Coffee House

Even the best laid plans of Michael Gove can go awry

7 February 2013

8:56 AM

7 February 2013

8:56 AM

Coalition ministers and commentators like to study Michael Gove as an example of a successful reforming politician. The Education Secretary is most definitely man not mouse, taking on some of the most vehement vested interests in our public services, and even appearing to enjoy himself while he does it. But today’s change of tack on GCSE reform shows that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Actually, as the FT’s Chris Cook so eloquently explained on the Today programme, it don’t matter whether the reformed exams are called Gove-levels, EBCs, or plain old GCSEs: what is clearly most important is that the reforms call time on the current system of exam boards competing in part on whose papers are more ‘accessible’ (or easy to pass) and teachers coming under pressure not only to get their pupils over that crucial D/C grade boundary but also to mark up their coursework because everyone else does it. The reforms will still toughen up the exams with an end to the modular structure and open-ended questions.

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One problem was that using a single exam board for each subject would have fallen foul of EU procurement rules. There was always something a trifle un-Conservative about this idea, which was reducing the amount of competition in the sector rather than increasing it. It also meant that teachers would have had a great deal less choice when it came to which era of history, for example, they could teach their pupils. The plan is now for the exam regulator to have a tighter grip on the papers instead.

But the Lib Dems, who initially blocked the introduction of a two-tier O-level style system, appear to have got their way again. One told me last night when I asked if this was going down in their list of ‘Lib Dem wins’ that this was a ‘win for good sense’. Nick Clegg will likely be less tactful when he addresses his party’s spring conference in a month’s time.

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  • HooksLaw

    ‘what is clearly most important is that the reforms call time on the
    current system of exam boards competing in part on whose papers are more
    ‘accessible’ (or easy to pass)’ — correct, and the longest journey starts with the first step.

  • David Lindsay

    Considerable credit must go to my friend, neighbour and MP, Pat Glass, and to the rest of the Education Select Committee. Let them now look into the menagerie that is the Ministerial team in that Department. Gove himself. Dirty Betty Truss. David Laws, a far worse offender than Chris Huhne with his points for speeding. That sleepy-headed shirker and sciver, Matthew Hancock, who, when he grows up, wants to be George Osborne. Lord Nash, who has plainly and simply purchased both Ministerial office and a seat in our
    very legislature, a flagrant breach of the criminal law.

    We may look with rather less hope to Stephen Twigg, a Blairite dinosaur who has ruled out the restoration of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, and whose job may therefore usefully be given instead to Rory Weal. But a new educational charity should elect to Associateship those pupils in all schools who, on leaving the Sixth Form at 18, had attained since beginning Year 10 examination results at or above the average in the remaining state grammar schools, both in terms of the marks themselves, and in terms of the range of subjects studied. It should also elect to Fellowship those teachers whose pupils attained such results over 10 consecutive years.

    Associateship would be automatic, so that hostile schools or whoever else would not be able to deny it to anyone. The most prestigious universities would be contacted in order to make the Associateship an admission requirement. And this charity would be called after a Labour politician who fought to defend the grammar schools as the ladder of working-class advancement. There are plenty to choose from: Ellen Wilkinson, George Tomlinson, Sidney Webb, R H Tawney, Eric Hammond, to name but a few.

    That would be a start, anyway.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Whenever the Spec wants to defend the cameroonian coalition, Gove’s (prospective) ‘reforms are usually no1 or 2 on the list of ‘achievements’.

    Things are now looking pretty threadbare and a full term Govt is looking even more pointless.

    • telemachus

      Gove is one of the more evil of the doctrinaire bunch
      He is dangerous because he is manipulating the fine young minds of the future
      We need to mould them into caring young adults not fact cyphers

      • DWWolds

        What was really dangerous was the extent to which 15 year old students in England plummeted down the OECD’s comparison tables in maths, science and literacy during the period from 2001-2010. And, in case you have forgotten, that was when Labour were in office.

        • telemachus

          I think you will find methodology problems
          Ed Balls was beginning to bring in reforms to promote both excellence and equality

  • Daniel Maris

    Oh well, we hadn’t had a U turn for a while. That makes 38 now, I think. Unless you count offering an in-out referendum as a U turn which I guess it was, since it had always been rejected previously.

