Archive for Michael Gove

How should mathematics be taught to non-mathematicians?

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on February 25, 2014 by telescoper

telescoper:

This post from the estimable “Gowers’s Weblog” passed me by when it was originally published in 2012, but I saw the link on Twitter and decided to repost it here because it’s still topical..

Originally posted on Gowers's Weblog:

Michael Gove, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, has expressed a wish to see almost all school pupils studying mathematics in one form or another up to the age of 18. An obvious question follows. At the moment, there are large numbers of people who give up mathematics after GCSE (the exam that is usually taken at the age of 16) with great relief and go through the rest of their lives saying, without any obvious regret, how bad they were at it. What should such people study if mathematics becomes virtually compulsory for two more years?

A couple of years ago there was an attempt to create a new mathematics A-level called Use of Mathematics. I criticized it heavily in a blog post, and stand by those criticisms, though interestingly it isn’t so much the syllabus that bothers me as the awful exam questions. One might…

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Remarks on Regrading

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2012 by telescoper

I haven’t had time thus far to comment on the ongoing row about GCSE examinations, but was inspired to do a quick lunchtime postette when I read some of Chief Stooge Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s comments over the weekend.

It seems Mr Clegg objects to Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews’ decision to order the examination board WJEC to regrade GCSEs in English, as a response to a report from regulatory officials arguing that the grading process had been unfair and that it had disadvantaged students. As a result of Leighton Andrews’ intervention, over two thousand Welsh students of English have received higher grades than initially awarded.  In England, on the other hand, the regulator Ofqual decided not to regrade examinations, but to offer students the chance to resit.

Here is a statement from a spokesperson for the Welsh Government explaining the different approaches in England and Wales:

Unlike in England where responsibility for qualifications is devolved through legislation to Ofqual, in Wales the Welsh Ministers have regulatory responsibility for the qualifications taken by learners.

In requiring the regrading to take place, the Minister was fulfilling properly these regulatory responsibilities. The decision to carry out the re-grade in Wales led to the swift resolution of an injustice served to well over 2,000 Welsh candidates.

The decision to direct the WJEC to carry out this work was about fairness and ensuring that Welsh students got the grades they deserved for the work they put into their examination. The result of the re-grade was the only acceptable outcome for learners affected by a questionable grading methodology.

Candidates can now rest assured that the process used to determine their final grades was fair and just.

Nick Clegg accuses the Welsh government of “moving the goalposts” – Westminster politicians can always be relied upon to produce  a tired cliché at the drop of a hat – and accused Mr Andrews of political interference.

I think what I’m going to say may prove quite controversial with readers of this blog, but I think Leighton Andrews did the right thing. He has responsibility for regulating the examination system in Wales, and his officials told him the grades were likely to be wrong. He therefore stepped in and ordered the examinations to be  regraded. What’s the problem?

Minister for Education Michael Gove has already admitted that the grading of GCSE examinations this year was indeed unfair, but he decided not to intervene and left it up to Ofqual to decide what to do. I don’t think this because he was worried about political interference in the examination system, as he’s been all over the exam system like a rash in recent months. He decided not to intervene because he wants to kill CGSEs, and the problems this year have probably done just that.

Presumably Nick Clegg’s response to the grading errors would just have involved saying “sorry”….

But whatever the rights and wrongs of Michael Gove and Leighton Andrews, I think this episode just demonstrates what a complete mess the examination system really is.  If anyone previously thought they knew what a grade C in English was supposed to mean then the behaviour of the exam boards this year will have convinced them otherwise. Students and parents must surely now regard the whole process as arbitrary and meaningless.

It’s also a shame that we now seem to think that education is entirely about examinations and qualifications, as if tinkering with the grades that come out of one end of the process somehow means that the students have learned more.  If  more people grasped the fact that there’s much more to education than bits of paper or rankings in league tables then the power of those in authority to depress and demoralize students and teachers would be immediately diminished.

That wouldn’t solve all the problems in our education system, but it would be a start.

Gove Agreement

Posted in Education, Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 25, 2012 by telescoper

telescoper:

I’ve had the same worry about finding myself in agreement with Michael Gove, at least on a few things; see here, for example. Anyway, this piece makes some very good points about the corruption of the GCSE system.

Originally posted on Protons for Breakfast Blog:

Michael Gove

Michael Gove: Not always wrong.

What do you do when someone with whom you basically disagree, says something sensible? Michael Gove has placed me in this situation three times now.

Firstly he abolished the Qualifications and Curriculum development Authority (QCDA).  Secondly he pointed out at that school IT lessons are at best uninspiring. And now he has gone and acknowledged that our system of competitive exam boards has driven down GCSE standards.

You may not have noticed this because he also called for GCSEs to be replaced with ‘O’levels. I sympathise with his motivation – to raise the bar for the most academically able pupils – but I think he is wrong on this. It would be enormously disruptive, enormously divisive, and there is actually nothing inherently wrong with GCSEs.

The problem with GCSEs lies in the ‘almost corrupt‘ link between publishers and their…

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A Return to O-levels?

