How Labour should respond to the Gove Terror
The benchmark for excellence in response to the leaked ‘O’ Level/CSE plans has been set by Christopher Cook at the FT, with his convincing use of the National Pupil Database to show that the poorest children will be hit hardest:
The most significant issues around this idea are related to social mobility: the CSE will tend to be an exam for poorer children. Consider who would take the CSE if schools could select the quarter of pupils with the lowest average grades with perfect foresight.
Christopher’s analysis is spot on, but the big problem for Labour is Gove’s plans are still likely to be very popular, unless it can come up with a convincing and accessible case against.
The Tories have largely won the argument about educational standards, not least because they and the Department for Education have lied about the statistics (latest example here from Tory MP Liz Truss), and because Labour has allowed them to get away with it.
Now, ‘everyone knows’ that educational standards have fallen badly, and ‘everyone’ seems to be agreed that something must be done. Gove offers that something, and it looks attractive to those without the time or inclination to see past the media’s happy compliance.
The answer to Labour’s problem comes in another section of Christopher’s analysis:
Every child from the 29th to 48th percentile gets an average grade of “D”. If that were not hard enough, children are moving targets – particularly in the early teenage years. There is a lot of movement between standardised tests. One third of the bottom quarter of children at the age of 11 break out of that grouping by the age of 16.
The top mark for the renewed CSE will equate to a D at ‘O’ level. That is widely seen as a fail. So 25% of children will be seen to fail, however well they do in the CSE, and (if the 75%/25% split is maintained) the bar will be raised if there are too many children doing well enough to do the ‘O’ level. ‘Pour encourager lest autres’ I think it’s called.
This knowledge, combined with the percentile stats provided by Christopher, creates a scary picture for parents. For not only will the 25% be consigned to the scrap heap, there’s another 25% of so at significant risk of being consigned, because we know that a) right up to the 48% percentile we’re talking fail-grade, and that the mobility across the percentiles is large (where some go up, some must go down).
And the risk doesn’t stop at the 48% percentile. It may lessen off, but anywhere up to, say 70% of children may be at some risk of dipping into failure.
This should be Labour’s pitch:
If we win in 2015, we won’t put the futures of 70% of children at risk. We’ll give everyone the opportunity to make the best of themselves. We’re the party of legitimate aspiration. We commit to stopping the two-tier exam system, and returning to policy based on respect for professionals and honesty with data.
Job done. Get to it, Twiggy, and stop arsing about talking procedure and waiting for detail.