Yesterday I wrote about Friday’s Any Questions? programme on Radio 4 that was clearly focused on education issues. Sadly the contributions were limited to two political parties (Labour and Conservative). They involved a current Minister from each party and then a retired Labour ex-Minister and Toby Young who is a very evident Tory supporter. The fact that the producers ignored including any other parties and any educational specialists was clearly very disappointing. However the fact that they included Toby Young with his very damaging background was much more concerning for me as I explained yesterday. A classic error that he made was a statement that all Schools have been closed for six months. In fact most Schools did not close down at all as almost all remained open for children of key workers and indeed at the beginning of June most began to welcome certain age groups of the rest of their pupils. However clearly many children were kept away from their Schools from Friday 20th March until the end of the Summer Term which was in the third week of July. So if one was being specific this did involve five calendar months, rather than six. However there were 18 weeks in total of which at least two would have been closed down for all staff and students due to the Easter break in April and one more for the Half Term break in June so that would be a maximum of 15 weeks that Schools could have been open. Whilst that was clearly a very significant and challenging period it was less than four months, and therefore a long way short of six months!
One of my disappointments was that the programme on Friday while discussing exams seemed to miss the opportunity to consider alternatives to them, even though several comments referred to their many flaws. The challenge was that the question came from a chap called Frank Wiseman from Godalming who was a retired examination officer. So although he included the following words “A very flawed exam system which for two decades has been incapable of accurate marking and grade awards for some very obvious reasons”, he was not arguing for a reduction in the role of exams. Indeed none of the speakers made that case although bizarrely the one person who did refer to it was Toby Young, but only in a suggestion that this was the worst of all options. Sadly although Charles Clarke did express the inadequacy of the work of Michael Gove, alongside Dominic Cummings and with Nick Gibb in trying to increase the focus on exam results and later referred to how Gavin Williamson was also part of the problem, his comments did not extend to reducing the dependency on A Level exams. He did refer to the Mike Tomlinson report of 2002 which did focus on exams, but sadly its emphasis was on improving their function, not reducing it. My view is very clear that while exams are important, that there also needs to be a much broader approach that gives pupils results that are not exclusively based on exams. Indeed if such an approach was taken, this would help to enable people who are poor at exam processes, but very clever to be given much better results on a permanent basis. Even many degrees do not limit themselves to exams and certainly many employers choose to treat exams as a very small part of their requirements or nothing at all. Indeed if exams were to collapse again as they did this year, a less exam focused approach would then be a much better provision. Sadly according to Michelle Donelan the Conservative Minister of State for Universities in the Department for Education “[examinations] are the fairest way of assessing young people”. The response from Toby Young was
“The absence of children actually sitting exams is a really good advertisement for exams, not a reason not to sit them again, if they don’t sit them again we’ll have to come up with other means of trying to assess of how well they’ve done which will be bound to be less accurate”
So perhaps we should try the alternative system as clearly Toby Young cannot count to six months and takes 15 weeks and promotes it as if it was 26 weeks. In that case it would seem his judgement is best to be ignored. In the same way Michelle is not able to challenge the Cummings position without losing her post, so her views can also be ignored.