Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

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JIM CURRAN
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Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by JIM CURRAN » Fri Nov 16, 2012 4:15 pm

Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success, says Michael GoveEducation secretary praises traditional exams as he explains the philosophy behind his shakeup of GCSEs and A-levels
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012 ... ng-by-rote

elsiep
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by elsiep » Fri Nov 16, 2012 9:16 pm

What does Gove actually know about education? And who on earth is advising him?

elsie

Heather F
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by Heather F » Sat Nov 17, 2012 11:50 am

Elsie have you read Dan Willingham's book that Gove based his speech on? Just curious about your reaction to it.

elsiep
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by elsiep » Sat Nov 17, 2012 2:32 pm

No, I haven't read it, Heather. But if Gove's take on what Willingham says is correct (which admittedly I doubt), I would be wasting my tenner.

elsie

elsiep
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by elsiep » Sat Nov 17, 2012 5:03 pm

Just found Susan's comment on Willingham's response here;

http://www.rrf.org.uk/messageforum/view ... f=1&t=5304

elsie

Heather F
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by Heather F » Sat Nov 17, 2012 10:21 pm

I quite enjoyed the transcript of Gove's speech, being a secondary teacher and having to cope with the problems of current GCSEs and A Levels I am relieved he is trying to do something about it.
I actually thought what he argued chimed very strongly with your recent point on another thread, that children need to have had experience of a range of texts to become skilled in producing that sort of written material.

Heather F
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by Heather F » Sat Nov 17, 2012 10:25 pm

Also the book referred to in the speech is his earlier one (called something like 'Why children don't like school') that I have read and thought so good I loaned it to an NQT in my department - who hasn't given it back....

elsiep
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by elsiep » Sun Nov 18, 2012 6:18 am

Ok, I've finally given in and read the transcript.

http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/s ... ch-to-iaa-

All it tells me is what I knew already; that like many of his predecessors, Gove has his own ideas about what constitutes a 'good' education and appears to be basing his policy on them, rather than on what can be learned from history and from what little reliable educational research there is.

Take his critical comment about the leader of the opposition suggesting that 50% of the population wouldn't make it to university. Traditionally, universities were places where scholars studied. As a sideline, they would train undergraduates in the craft skills of scholarship. Traditionally, a university education was available only to the children of wealthy families or intellectually able kids who successfully applied for a scholarship. In the post-war period that picture changed due to changes to the funding structure - LA funding allowed many more young people to attend. But university attendance was still rationed, which clearly wasn't fair on those who happened to be part of a particularly academically inclined cohort where there was increased competition for places.

However, it doesn't make sense to address inequities in a funding system by simply upping the percentage of people you expect to attend university from 10% to 50%. It assumes that 50% of the population has the inclination and ability to cope with academic training and that they, and the rest of the community will benefit from it in terms of economic prosperity and/or quality of life. Has that been the case in the UK, or the USA? Not as far as I can see. Here, the outcomes have been that more people have graduated, certainly, and that's made a big difference to some of them. But also there's been an increase in retention problems, universities have had to shift their focus from research to teaching, there have been significant problems over the recruitment of overseas students, students have incurred massive debts and have had to work through courses which aren't designed (like those in the US) to accommodate working alongside studying, lecturers have had to cope with students who don't have the skills for the course and with increasing amounts of plagiarism, and it's becoming increasingly difficult for researchers to access research papers.

Gove mentions countries with higher levels of university attendance; Poland, South Korea, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. Are these nations significantly more successful economically than the UK because of their higher educational attainment, or culturally richer, or have populations that are happier or more stable? So what's his point? The UK has to be near the top of every league table because that's just how it should be?

Then there's his view of education
Because education properly understood - a liberal education which includes the disciplines of language, literature and mathematics, science, geography and history, music, art and design - introduces children to the habits of thought and bodies of knowledge which are the highest expressions of human thought and creativity.

Education - properly understood - allows children to become citizens - capable of sifting good arguments from bad, the bogus from the truthful, the contingent from the universal.
Unfortunately, Gove's education doesn't seem to have equipped him very well to do the last three things in his list, if he assumes that a 'properly understood' view of education is one that's divided up into discrete subject areas and that it embodies the concept that there is a hierarchy of expression of thought and creativity. I'm sure Gove has never tried to get one of the proponents of the highest expressions of thought and creativity to cut his hair, fix a burst pipe or sort out a problem with his car's electrics, or he'd be a keener supporter of access to local FE colleges and some of the 'lower' forms of human thought and creativity that allow those engaging in the 'higher' ones to get to work every day.

