Last Monday, I saw a report in The Guardian of an assessment of the phonics check for six year olds, carried out in York by academics from Oxford and York Universities.
After all of the criticism of the test for allegedly distorting early reading teaching, the researchers found that it was valid, and correlated well with other measures of reading progress. Their comment that it was unnecessary, as teachers in York were already collecting similar information by their own methods, is beside the point – the check is a national measure, and assessment systems elsewhere may or
may not be as good as those the researchers found in York. The full study has been submitted to an academic journal, so we can't read it yet. No doubt whoever leaked it was hoping to embarrass the government.
Tuesday started with former minister Nick Gibb MP giving short shrift to NUT President Christine Blower as a taster to the GCSE announcements. Nick was clear, polite, tough-minded and purposeful, countering both his opponent's weak arguments and the interviewer's rather better questions succinctly, and hitting home the need for reform in the interests of the children. Definitely one of the best media performances by a Conservative politician since the election, leaving Ms Blower, late of the hardest of hard left in her union, floundering. Listen and enjoy.
We know what happened in the afternoon, and can only ask ourselves where it will all end. For a front-bench opposition spokesman to stand up as Diane Abbott did and say in terms that the government was right and her own side wrong on a major issue is something I've never heard of before, and would probably have brought a declaration of love if it had come from Ed Balls. She is, of course, absolutely right, as Michael Gove said, and I'm reliably informed that her taste runs to a nice steak and chips, just in case anyone wants to know.
Michael Gove accurately described the remainder of Labour's lukewarm comments as being "praised with faint damns", but there was more forthright support from some of his far-left critics in the Guardian's comments columns, including this from the aptly-named, in view of his other comments, "Commy":
To shed some light on coursework: one headteacher I worked for used to make a motivational speech at the start of the new academic year; it involved largely his opinion on our efforts to secure him his job by
hitting the latest target. This particular year he said:
"Although we got the best ever school results, there will be no more quadruples to fall back on this year."
What he meant was GCSE like business, nails and beauty etc will no longer count equally as 4 GCSE s in physics, maths, biology and chemistry!
Largely the school hit its targets by cramming numerous working class kids who could not read into coursework classes where either teacher largely did the coursework for the child in an after school class thus securing adulation for the head.
It has to go to be honest.
The full programmes are here and worth reading. I've concentrated so far on the Modern Languages
draft and the very welcome restoration of English language as a subject, so that we should no longer have a literature exam masquerading as language. The deal with the Russell Group to ensure university participation in setting A levels topped off the good news, though I do hope Oxbridge still get a look in.
Finally, I have the pleasure of speaking at the Wellington College/Sunday Times Festival of Education on Saturday morning on "Helping your child with spelling." The Friday of this two-day event is packed with headliners including Michael Gove, Sir M. Wilshaw, E.D Hurst, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. An excellent way for a school governor to hear and question almost all of the leaders in educational thinking – Stephen Twigg was going to attend, but now sending a deputy, Tristram Hunt MP – and much more reasonably priced than most conferences we hear about.