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on June 21, 2012 by telescoper

I woke up this morning as usual to the 7am news on BBC Radio 3, which included an item about how Education Secretary Michael Gove is planning to scrap the current system of GCSE Examinations and replace them with something more like the old GCE O-levels, which oldies like me took way back in the mists of time.

There is a particular angle to this in Wales, because Michael Gove doesn’t have responsibility for education here. That falls to the devolved Welsh Government, and in particular to Leighton Andrews. He’s made it quite clear on Twitter that he has no intention to take  Wales  back to O-levels. Most UK media sources – predominantly based in London – seem to have forgotten that Gove speaks for England, not for the whole United Kingdom.

This is not the central issue, however. The question is whether GCSEs are, as Michael Gove claims, “so bad that they’re beyond repair”. Politicians, teachers and educationalists are basically saying that students are doing better; others are saying that the exams are easier. It’s a shouting match that has been going for years and which achieves very little. I can’t add much to it either, because I’m too old to have done GCSEs – they hadn’t been invented then. I did O-levels.

It does, however, give me the excuse to show you  the O-level physics paper I took way back in 1979. I’ve actually posted this before, but it seems topical to put it up again:

You might want to compare this with a recent example of an Edexcel GCSE (Multiple-choice) Physics paper, about which I have also posted previously.

I think most of the questions in the GCSE paper are much easier than the O-level paper above. Worse, there are many that are so sloppily put together that they  don’t make any sense at all. Take Question 1:

I suppose the answer is meant to be C, but since it doesn’t say that A is the orbit of a planet, as far as I’m concerned it might just as well be D. Are we meant to eliminate D simply because it doesn’t have another orbit going through it?

On the other hand, the orbit of a moon around the Sun is in fact similar to the orbit of its planet around the Sun, since the orbital speed and radius of the moon around its planet are smaller than those of the planet around the Sun. At a push, therefore you could argue that A is the closest choice to a moon’s orbit around the Sun. The real thing would be something close to a circle with a 4-week wobble variation superposed.

You might say I’m being pedantic, but the whole point of exam questions is that they shouldn’t be open to ambiguities like this, at least if they’re science exams. I can imagine bright and knowledgeable students getting thoroughly confused by this question, and many of the others on the paper.

Here’s a couple more, from the “Advanced” section:

The answer to Q30 is, presumably, A. But do any scientists really think that galaxies are “moving away from the origin of the Big Bang”?  I’m worried that this implies that the Big Bang was located at a specific point. Is that what they’re teaching?

Bearing in mind that only one answer is supposed to be right, the answer to Q31 is presumably D. But is there really no evidence from “nebulae” that supports the Big Bang theory? The expansion of the Universe was discovered by observing things Hubble called “nebulae”..

I’m all in favour of school students being introduced to fundamental things such as cosmology and particle physics, but my deep worry is that this is being done at the expense of learning any real physics at all and is in any case done in a garbled and nonsensical way.

Lest I be accused of an astronomy-related bias, anyone care to try finding a correct answer to this question?

The more of this kind of stuff I see, the more admiration I have for the students coming to study physics and astronomy at University. How they managed to learn anything at all given the dire state of science education represented by this paper is really quite remarkable.

Ultimately, however, the issue is not whether we have GCSEs or O-level examinations. There’s already far too much emphasis in the education system on assessment instead of   learning. That runs all the way through schools and into the university system. The excessive time we spend examining students reduces what we can teach them and turns the students’ learning experience into something resembling a treadmill. I agree that we need better examinations than we have now, but we also need   fewer. And we need to stop being obsessed by them.

By Gove, I agree!

Posted in Education with tags , , , on April 4, 2012 by telescoper

I never thought the day would come, but I have to admit it. I agree with Michael Gove. There. I said it.

Not with everything he says, of course. But I do think that universities should take over responsibility for the examinations required for University Entrance, currently known as A-levels. Here is an excerpt from an old post on this, and I’ve said much the same thing on several other occasions:

So what’s the solution? I think it is to scrap A-levels entirely, and give the system of pre-university qualifications over to the people who actually know what students need to know to cope with their courses, i.e. the universities. There should be a single national system of University Entrance Examinations, set and moderated by an Examination Board constituted by university teachers. This will provide the level playing field that we need. No system can ever be perfect of course, but this is the best way I can think of to solve the biggest problem with the current one. Not that it will ever happen. There are just too many vested interests happy with the status quo despite the fact that it is failing so many of our young people.

But lest you all think I’ve turned into a Conservative, let me point out that the fault with the current system is precisely that market forces have operated to the detriment of educational standards. The GCE examination boards compete for customers by offering easier and easier examinations each year, regardless of what students need to know to cope with University courses. What I advocate is renationalisation.  I bet Mr Gove doesn’t like it put that way…

Oh and another thing. I think universities should be given this task, but should also be paid for doing it just as the examination boards now are. That way it will not be treated as yet another imposition from the top, but an important task that has a similar status within a university as teaching and research.

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