With regard to Heather's point about GCSEs and A levels, although I recognise there are problems currently, I can't see how Gove's proposals are going to resolve them without creating others. The reason exams in separate subjects were brought in originally was because there were so many complaints about able children failing one subject only of the school leaving certificate - this, rightly, was seen as not providing an accurate reflection of the child's overall ability. Since the EBacc, and making exams more challenging is likely to increase the failure rate, how is that compatible with increasing the uptake of university places?

This man is a journalist, and a minister in a government that sees governance in terms of PR. He's never had to sort out a workplace dispute, make a decision that will affect the jobs of people that he is personally responsible for, design a manufacturing system that makes a widget that really works so that millions of people want to buy it, control a riot in a school corridor, mop up sick from a classroom floor or figure out exactly why Jane or Jimmy just doesn't seem to 'get' subtraction.

Pah. Empty rhetoric.

elsie

Heather F
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by Heather F » Sun Nov 18, 2012 8:16 pm

Elsie I am a bit surprised that you appear to have jumped on the rather tedious, knee jerk anti- Gove bandwagon.
I also thought his comment on 50% etc was poor and thought it just looked like a bit of poorly considered point scoring against the opposition. However, it was a minor part of a speech in which he also argued very strongly for an end of just the sort of poor teaching you were critical of elsewhere.
Perhaps you are less aware of the context of the debate, a school system that currently actively pushes for knowledge as less necessary than skills and leads to the very problems you outline, of children being asked to do different forms of writing without being sufficiently knowledgable about the genre to produce anything meaningful. In history, my subject, children are endlessly invited to make judgements on big historical questions after reading an extract of a few lines. He specifically references Willingham to point out that this is not sound. The last exam reforms in 2007 consciously pushed this 'skills' agenda and I am trying to prepare A Level students for exams marked using assumptions about how children understand material, that are unsound, and it is a nightmare. Gove' s proposed reforms will really help me by making A2 exams once again accessible for the full A - E ability range, which they now frequently aren't, leading to teachers having to drill students to jump through hoops to appear to 'understand' when in fact set phrases are counted as 'showing understanding'.The trick is to work out what the examiner' s set phrases will be. These are complex issues, problems, varying from subject to subject, but that is why I am surprised by your response.
It is clear where you sit in terms of vocational rather than academic preparation but Gove's point is not one made from ignorance, just from the other side of the argument to the one you support. Again one needs to take account of the context of Gove's comments. Maybe Ebacc won't help the weakest but what about all the students perfectly able to appreciate what a liberal education offers currently in schools that don't teach them? I was looking at some league tables the other day comparing GCSE results in a range of state and lower performing private schools. It showed what percentage of students would have gained the Ebacc. The contrast between state and private sector was tragic, all those capable students doing GCSEs in Travel and Tourism - not History etc. Even if you disagree if is not ill informed to argue for more access to liberal education. Actually Gove did try to help the less able by saying he wanted them to do different exams more suited to their level of understanding, he was savaged for promoting inequality.
There is so much more I could say but while Gove is a politician and that shows in his speech I do think that his comments showed he was very aware of the sorts of issues I see and face and I don't think you are especially aware of the context in which his comments were made.

elsiep
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by elsiep » Sun Nov 18, 2012 9:15 pm

