Saturday, 27 April 2013

Predictable, Dishonest and Insulting, Yada, Yada, The English Way

Posted Saturday 27th April 2013

There’s a scene in “The Wild Bunch” when the Marlon Brando biker leader is asked what he’s rebelling against. Succinctly he replied, “What’ve you got?” I thought I might have enough for two or three blogs; now I can hardly keep up with the government led insults to teachers, students and their parents.

BBC Question Time aspires to seriously political debate. In January, Our Secretary of State for Education, Mr Gove, replied to one astute contribution with, “Yada, yada,” displaying an arrogant refusal to listen to any deviation from his own omnipotence. His experience in parliament has shown him that one does not answer a question when asked. Listen to Prime Minister’s Questions as members bay and jeer and guffaw. Questions are asked and rarely answered and the Prime Minister’s response is often,“I’m not going to take any lessons/advice/nonsense from (the questioner.)” Our political leaders lack the basic conversational and presentational skills that aid dialogue and communication but they do speak at length. Our students are taught to do better than this, which is maybe why so few listen to parliamentary debates, vote in elections, see politics as a potential career and why most say they don’t trust politicians.
9% of parents in a UGOV poll in January said they trust the government on education; 59% said they trusted headteachers. Yada, yada, more on this later.
This week's Get Gove into the news announcement is to remove spoken English from the student's English Language exam, thus ensuring it will be devalued, downgraded and rarely taught. As National Association of Headteachers leader Russell Hobby said, "If they are not counted for the league tables they wont count."
There are reasons why we examine speaking and listening skills as part of an English Language GCSE. Language acquisition and development is seen as massively vital by all thinking adults, from the first time, ironically, that a child speaks. Mastery of a language involves reading, writing, speaking and listening. But now, speaking and listening are not to be valued skills in English Language qualifications at 16. I guess language acquisition and development is now to be solely about reading and writing. So let’s drop the speaking element from all language exams: French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic etc. And with a government education debacle (a new collective noun) that clearly devalues listening, to the extent that they are incapable, unpractised and unwilling listeners, let’s drop the listening bit. Learn a foreign language the English way – by correspondence course. When in Rome, read the signs.
At job interviews drop the face to face stuff and just do psychometric tests and check the handwriting. When employers are asked about school leavers they often chant, “They don’t have the communication skills required.” Whist British manufacturing and construction continue to decline the cunning new announcement demoting oracy reflects a diminished need for workers who can communicate. I recall vividly the sadistic English teaching John Harman with his sneering scalded face publicly humiliating me for my Irish pronunciation of the word, “thick.” He told me, at age 12 that I was indeed “tick” and to get out on the building sites with the “rest of the paddies.” A cynic might add that rising unemployment creates a Brave New World where our self-appointed betters wish they could give working class embryos a quick blast of stultifying thickening oxygen rather than having to teach them blind, dull acceptance of their rightful lowly lot.
Exam regulators, Ofqual, - have said that sometimes students do better at speaking and listening than the reading and writing part. Well, blow me down with a tepid whimper, I thought that’s why we examine different skills separately and then sort of add them together to form a view on overall expertise in use of language. Oh no, please don’t say they have to be above average in all areas.
Get me a quill quick, I feel a handwriting test coming on.
If overseas readers have watched The UK’s shameful demonization of our poor and dreadful treatment of the disabled (with being able to walk 25 yards now sufficient evidence of fit for work status) whilst the anti-foreigner clamour spreads, you will see that this is not just in education. We are reactionary conservative led and we have an anonymity of opposition in parliament.
Ofqual lied about last year's exam results.  Now they say that their theft of our borderline students' hard earned grades in English was due to, "over-generous marking of speaking and listening tests by teachers." That is not what they said at the time; that is not what they said in the prolonged court case; and now they are calling English teachers cheats.
Last year Ofqual actually blamed it on their own markers giving too many high grades in January. Do they think we've forgotten? Are Ofqual late converts to Orwell’s 1984 doublespeak. Your truth is lies, Mr Gove and Yada yada is not good enough.

