An Open Letter to Michael Gove

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An Open Letter to Michael Gove

Re Blogged from Chris Edwards

An open letter to Michael Gove from an English teacher on a dark day for Education.

Dear Michael Gove,You will never read this, but I feel compelled to put it out there in the faint hope that more people will realise the repercussions of your latest initiative.
I am proud to work at a small school, on a small estate, in the most deprived ward in the county. The life expectancy in this ward is a full 20 years lower than the neighbouring village, which tells you a little bit about our intake. Add to this that within our 530 students, we have 36 different languages spoken and over 40% of students do not count English as their first language. Effectively, we are everything you hate and everything you would like to abolish. We are the skidmark on the sparkling underpants of your brave new world of academies and free schools. It is no secret that you would like nothing more than to see us swallowed up by a nearby school which features higher in your flawed league tables, but we have worked relentlessly hard to maintain our independence and have done enough, miraculously, to keep our heads above your floor targets for the last couple of years.
This time last year, I got immense pleasure when watching my English group, all boys, opening their exam results. 13 of this class of 22 were learning English as an additional language and a further 7 were on the special educational needs register. I was delighted, as you would imagine, that 21 of them passed their English and English Literature Exams and headed off to college, full of confidence and ambition. They hadn’t had the greatest start in life, but had worked incredibly hard to achieve what may seem to you a modest grade C at GCSE level.
Today, I was excited to witness more of the same. The anticipation and excitement I feel on results day is something a thousand times more than when I received my own results. Anyone who teaches at my, or a similar school, will tell you exactly the same. We don’t teach students whose parents pay big money for them to learn Latin with private tutors, simply to be used as status symbols at social gatherings. We teach kids who have seen more turmoil and turbulence in their young lives than you or I will ever have to face and I can tell you that watching them learn that they have passed their GCSEs is the most satisfying, heart-warming reward you could ever imagine.
Fortunately, this year I was given a high set (where only about 30% of students were either EAL or SEN students) and they all performed exceptionally well. However, I spent the vast majority of the morning consoling students, who worked more than hard enough to achieve a C grade in English, had been predicted a C grade in English and effectively had earned a C grade in English, but had been credited with a D grade, thus scuppering their chances of going to a college which had conditionally accepted them based on their predicted grades. Just to be exceptionally clear, these are not privileged kids who were bright enough to get a high grade, but just couldn’t be bothered to work. These are students who are learning English as a second, sometimes third, language who have attended every revision session provided and still requested more, leading to some of us teachers having to put video lessons on YouTube to quench their never-ending thirst for knowledge.
The work ethic shown by some of these students to overcome their language barriers was breathtaking and awe-inspiring. When coming to collect their results, they were far too humble to be over-confident, let alone complacent, but deep down they were content with the knowledge that they had given their all. On opening the envelopes and seeing their D grades, each and every one of them covered their faces due to the shame that they felt. They should, of course, have been celebrating. But instead, a combination of devastation, embarrassment and confusion descended upon them and it was left to us teachers to try to explain to them what had gone wrong.
The wrongdoing, it has become clear, was not their own doing. It would appear that, in a bid to halt the increase in GCSE passes, particularly in English, you have put pressure on exam boards to ensure that only a certain number of students achieve a C grade or above. When the January examination results came out, it would seem that far too many students were passing, so something would have to change for those unfortunate enough to be entered at the end of the GCSE course, which is ironically something that you are trying to make compulsory. So, the marks entered for Speaking & Listening and Written Controlled Assessment (60% of the final grade) were moderated, and agreed. This gave a number of students false hope that they had already achieved a pass in more than half of the course and all they had to do was match that mark in their examination.
Incredibly, it has become apparent that the raw marks given for this part of the course, when converted, are now worth less than originally suggested and less than the credit given to those students whose identical work was submitted in January. This has, in turn, meant that these students were entering the exam, where they traditionally struggle due to issues with accessing the questions, on D grades. They never stood a chance, but they didn’t know. Unfortunately, they found out today. They can’t understand why someone would want to play around with their futures in such a cruel way and we, as teachers, should not have to be the ones to explain it to them.
You have not simply moved the goalposts. You have demolished them, sold off the playing fields where they once stood and left the dreams of these youngsters in tatters.
So, there we go. It appears that today you got what you wanted. The statistics show that GCSE passes are down and to you, statistics is all they will ever be. But to me and every other teacher I have had the pleasure of working with, these children are not statistics. They are young people who you have betrayed and will forever be affected by the contents in that envelope which they opened today. We teachers will continue to do our jobs and sleep soundly in the knowledge that we did all that we could and will continue to do so.
Chris Edwards