Heather F wrote:Elsie I am a bit surprised that you appear to have jumped on the rather tedious, knee jerk anti- Gove bandwagon.
As far as I'm aware, my opinion of Gove's views on education is the result of years of watching, reading and thinking, rather than jumping on a bandwagon.
Perhaps you are less aware of the context of the debate, a school system that currently actively pushes for knowledge as less necessary than skills and leads to the very problems you outline, of children being asked to do different forms of writing without being sufficiently knowledgable about the genre to produce anything meaningful.
I'm well aware of the problem; but I can't see how it's going to be tackled with the Ebacc or increasing the proportion of school leavers attending university. As I pointed out, the two policies are likely to be mutually counterproductive.
In history, my subject, children are endlessly invited to make judgements on big historical questions after reading an extract of a few lines. He specifically references Willingham to point out that this is not sound. The last exam reforms in 2007 consciously pushed this 'skills' agenda and I am trying to prepare A Level students for exams marked using assumptions about how children understand material, that are unsound, and it is a nightmare. Gove' s proposed reforms will really help me by making A2 exams once again accessible for the full A - E ability range, which they now frequently aren't, leading to teachers having to drill students to jump through hoops to appear to 'understand' when in fact set phrases are counted as 'showing understanding'.The trick is to work out what the examiner' s set phrases will be. These are complex issues, problems, varying from subject to subject, but that is why I am surprised by your response.
I don't understand why you are surprised. I'm not saying there aren't problems with current A levels, but Gove hasn't gone into detail about how the content of A level courses is going to be changed.
It is clear where you sit in terms of vocational rather than academic preparation but Gove's point is not one made from ignorance, just from the other side of the argument to the one you support.
What argument am I supporting? I happen to believe that any large population encompasses people with a range of talents and interests and what's most likely to optimise people's standard of living and quality of life is if they can work at what they are good at and enjoy and can access education whenever they need it in their lifespan, rather than having a front-loaded education system that for reasons its not clear about believes that academic skills are 'higher' than practical ones.
Again one needs to take account of the context of Gove's comments. Maybe Ebacc won't help the weakest but what about all the students perfectly able to appreciate what a liberal education offers currently in schools that don't teach them? I was looking at some league tables the other day comparing GCSE results in a range of state and lower performing private schools. It showed what percentage of students would have gained the Ebacc. The contrast between state and private sector was tragic, all those capable students doing GCSEs in Travel and Tourism - not History etc. Even if you disagree if is not ill informed to argue for more access to liberal education.
I've got no problem with people studying what they want to study and I'm all in favour of people learning for the sake of learning. I'm just pointing out that there is a historical reason why public examinations are separated into subject areas, and Gove appears to have overlooked that point. I'd also question the liberal education dualistic perspective of some types of thought and creativity being 'higher' than other, equally important forms of thought and creativity.
Actually Gove did try to help the less able by saying he wanted them to do different exams more suited to their level of understanding, he was savaged for promoting inequality.
You see, you are at it too - 'the less able'. 'Less able' in what respect? Academic skills are necessary for a community as a whole but they aren't necessary to every individual in that community. The woman who cuts my hair left school with 3 GCSEs, but she can do things with hair I could never do if I practiced from now until doomsday. My writing ability is probably better than hers, but who decides which of us is 'less able'?
There is so much more I could say but while Gove is a politician and that shows in his speech I do think that his comments showed he was very aware of the sorts of issues I see and face and I don't think you are especially aware of the context in which his comments were made.
I'd be interested to know why you think that. I've been involved in the education system in one capacity or another on and off for the best part of half a century and have been following the shenanigans at the Departments of Education/skills/children/schools/families fairly closely for the past decade. During that period, evidence for educational policy has been noticeable by its absence. And I can't see any in Gove's speech. What have I missed?

elsie

Heather F
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by Heather F » Sun Nov 18, 2012 9:20 pm

You also sound horrifically elitist. What is wrong with future car mechanics, hairdressers and plumbers studying History, Geography or French to 16? Why should they be in schools that push them down a vocational path before they are even 16 years old and decide these subjects are not for them? That is what happens currently. It isn't good enough to say that you are happy to allow them to if they want to. Currently the system does not allow them to. Gove wants to do something about that - hoorah! That is the context of this speech. I agree he is, of course a self serving politician full of hot air but you dismiss his comments out off hand because you do not know the context. None, of what you have said just now suggests you are aware of current issues that Gove is addressing.

elsiep
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by elsiep » Sun Nov 18, 2012 9:43 pm

Heather F wrote:You also sound horrifically elitist. What is wrong with future car mechanics, hairdressers and plumbers studying History, Geography or French to 16?
If you read what I said, you will note that I advocated people accessing education throughout their lifespan. There is nothing wrong with anyone studying whatever they want to study at whatever age they want to study it. But I get the impression that Gove thinks that History, Geography and French are 'higher' forms of thought and creativity than mechanics, hairdressing or plumbing. If he does think that, I'd question his philosophical framework.
Why should they be in schools that push them down a vocational path before they are even 16 years old and decide these subjects are not for them? That is what happens currently. It isn't good enough to say that you are happy to allow them to if they want to. Currently the system does not allow them to.
As I understand it, the current 'league tables' system puts pressure on schools to perform on exam results, which means some schools push kids into doing 'easy' subjects - often vocational ones. But I can't see how the EBacc is going to change the pressure on schools to meet performance targets.
Gove wants to do something about that - hoorah! That is the context of this speech. I agree he is, of course a self serving politician full of hot air but you dismiss his comments out off hand because you do not know the context. None, of what you have said just now suggests you are aware of current issues that Gove is addressing.
And none of what you've said suggests that you have any evidence that I'm unaware of that context. What Gove wants to do is address some problems in the system. He's planning to do that by introducing some things that are quite likely to cause different problems, and, as far as I can see, hasn't provided any evidence to show that his plan is likely to have the desired outcomes. I don't even know what his desired outcomes are. Where can I find the Gove masterplan for education, plus supporting evidence of likely efficacy?

