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Chris McGovern: Time to stop the Blob disguising the failures of our schools

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Would you like to know all of the truth or half of the truth about public examination results at age 16? Many head teachers would prefer we have only half the truth. It appears that they do not wish us to see the whole picture. They only wish to make half of it readily available for general consumption. A row has broken out over the Government’s plan to give headline status to E-bacc results as well as to the new “Progress 8” summative score covering eight GCSE subjects, when results are published next time around.

On the surface, the “Progress 8” measure of attainment is not without some merit. Certainly, it provides a broader perspective of attainment than the current focus on just English and maths. In addition, it will, in theory, include a measure of progress across the span of secondary education from 11 to 16.

Heads’ leaders are arguing, however, that only the Progress 8 scores should be headlined. The sub-text is that, in their view, it is all that we are entitled to know. For the educational establishment, the ‘Blob’, rather than a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, too much public knowledge about what is actually going on is seen as the real danger. This is understandable in the light of the fact that less than a quarter of GCSE candidates currently achieve the E-bacc of the five core subjects – English, maths, a science, history or geography and a foreign language. With ‘tougher’ GCSEs promised, the ‘Blob’ is in a bit of a panic that some inconvenient truths will emerge if attention is drawn to the GCSE results that matter most – the E-Bacc.

Nor are we able to put too much confidence in the reliability of “Progress 8” scores. The process by which they will be worked out is Byzantine in its complexity and surrounded by a wall of obfuscation. Equally, the measuring of progress between the ages of 11 and 16 is fundamentally flawed, based as it will be on ‘dodgy data’ for 11-year-olds that will constitute the baseline. The ‘Blob’s’ opaque procedures for the measuring of pupil ‘progress’ is more akin to the priestly reading of entrails in the temples of Ancient Rome. One recent Ofsted report, for example, judged a school in Rye to be “outstanding” in all categories including the category that covers progress. Shortly after the inspection report was published so were the GCSE results. They showed an 8 per cent ‘pass’ rate!

The opposition of many head teachers to giving E-bacc results equal status to “Progress 8” scores tells us much about the self-serving nature of the ‘Blob’. It is ‘producer-led’ rather than ‘consumer-led’. It is antipathetic to the basic principles of an ‘open’ society because its driving force has for long been about protecting the ‘producer’ by disguising the truth rather than revealing it.

Unless we know the truth about public examination results we cannot even begin to plan a strategy for raising standards to compete with the best education systems around the world. The Government must stand firm on this matter. E-bacc results, however embarrassing, must have a status equal to “Progress 8” scores. To cave into the pressure currently being exerted on it by the ‘Blob’ would be to betray those whom the education system is there to serve – the children, the parents and the country. We need the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovernhttp://www.cre.org.uk
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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