Exam results season yet again inspires righteous indignation from teachers and educationalists everywhere.
Not the ironic accusatory anger ascribed to irrational moments or outbursts but to the classic indignation of the justified. Of those who really understand the reasons for anger and unease. Michael Gove has surely presided over the most controversial and potentially damaging set of results in living history.
Classically, exam results season is the lose lose context for teachers, students and politicians alike. This year, however, it is our students who are to suffer above all.
Normally, this is the time that successful students are pilloried instead of congratulated for their hard work and achievement due to the apparent easing of standards, teachers are similarly hamstrung at a time when they are the best they have ever been, instead being scapegoated for the failings of a system that rewards achievement above learning. And politicians, poor old politicians, are criticised for their continual influence over a system that dictates the success of a generation in terms of what they believe success should look like. Equally criticised for the relaxing of standards as they are for addressing a potentially manufactured rise in standards, politicians must also suffer at this time.
And suffer they should!
When politics and ideology reaches the point where it sacrifices the achievement of children it is surely time to take stock. Ofqual fact finding and meetings with exam boards and online petitions for the removal of Mr Gove aside, the knock on effect for the thousands of students we should be congratulating for seeing the point of continuing in education is considerable. The wheels of beauracracy never do and will never move fast enough to ensure that these students are adequately supported in taking their next steps.
Despite the national drop in results and well publicised calls for review, I know that, particularly Heads of English across the land (and particularly those who recall the unpredictability of the SATs) are dreading the first weeks back at school with the early exam result review meetings and action plan writing to address the fall in standards looming over their heads. We will reflect and adapt what we do to aim to maximise the potential of our students and that of the school as we always do, with the knowledge that we have done as we always do.
It is professionally and morally galling that we should be asked to assess the effectiveness of our teaching and learning and the systems we have put into practice to maximise achievement in the knowledge that students were set up to fail.
The media, blogs and twitter are, at the moment, providing the battleground for what is a vast venting of spleen. Calls for resignation will be met with characteristic smugness from a man who is socially engineering the generation who will keep his party in power.
Gove’s awful genius is a horrible Thatcherite or 1930s Berlin style appeal to the masses with his mission that all children should be able to access the best knowledge. The problems arise when the ideological bent of interpretation of what is best and what is right is determined by him and his party. It is important for him to create a system that will differentiate those who can from those who can’t. Clearly and definitively. And, in a sense, ensuring that he is able to accuse everyone who disagrees with him of “low” expectations of our young people or of attempting to exclude the lower classes from the “best” of our culture because of an assumption that they just can’t deal with it or comprehend it. To me this is a callous way of setting students and teachers up for failure and an intended lack of understanding that, living in the most stimulating period of history, learning is more than the simple memorising of facts.
His narrow, clumsy and callous treatment of the achievement of this years students, particularly in GCSE English demonstrates the difference between his ideology and that of educationalists who have to believe that their students can and will learn in order that students themselves believe it. Teachers are realists and are far better placed than politicians to delineate to what extent students can acquire the skills, concepts and knowledge that they wish to impart. Teachers find a way for students to learn instead of creating new ways for them to fail. Conservative politicians, instead, recreate a system that bludgeons those students who either cannot or do not wish to pursue academic studies into feeling that they have failed.
There, I said it. I had fully intended to write about pedagogy this week or the importance of a creative approach to learning and teaching and teacher learning and also the building of networks, but I couldn’t let this moment pass me by as my online contemporaries got the daggers out.
The most frustrating thing about righteous indignation is the knowledge that right is on your side but that the likelihood of anything happening is slim. The council failed to give me my new bin. It’s a new system and they missed me out and then failed many times to respond to my phone calls until, eventually, a new bin was delivered and all was right with the world. But it struck me that this is what we do. We make ourselves heard and always rattle into the spongey wall of admin and hollow words that anger or placate us in equal measure. And what really changes? Bins and Education Secretaries come and go. I will still have to sort my recycling in the way that the Council want it and I will, like it or not, still have to work within the system that has failed so miserably to reward our students this summer. So what do we do?
We write our action plans and our lessons and we get better. Despite the right wing tweets and articles decrying teachers as liberals who cannot cope with the hard headed treatment of the exam boards, we know that we are the ones who are truly dealing with success and failure every day and the many increments within the learning that allows students and schools to succeed.
September comes around as it always does. And so ends another exam season. Amen.
Next time: engagement. What is it really? How do we spot it? And can we do better than the quietly compliant classroom?