Thursday, 5 February 2015

Stop this attack on private education. Let's all do iGCSEs.

As Nick Gibb sits naked in his Department of Education office the remaining officials bow and praise his new clothes. From the people who brought you tests for five year olds we have untested curricula, untested, untrialed exams, academy chains and free schools put together like a pick and mix from the lamented Woolworths. On Monday of this week Mr Gibb decide, on a whim, to withdraw the new exclusions guidance after all the consultation, redrafting, training and cost.
If you look at Nicky Morgan, on the BBC website speaking about the new, “transitional league tables,” pause and look into her eyes. There is a terrified stare which suggests that she is insecurely in her office hiding during the DfE zombie apocalypse lockdown. She's been a good girl so far and done what was asked: as little as possible without slipping into a political coma, but she's now clearly pleading for help.
On January 19th, Nicky proclaimed that we need, “ a school led self- improving system where teachers, school leaders and governors make the decisions about what's best for their school. “ That’ll do us. 
Then the intellectual wannabe that is Gibb went for the private schools. Their favourite iGCSEs won't count in league tables because they are inferior qualifications and they represent a “race to the bottom.”
Nicky agreed, in instant contradiction of herself. And as this year’s league tables are unanimously a nonsense she wants young people to know that they need not fret – they are only transitional failures. In a couple of years students may get the results they earned. But not this year.
I have to say that those of us who have been entering students for iGCSEs have been wondering for years how the government would stop us from doing them. We know that the DfE minions were searching for an alternative to their blunt desired, “This isn’t for the likes of you so you can’t do them.” When Gove addressed the independent schools headteachers on what are now called “reformed GCSEs” he was saddened by them saying they would stick with their iGCSEs. (The “i” stands for international, as these qualifications are recognised and acclaimed across the world, including the countries with whom we are told to compete and excel.) I think there was also some other sticking advice offered with reference to his new exams.
According to a highly esteemed, private school, Haileybury College, they find,
“iGCSE a better preparation for sixth form academic study and less prone to government modification.”  £34,000 a year plus extras will get you a place there and you may study seven subjects at iGCSE and the remainder at GCSE.
The English Language “reformed GCSE” consists solely of written exams. The English Language iGCSE  tests Speaking & Listening, the ability to draft  and improve one’s work as Coursework and a final written exam. These are the so called “soft skills” businesses are calling for. Might government ministers be better communicators with more attention to speaking and listening and redrafting their work prior to presenting it to an electorate bored by their dissembling, dull waffling and inability to answer a question?
Gibb and the trailing Morgan say that we will not be allowed to satisfy the One Nation Tories by taking the best practice of the private school and integrating it into our state schools. No, we will not be able to have state and private schools working together on developing and improving the curriculum and assessment offered to our children. Labour claim to want this but they haven’t yet worked out how to formulate a sentence of any clarity on any education issue.
Our politicians are dumbly flailing in a descending spiral into contradiction and doublespeak, with the “race for the bottom” being their own inept slogan. Prime Minister Dave says that he benefitted from an excellent education and he wants all our children to benefit from such excellence. He claims we should not need to send our children to his old school, Eton, to get a first class education.
Why, therefore, Dave, can’t we teach our students to the Eton standard and have them compete against the private schools, on their tests. We are not asking for condescending charity; we want to show our success against your esteemed educators. Let us do the iGCSEs and give you an accurate comparative measure.
A general election, gives the chance for fundamental policy direction, a time for statesmanship, after the party speech writers have plied their trade in search of great vision and import. What do we get from our government at this time of decisive policy making?
Children must learn their times tables by age 11 and they must spell properly, There will be a war on literacy, or was it illiteracy?  Anyway, there’s a war and all kids must reach the required level by age 11. All kids must reach the old level 4 – which they abolished last year but you know what they mean.
This morning when Cameron was asked, “What’s 9 x 8?” he eased his way out of trouble. “I’ve learned only to do my tables in the privacy of my own home,” he said offering hope for all 11 year olds. Nicky Morgan also refused to be tested on her tables and Chancellor Osborne asked a seven year old child for more time to answer 7x8 live on Sky News last summer.
The DfE soundbite specialists have come up with a snazzy up-to-the minute catchphrase for the very temporary Education Secretary: “I like to call it the Culture of Can,” Unless, of course, you are a government minister who cannot do their tables when tested. I somehow doubt that our 11 year olds will be able to avoid the questioners preferring to answer in the privacy of their own homes?
Doing my 13 times tables it seems we have 90 days witnessing these people stumbling over each other to say so little in a triumph of mediocrity. (That’s 7x13-1 by the way)
