Saturday, 6 April 2013

"He had a mind like a steel trap; only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut"

Posted 7th November 2012

As a lover of language that scythes through doublespeak and rhetoric I have been driven to look at our education policy makers’ use of comparisons to assess school performance. 

Most will recognize the metaphors I used in the sentence above and it is up to you whether you think they are well employed. Robbie Burns, the famously successful pursuer of young ladies wrote vividly and so simply.
“My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June :
My love is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.”

Burns was hoping we visualised the beauty of the flower rather than the hurtful thorns attached. Comparisons must be between objects, places or ideas that clearly have similar features. If you were trying to describe a beautiful beach somewhere you might choose another beautiful beach so Malibu might be like Bali. Comparing Tottenham High Street to the Champs-Elysées stretches our imaginative powers too far for successful communication.

Mr Gove compares us to Finland. Here’s education in Finland – guess which bits he likes:
  • School starts at age 7           
  • Everyone gets free school meals 
  • No uniform
  • Less time spent in the classroom than in any other European country              
  • Exams at 18 only   
  • Mixed ability schools
  • No league tables  
  • No inspections
  • No grammar schools  
  • No private schools 
  • No university fees

Well, the bit he likes is that they are doing well in international league tables. Could it be the government wants to create an education system like Finland’s? Every word from central government howls against this heresy.

In Finland there is, an emphasis on active and experiential learning, clear vocational and academic routes at post 16, and high status teachers trained and trusted to educate young people without continuous meddling from government ministers set upon making a name for themselves.

Last week Ofqual completed its investigation into its own disgraceful behaviour over the students’ English GCSE grades and decided to blame the teachers. Some schools, local authorities, unions and professional organisations are taking legal action against this anti-education, immoral act. We know we will be soft-soaped, led up the garden path, taken down a blind alley, treated to filibusters and red herrings; but I just hope Ofqual and Gove get to wear the barbed wire underpants; how I wish that was not just another comparison.

Dennis O'Sullivan

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