One of the problems for politicians is the need to pay more attention to the consequences of what they say, than to whether it happens to be true or not. In education, we’ve had two good performances by Conservatives in the last week – Michael Gove and, briefly, George Osborne on the Andrew Marr show – and one that gave our opponents a free hit. Watching Ed Balls being polite to George Osborne yesterday morning reminded me of Sir Alex Ferguson being complimentary to his opponents – it means he’s winning.
Boris knows more about education than most politicians, both because he’s still very interested in it, and pretty good at it. His educational initiative in London has created a role for his office where there wasn’t one before – Ken Livingstone, as mayor, did nothing about education at all, which in his case was just as well. Boris, though, is a good team builder and team leader, with an eye for capable people and for initiatives that will make an impact. His point about IQ – the mention of which ignites the Left – was that the less able intellectually needed to be helped rather than abandoned.
The way he made the point let the Guardian and its followers say that he was writing them off and treating humanity “like a breed of dogs”. George Osborne’s comment that “I wouldn’t have put it like that” was on the money. Ed Balls’ “Greed is good, and the poor are poor ‘cos they’re stupid,” cashed in.
IQ is highly relevant to the criticisms made by John Claughton, head of KE VI schools in Birmingham, on tuition. IQ is in fact a curriculum in its own right, but not part of the school curriculum, so that those who are not given tuition are a little like novice chess players up against experts. Given a problem to solve, they have to work out the rules – which are a lot like chess moves, there being limited ways to manipulate a shape – and then solve the problem. If you already know the rules, you’re half-way there.
Similarly with mathematical elements – study the patterns, and you know how to find the answer. Working out the patterns from scratch takes at least twice as long, and IQ is always against the clock.
The language element in IQ is cultural. Educated parents pour their own education into their children from the start. This is not pushy, but is a way of life, passing on key values of literacy and the way it opens up the world. I watched a mother nursing a young baby a while ago, and asking the infant, in the sweetest tone, “Was that delicious?”
Educated parents also tend to welcome children’s questions, and to require them to make their meaning explicit, rather than to interpret what they’re trying to say. The long-term effect on language development is evident by the age of three.
Modern IQ tests attempt to discriminate “stored” intelligence and the ability to respond quickly to problems that are not easy to learn. A colleague gave me such a test a little while ago, and my scores were predictably much higher on the learned section than on the spontaneous one. When I did the Mensa test, longer ago than I can remember, I boned up on various mathematical progressions, patterns of squares and what could be done with shapes, using Eysenck’s Test Your Own IQ. My score went up by around 30 points.
A colleague last year took the test without any prep that I could discern, and racked up the astonishing score of 184 – thirty points higher than a well-known television personality. The test is a game – some win easily, some battle their way through, others might as well put on waterwings and take on Rebecca Adlington.
Is there a fairer, and therefore better, way? If the goal is Labour’s “equality of outcome,” no. We are not all as clever as Boris, Ed Balls or even that maligned species that most of us would love to join, the back-bench MP. But we could improve fairness by these means:
1. All testing and assessment for entry should be based on the National Curriculum, including its most demanding elements, with no trick questions. This would eliminate the IQ curriculum.
2. High scores on national tests at 11 should be forwarded to selective schools in an area where they operate, whether or not the child has been entered for the 11+. These pupils should be given equal consideration with those who have entered.
and, above all,
3. Comprehensive schools need to begin to fulfil the promise they made at the outset – to maximise the achievement of all of their pupils. There has never been a good reason for a high-attaining pupil to achieve less in a comprehensive than in a grammar school. The reason it has not happened is that the Left did not want it, does not want it, and will fight to its last breath to prevent it.