elsie

Heather F
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by Heather F » Sun Nov 18, 2012 10:09 pm

You say 'what have I missed?' You are not a secondary teacher preparing students for public examinations.
Try googling Tim Oates. He wrote a very readable survey of curriculums around the world that Gove's curriculum reviews are based on.
How aware are you of the 'twenty first century skills' movement and its influence on the last batch of Labour curriculum and exam reforms? To understand what they think and the influence of those ideas on schooling currently is crucial to understand Gove's speech.
With that context in mind Willingham's book is a great read and you may have come across the impact of the ideas of Hirsch as they were discussed in Radio 4 documentary mentioned on this forum.
I can't imagine you will agree with much of it, but Old Andrew's blog is a gold mine for anyone interested in current trends in education (he is largely critical of them).

elsiep
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by elsiep » Mon Nov 19, 2012 5:11 am

Heather F wrote:You say 'what have I missed?' You are not a secondary teacher preparing students for public examinations.
I don't claim to know much about the content of public examinations, but so far you haven't told me anything about them I wasn't aware of.
Try googling Tim Oates. He wrote a very readable survey of curriculums around the world that Gove's curriculum reviews are based on.
I'd appreciate a link, because all I could find was the report his committee wrote, the procedures of which some members of the committee themselves have questioned publicly. Happy to read it, but I wouldn't describe it as 'very readable' so I don't think it's what you're referring to.
How aware are you of the 'twenty first century skills' movement and its influence on the last batch of Labour curriculum and exam reforms? To understand what they think and the influence of those ideas on schooling currently is crucial to understand Gove's speech.
I'm very aware of it; however, just changing it isn't necessarily going to make everything OK. A few months ago I was at a conference discussing the implications of the SEN green paper. I was sitting next to a parent who kept responding to every concern raised about the proposed legislation with 'But it can't be any worse than it is now'. Well, yes it can, actually. If it's been worse before, it can be worse in the future. Successive governments have based their educational policies not on an analysis of the data, because there often aren't any, but on appealing ideas they then test out on a jaded, cynical population. I see no reason to think that anything has changed, though I will read Mr Oates' contribution to the debate with interest.

With that context in mind Willingham's book is a great read and you may have come across the impact of the ideas of Hirsch as they were discussed in Radio 4 documentary mentioned on this forum.
I can't imagine you will agree with much of it, but Old Andrew's blog is a gold mine for anyone interested in current trends in education (he is largely critical of them).
Why can't you imagine I will agree with Old Andrew? You know next to nothing about me, clearly.


elsie

Heather F
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Re: Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success

Post by Heather F » Mon Nov 19, 2012 6:24 pm

I don't claim to know your views, I just made the comment because Old Andrew has a series of blogs addressing issues you have raised on this thread and putting forward views that disagree with yours. Try the one on the Education Secretary for starters.

I have no desire to go through all the things I know about the school system and its problems because I am a secondary teacher that I would not otherwise know... You say I haven't yet told you anything about public exams you didn't already know... Really? So you know already all about the issues with the skills based markschemes at A Level I described. Really?

In fact you felt able to dismiss the speech out of hand before you even read it. You then analysed the speech without even making reference to the ways he was addressing some big issues in education. Either you didn't realise they were issues or weren't interested in those sections of the speech because you don't know how significant the issues are. If you know anything about public exams you would know that he addresses issues that dominate my working life.

No one knows yet much about what will actually come out of the rhetoric but that is not the point. You wrote a comment dismissive of Gove, implying his ignorance of the issues. I suggested he was not ignorant and in fact keen to address issues which you yourself had raised as problems.
I make no claim about whether the policies he implements will work- I am just pleased that at least he has identified what some of the problems are.

The article is "Could do Better. Using International comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England". Tim Oates, Cambridge Assessment.

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