  • Daniel Maris

    Pedants’ Corner:

    I don’t think you can have a vehement interest. You can have an interest that is vehemently held. Or you can have a vehement interest in something. But you can’t have a vehement interest per se e.g. you can’t have a vehement shareholding in Barclays or a vehement membership of a club or a vehement job.

  • 2trueblue

    Amazing how quickly the media in general is out in force when the present government want to change anything, even when it is an improvement. What a shame that over 13yrs they were all asleep whilst Liebore ruined the country.

    • telemachus

      On what evidence?
      We were getting more prosperous year on year until the yanks blew us off course

  • UlyssesReturns

    Machiavelli tells us: “It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new
    system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those
    who gain by the new ones. ” The excellent Gove is up against the
    vested interests of the teaches’ unions, the labour party, the libtards and the cowards
    within his own party. He is far and a way the best man in government
    and this is just a setback, not a defeat.

    P.S. Had to repost this. What’s up with the Speccie/Disqus?

  • Geo Shepherd

    Shunted sideways in the next reshuffle and back on the TV review show sofas by late 2015
    A clever guy brought low by believing his own hype and a strange attachment to 1950’s style education

  • UlyssesReturns

    Machiavelli tells us: “It must be remembered that there is nothing more
    difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones. ” The excellent Gove is up against the vested interests of the labour party, the libtards and the cowards within his own party. He is far and a way the best man in government and this is just a setback, not a defeat.

  • Adrian Drummond

    I read that the Lib-Dems are also blocking an increase in defense spending. Amazing how a party that represents so few, has so great an impact over the many.

    • ButcombeMan

      Two of their Cabinet Ministers have had to resign over dishonesty.

      When any of them start crowing over what they have achieved in government, they need to be reminded of that.

    • martinvickers

      Well, that’s what happens when you can’t win an un-loseable election. You lose your leverage.

    • 2trueblue

      It is the new democracy. Frankly I would be happy for Cameron to have a really good reshuffle and get rid of all the LibDums from the cabinet. It would make little difference as they do not support the government and there is little point in them being there. Then they could feel free to say and do what they like.

      Oh, they already do.

    • Daniel Maris

      Defense? with an “s” (purple faced outrage) – are you another of these North Americans like Viceroy?

  • http://twitter.com/Shinsei1967 Nick Reid

    It was an excellent discussion of what Gove’s “u-turn” amounted to on Radio 4 this morning. As the R4 education expert pointed out apart from the name (which was always a mistake as it confused EBCs with English Baccs) there is no difference at all between the proposed EBCs and how the new look GCSEs will turn out in 2017.

    The only silliness was Evan Davies’ demand to have the last word and refer to this as a “strange u-turn”. Much as he did in his infamous and petulant interview with Osborne.

    And I don’t think conserervatives demand competition in exam systems. No one has ever called for driving tests to have three separate boards (with one not requiring reversing around a corner). Conservativism surely calls for a strong rule of law. Surely this also applies to the rigour of examination systems too.

    • starfish

      I thought the inevitable interview with Worzel Twigg was pretty poor also

      Gove plays a long game against serried ranks of vested interests – I have yet to meet a parent that does not think he is doing an excellent job of trying to raise standards and accountability in the education ‘profession’

    • http://twitter.com/heraclesblack Heracles Black

      Of the seven boards, two are run by a university(CIE and OCR), one by private company (Edexcel), one is a public body, (ICCAE and CCEA), one by the guilds(AQA), and one by local authorities (WJEC). It makes sense to retain options because of differences in judgment, tradition and emphasis determine quality rather than competition. It also means different benchmarks, as teachers know. However universities are pretty good at recognising ability and grade.

    • telemachus

      Evan Davies has the perspicacity to highlight the stupidity of the hated doctrinaire Gove
      He only withdrew from this because of absolute impossibility
      He will not stop in his request to destroy the teaching profession by his crazy pay proposals

  • RogerCh

    Proof that you can only bury your head in the sand for so long before having to come up for air; even for Michael Gove.

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