Making the Grade

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Young people strive for independence. Fears of unemployment, debt, tuition charges make the transition to independence possible much later in life. Carefree teenage years seem a thing of the past, with anxiety and pressure put upon our children from an early age. Rather than allowing them freedom to discover the world through their education, the obsession with exams leads many to anxiety, and even suicide. Yet the government seems intent on labelling our young people failures rather than celebrating achievement and motivating them to learn. Darrell Goodliffe’s  article ( previously published here) laments this and urges a stronger response from Labour.

Making The Grade

by Darrell Goodliffe

GCSE results day was a day when many, justifiably, were celebrating outstanding academic achievement. However, for different reasons, both the government and opposition failed to make the grade. Exam result days have become somewhat ritualistic, there are winners and losers but no matter what the outcome it has become typical for the political classes, usually accompanied by the media, to frown sternly and wag their finger. Little thought is given by either side to the far-reaching effect that the different outcomes have on so many lives. The government has however, have elevated this thoughtlessness to a whole new level. It is simply not fair that many pupils were denied a better grade in subjects, especially GCSE English, to satisfy the political whims of the Westminster class. It becomes even more unfair when you realise that had they been but a year older they would have obtained a totally different grade and their whole prospects would have been different.

Sadly, we should expect no better from a government which views us all as lab rats, pawns in its grand ideological designs. However, to play with the futures of so many in such a crass and uncaring way is a new low even for the current incumbents. Michael Gove has defined himself in his position by his subservience to ideological dogma and the ravenous gaggle of private interests looking to carve up the state education system in the name of making a quick buck. Flexibility in the National Curriculum is desperately needed but when that extends to the teaching of a religious belief, ie, in creationism, as established fact, you can be pretty its not the kind of flexibility that will help educate critical, and socially and crucially, economically, active human beings. His desire to batter state schools into becoming academies, against the wishes of all those involved, is democratically abhorrent.

Mr Gove is many things and sadly, for us, a political heavyweight is one of the things he is.

Meanwhile, his opposite number, Stephen Twigg, is scraping a featherweight. I accept that he is hampered by Labour’s continued lack of an over-arching meta-narrative with which to oppose the government but that still doesn’t excuse his generally poor performance.

He merely suggested that the government may be responsible for an unfair manipulation of the grading of today’s papers in the case of English rather than asserted what we can all see plainly to be a established fact. In being so equivocal he let down the students themselves, the teachers who had worked so hard and he let down his own Party. He had a golden opportunity to land a sucker punch on Mr Gove and he fluffed his lines.

Furthermore, he has no real vision to oppose Mr Gove’s let-alone any sensible policies. So, even given the restraints placed on him by the wider problems Labour has, his performance in-office is consistently poor enough to warrant a swift reshuffle away from the education brief.

Labour’s political garden looks especially rosy at the moment. However, there are plenty of signs that this is due merely due to dissatisfaction with the government as opposed to popular enthusiasm for a early Labour return to the corridors of power. We cannot afford to be carrying dead weight like Stephen Twigg and have to be cautious. At times, we barely look like an effective opposition, let-alone a potential government-in-waiting. Until we convert popular dissent into popular assent for our program the opinion polls will matter little in the grand scheme of things. Labour is sitting its own exam and there is along way to go for it to be able to reach the heights that so many achieved today.

From Think Left

An Olympic Challenge – Prizes for all please.

Academisation and the demolition of our Education System

What Price Failure

Integration and Inclusion