Thursday, 27 June 2013

That Education Secretary? He’s not on the Level you know.

Posted Thursday 27th June 2013

You know how it is when you have a constant pain, a toothache perhaps, and it hurts so much you don't notice that your arm has fallen off? Well we’re all so intoxicated by the daily flatulence from the DfE that we sort of overlooked yet another bad smell. Maybe this one is a bit more like an itch that is so, so thrilling to scratch even though you end up bloody and sore.  When I spoke with 12 primary heads about this week’s latest noxious news they all giggled. Because, Education Secretary Gove, your thinking is so messed up  we now have to laugh.

At the moment, children are assessed on an 8 point scale starting at Level 1 and generally hitting levels 6 and 7 by age 14. In a well taught school students know what level they are at and what they need to do to get to the next level. There are level descriptors on walls showing what knowledge, skills and understanding are assessed at each level and we praise their effort and ambition and applaud attainment of the next level.

Gove is doing away with assessment, at levels 1-8 because, “Parents don't understand them.”

Apparently, the abolition of levels, "Will help to ensure that schools concentrate on making sure that all pupils reach the expected standard, rather than on labelling differentiated performance." (June 6th 2012) I haven’t a clue what he means.

By June 13th 2013 Gove recited a little speech abolishing levels, just as 11 year olds had sat his new Level 6 tests, demanded by Gove, to test the most able. And just as Ofsted has recommended expectations of secondary school attainment be raised to 4 levels of progress – for next year – there will be no levels to measure.

So how will we hold schools accountable? And how will we hold the government  accountable without levels? Oh no, Michael, people might see a plan here: Wreck the education system and remove the measures for showing your demolition. Your Year Zero figures will doubtless impress.

Gove says, “Schools will be able to introduce their own approaches to formative assessment.” We can make up our own system of notlevels and Ofsted will inspect us using our assessments which will be in non universal notlevels. Every school may use different systems. Honestly, I am not making this up.

As  Headteacher I now have to think of new ways of measuring, testing, recording and reporting.

Could we use the music scale EGBDF. I can see a weakness in that this scale allows a mediocre middle grade (B) and might encourage expectations of an average, and as the mathematical genius Gove told the Select Committee, all schools have to be above average.

How about we measure children on the likelihood of making it to Oxbridge: measure their ability on family income, private health and education, house price and model of car. The USANDTHEM scale, simplified to US for a straight pass/fail, like the old 11+ separating the elite at age 11.

With all scales one needs to work out where it starts and ends. With the DONKEY scale for measuring common sense from politicians it really doesn’t matter which end of the donkey we start with.

I think Gove has decided he invented and now owns the universal system of numbers and counting. Only last month he smugly announced the replacement of our GCSE grades A*-G with the numbers 1-8. They must be different 1-8 numbers to the ones he’s abolishing for 14 year olds.

So, Gove’s new number scale at 16 is 1-8 with the potential to make it 1-9 or 1-10. The now abandoned A* worth, say, 96% but when a student achieves 100% he can give them a 9 or 10 and of course, Spinal Tap fans, I bet Gove’s scale can go up to 11.

We know that Gove likes anglocentric history, where we jolly good britisher chaps taught the foreigners to play cricket in our benevolent empire. His new history curriculum, devised by him, will make sure children tackle history chronologically. In junior schools we could measure progress on the Henry Scale: Henry I, Henry II, Henry III up to Henry VIII. Or if we want to tie in with the new curriculum and go further than roman numerals we could follow the scale Conquer, Rape, Attack, Pillage, based on the Iceni Queen Boudicca family experience of the Romans and, of course, easy to recall as an acronym.

Yr 7 will be doing Ethelred the Unready, Tom the Small-minded, Billy the Kid,  Harry the Longdrawnout and Macavity the Mystery Cat. Will parents really find this less confusing than the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4?

By Year 13when they might get to study contemporary history everyone can be measured on the great man scale – the OMICHAEL scale, with O being finally the ultimate achievement – maybe called an O level?

I quite like the idea that we should use the Mr Men Scale for assessment. I’m unsure of the correct order but Mr Self Denial, Mr Having a Laugh,  Mr No, Not me Guvnor, Mr 3 wise Monkeys, Mr Failure and Little Miss Perfect will be in there.

Achievement could be measured by organs in any order appreciated by our education secretary. Dear parent, Mary has achieved a lung grade in Biology, an Ear grade in Music….and an Eye grade overall. (I Levels!)

This is getting very silly, I know but how about the Small, Bigger, Very Big Indeed, Bloody Enormous scale for intellectual capacity?

Finally, I reckon I have the Gove-friendly scale

Rather average
Jolly good
A mickle above a muckle (because many a mickle makes a muckle)

Dennis O'Sullivan

Stop Press:

Looking for what next to abolish or destroy Michael turned to his wife and purred , “Shoes, shoes…..” He had read that in some countries some kids walked miles to school without shoes and one of them went on to Oxford University. Sorry about the image of Gove purring. I hope you don’t have to sleep with that.


  1. Very funny (if it wasn't all so tragic).
    Especially love the Boudicca scale!
    These stories of Gove make the Irish politicians that i have to listen to look positively competent! (which says a lot!)

    1. Ah now, Rob,it's good to hear from you just as you're preparing for your little summer break. You do know that Maths teachers of your quality are like gold dust over here.