Ofqual say teachers cannot accurately mark speaking and listening. Oh yes we can. What do you think languages teachers do all the time –doodle an artist’s impression of their students’abilities in oracy? I examined English Oral Examinations for many years. An external moderator used to come and listen to my students in their oral exams and he used to check my marking. It’s what exam boards charge us money for. Languages teachers record students oracy using a recording device and samples are moderated – that’s what exam boards are for.
Last year, Ofqual's chief regulator the no-doubt soon to be honoured Gelnys Stacey, said that she understood why teachers were too generous with their marking, because of, "the pressures of the accountability measures for schools." This inflamatory insult barely masks a mistrust of what teachers do, a mistrust not shared by students and parents. However get below 50% GCSEs and Mr Gove will threaten to close your school, ignorantly claiming that all schools must get above average results.
It is true that the exam boards are now recruiting 18 year olds to mark exam scripts and boy, are they messing up. A recent remark of a Psychology A Level paper at my school showed numerous errors explained by the board as “training weaknesses.” That’s the training they are meant to do with their markers at our expense.
Shout out (whilst you have the skills) and try to get someone to listen. Without justification for hope or trust I filled in Ofqual’s pretend consultation (
Who opens a consultation with a predetermined ruling on the outcome? The decision has not only been made, it has been backdated so that it applies to courses our students started last June and are half over. Mismanager Stacey has stated, "We want to hear what people think before we make our final decision." Do you remember how you trusted the snake in "Jungle Book?"   
Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders, delicately offered, "As a matter of principle, changes to assessment should never be introduced after students have started a course." 
Ms Stacey, with absolute government direction, doubts teachers' assessment skills; you know, the stuff we do every teaching minute of every day. And if we can't examine spoken skills properly what chance for Drama? And if moderators can only examine writing done at speed what chance Music, Technology, Dance, Texties, Art, ceramics, Photography, PE? Oh dear me, I forgot, these subjects don't feature at all in Mr Gove's curriculum plans. He only wants us to teach those submissive, silent skills required by 1960s car makers, dock, mine and steel mill owners and the shipbuilding monoliths.
Dennis O'Sullivan


  1. Hi Dennis
    as usual I'm with you all the way - but please can you change the way your blog looks, cos it's making my eyes go funny!? I think black writing on a pale colour background would be much more eye-friendly! Thank Jane H

  2. There's a new "times table" we need teh kids to learn by rote:

    one times Gove equals Gove
    two times Gove equals daft
    three times Gove equals confusing
    four times Gove equals stupid
    five times Gove equals bonkers
    six time Gove equals incredulous
    seven times Gove equals chaotic
    eight times Gove equals catastrophic
    nine times Gove equals cataclysmic
    ten times Gove equals the end of thinking as we know it

  3. Thank goodness you keep writing. I think the world has gone mad and then I get your blog and realise that I haven't, but GOve and his lap dogs have.

    Have I missed a blog about the school year - how on earth will society cope with so many children wandering the streets in long public school type holidays. Not everyone has a bolt hole in Switzerland, Italy and the beach to waste away the long holidays, whilst mummy and daddy throw money at bored youngsters and promise a new car for good behaviour, whilst all along the darlings are using their allowance for smoking, drinking and social drugs.

  4. Don't forget Anonymous that the new times table now goes to 12, so that children can now convert inches into feet! Is this really 2013?

    eleven times Gove equals lunacy and
    twelve times Gove equals archaic tendancies

    I am sure we could all go on....

  5. Louise Christodoulou29 April 2013 at 02:17

    I give up. Why don't we all just surrender to the inevitable and allow English exams to be written in text language and have the Twilight books on the English Lit. syllabus? Oh, and clearly I have been wrong all along, and 'off of' is, in fact, a perfectly acceptable and coherent way of speaking. It must be, since I have it on good authority that it was seen on a legal document recently. Keep fighting the good fight Dennis, nobody else is!

  6. The problem is mr o'sullivan there are so few people listening. British politics is just reverting to type, we are naturally class led in our thinking. Marry that with politcians relentless ambition and a lack of statesmen and i feel quite depressed for my son.Thank god we chose chauncy, with you and your least he has a chance. Keep up the good work,

  7. One would hope that there was a coordinated effort to ensure that as many educators respond to this "consultation" as possible. Are the unions/professional bodies doing anything to publicise this travesty?