as an indication of their abilities than their target grades are. The sooner this nonsense is stopped and we go back to 100 per cent exams, the better."

Quite so.  And well done to Glenys Stacey for putting together an honest and hard-hitting report, and presenting it in a way that made it clear that teachers were not responsible for this intolerable situation.  The same heads, of course, are still taking decisions on all other aspects of the school curriculum, and on the same number-crunching basis, which is one reason why Ebacc was needed to rescue language teaching.

An update to last week's piece following an afternoon in the university library with Professor Roger Beard's Sage Handbook of Writing.  His co-author Carol Christiansen describes useful studies of the impact of handwriting and spelling on overall writing grades, and makes the point that  If writers lack fluency in handwriting, they may not be able to get their ideas on to the page fast enough to keep up with their thoughts. This is an understatement – it is quite impossible for them to do so.  Another contributor,  Professor Debra Myhill, shows that properly thought out teaching of grammar – applied grammar, not the naming of parts – improves the quality of writing. Good hard evidence that will contribute to the reform of English teaching, and, I hope, become a springboard for further work.

Andrew Adonis' Education Education Education, which I read on Nick Gibb's recommendation, is an interesting account of the growth of academies to counter the "secondary modern comprehensive". He has good detail on infighting among Labour ministers – Estelle Morris seems to have been particularly obstructive – and on the weakness of large governing bodies in comprehensives, which he says turn into talking shops, just like the Labour cabinet (his view).  Academies have smaller, better qualified governing bodies, which actually govern. Adonis is, on the other hand uncritical about Labour's national strategies, which he gives credit for a rapid rise in standards in primary schools, when in fact they are the source of many current problems. Worth reading, though, particularly the first half.

After all this reading, I succumbed on Friday to the lure of the i-pad mini. Disappointed not to receive a round of applause from the staff on entering the store, I found the larger i-pad 4 on sale too, which caused a problem as they were not due out until next April. I decided in the end that it was too heavy. The little device is very good for reading – the Kindle had disappointed, as it wouldn't play some the books I'd downloaded, and was very fragile, though I suppose not everyone leans on the screen with their elbow while reaching for a cup of coffee.  It also streams very easily to a television set,  and has large numbers of educational applications, some of them free. We'll see if it earns its keep, but my wife thinks the technology is magic, and I agree.

Finally,  I run a small charity, A Book of My Own, that provides books to children who are either in care or in difficult family circumstances. We make a grant, usually a £30 book token, via either the local authority looked after children's service, or the school, and the children choose their own books, with  guidance.  Most of our funds are distributed in Cambridgeshire, but we have made grants farther afield, and have around £600 to make some more.  If you have responsibility for children who might benefit, please get in touch by email via my website, here.

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