Dave tells us he believes in state education and he sends his children to the 16th nearest primary school to prove it. Like Gove and Blair he seems to be able to bypass admissions procedures to get into the nicest, most selective state school.
His maths was questioned this week and he had to admit that maintaining funding per pupil  meant that funding for schools would be slashed if the conservatives return to power, Dave wants all children to reach the required standards and he’s on about zero tolerance again.
I don’t usually write about politicians’ kids but you will recall that Dave spoke frequently about his respect for the NHS because he had a severely disabled child with complex medical needs. Sadly, the child died before being of the age to undergo literacy tests. The prime minister put his child in the public eye as an example. Well Ivan’s needs were likely to prevent him getting to the required standard, like 70%of the 220,890 statemented children (DfE stats on 10 year olds in 2010). So that’s zero tolerance for 98% of the student population (70% of 2.9% of kids statemented = near on 2%.)
But 21% of our 10 year olds in 2010 – 1.69 million were credited with a special educational need, though not a statement. How many of these must be treated to Cameron’s zero tolerance, like discarding damaged fruit from a bowl.? Can we maybe target 90% reaching the “required standard” so that some medically unwell, neurologically or physiologically impaired kids or those with speech, language and communication needs don’t get the big red stamp of failure on their 11+ replacement certificate?
Some children will never reach Level 4, and it’s not all about teacher low expectations. Watching Nicky Morgan trying to explain that the new Progress 8 measure will show what children achieve beyond mere timed exams was frightening – Progress 8 is her department’s measure of success in GCSE timed exams. Sadly , she will never be a Level 4 spokeswoman, thinker or communicator. The standards for entry to the House of Commons are lower so she may be given a certificate there.
Cameron may have been speaking about inherited wealth when he told his Enfield audience, “I won’t settle for less,” but apparently he was, instead, demanding that, “Every school should be  outstanding.” Making it stand out against who or what? If everyone is tall, Mr Cameron, no-one is tall and no-one is short. It’s like when Gove told the Select Committee that all schools should be above average. Sadly, again, neither has shown Level 4 ability.
Cameron went to Eton, Osborne to the relatively minor St Paul’s, Clegg at Westminster and all of these schools do iGCSEs.
Is this the reality of the private schools iGCSE :
  • Are they too easy?
  • Do Eton graduates have trouble getting jobs?
  • Do Winchester sixth formers get rejected by all the universities.?
  • Are they not internationally recognised?
  • Do the exams confuse parents?
If this is the case we ought to end this discrimination against privately educated youngsters. But if they are unable to join us in our “reformed GCSEs” let’s have a show of state school solidarity so that we can stand together in Cameron’s one nation big society. Let’s all do iGCSEs and make it fair. 
There is a mathematical aspect to the reformed GCSE v iGCSE decision. The new GCSEs will be measured on a 1-9 scale with around 7% of students reaching Level 9 – whether there are other suitably high achievers or not there will be a quota. For iGCSEs the quota is around 21% earning an A* on the A*-G grading. Obviously this is a little confusing but far more worrying is that there will be three times as many private school leavers with the highest grade than state school GCSE graduates. Employers and universities will interview top grade achievers, thus discriminating against state school students. Maths Level 3?
In our ambitious state schools we want to work with others to promote choice, challenge and excellence, aspiring to be the best we can. Gibb and Morgan have said that iGCSEs will not count in secondary school league tables. Well, that’s a blow with which we will courageously have to live. Reportedly less than one third of parents choose a school on their league table standing.
Seeing that many state schools are going to continue to strive to compete with the best private schools, our masters have another sly trick to outwit us. The DfE has declared that state schools will not be paid any money for any student joining the 6th Form with an A* grade in iGCSE Maths or English. These students who have reached the highest attainment level in the internationally recognised GCSEs will not have reached the entry requirement and should be sent away until they have an A*-C  (or will it be 6-9 grade) in the reformed GCSEs. 
Students will have to enrol on a reformed GCSE course, when they have already excelled at iGCSE. State schools and colleges attract thousands of previously privately educated students into their 6th forms each year. It is often the case that students only qualify for a 6th form place with five or more GCSEs at grade B or above. These 6th forms and colleges surely would have to reject candidates with iGCSE results because the Secretary of State says they are “not as challenging.” I suppose they could break their own admission rules in sympathy with private school students’ plight.
Gibb and Morgan, your victimisation of your boss's old school is nasty. Eton scored 0%'in your league tables and you think parents should use these tables. Surely Ofsted should be given a special dispensation to swoop on this terrible school, and on Winchester, Eton, Rugby, Harrow and hundreds of others. If they are taking decent, hardworking parents’ money under false pretences you should close them down.
Otherwise let us all try to compete equally and as they are determined to continue iGCSEs let’s batter down the barriers against this old class war and join them.
Dennis O’Sullivan
5th February 2015

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