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Pupil assessment – keep SATs, abolish GCSEs 

 

Recess reflections

 

Brexit in perspective but three big deals

 

Planting Peace – at Christmas and beyond 

 

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Thoughts on …

 

Pupil assessment – keep SATs, abolish GCSEs                        13/5/19

 

It's SATs week again and GCSEs are under way too. It’s the not so merry month of May for great swathes of our pupils participating in the annual ritual of national tests and examinations. Just as the better weather invites them to enjoy the warmth of late spring we issue them with a different sort of invitation – to have the pleasure of engaging in some serious cerebral exertion. It’s an invitation they can’t refuse.

 

I understand the concerns of teachers and parents about SATs. The way they are used at present causes unnecessary anxiety for teachers, parents and pupils. In some schools preparation for them may also lead to a lack of balance in the curriculum.

 

There is no need for SATS at the end of Key Stage 1 and quite rightly they will become non-statutory in 2023. But as I say in the extract below I continue to support the idea of national tests at the end of the primary phase. There is absolutely no need to make this testing into the all-consuming event it has become but it should nevertheless be taken seriously.

 

Previously unseen national tests in literacy and numeracy should be administered in controlled conditions, preferably without time limits. These tests enable progress to be measured objectively in schools across the country but, like all forms of assessment, they should also be used to identify areas of learning for individual pupils which need revisiting and reinforcing. Arguably this should be seen as their most important function.

 

SATs should be useful for teachers in order to monitor how effective their teaching has been, and for them to try and overcome learning weaknesses in pupils before they go to secondary school. They are important for parents so they can see the progress their children have made. And they are essential for the pupils themselves – to ensure they have high standards of literacy and numeracy to prepare them for employment, daily life and future learning. 

 

As for GCSEs I will keep arguing that the time has come to abolish them altogether. In comments I have posted previously I have given three reasons for arriving at this conclusion. They fail to select young people adequately for employment; they are not useful in preparing young people for work apart from their contribution to acquiring basic literacy and numeracy; and the production-line model of education which they require is not conducive to instilling a genuine love of learning. (For more of the argument click here)

 

It is time to replace GCSEs with a basic skills test taken at 15 that would assess English, maths, critical thinking and IT. Pupils would still follow a national curriculum until they are 15 but it would be taught in ways that enthused them with learning. After that age they would begin to prepare properly for specific employment and this is when they would need to be rigorously assessed on their capabilities.

 

Perhaps we can use this year’s exam season to join with our pupils in their serious cerebral exertion and do some rigorous thinking about the place of exams in our education system.

 

Extract from Forever Learning Ps 83/84 ... see Chapter 6 for the full argument about exams

 

    With two exceptions national exams and qualifications can safely be left until young people are older and focussing on their future employment. The two occasions when pupils at school do need to be assessed with national tests are at the end of the primary phase and at fifteen. At the end of primary school it seems reasonable that parents should have an objective measure of their children’s progress in English and maths since by then they will usually have had seven years of formal schooling as well as their preschool education. And at fifteen, when young people should be allowed to leave school, all pupils should be tested in English, maths, computing and thinking ability to ensure they have the necessary skills for their employment, daily life and future education and training.

    Grades would not be used in these national tests at eleven and fifteen but percentage scores would be given and comments made about different aspects of the subjects which would include indicating areas which needed strengthening. No doubt schools would be obliged to publish their results in some form to show how they were performing but this would not generally be the cause of too much media excitement…

    … We should bring GCSEs to an end. They are not useful for selecting pupils for future courses and occupations and nor are they useful for preparing pupils for work. They are a time-consuming distraction from fulfilling the many essential purposes of education, they cause too much cramming of knowledge and they do too little to encourage an intrinsic interest in learning. We should constantly remind ourselves that learning history or physics should not be about producing good answers in an exam it should be about understanding and assimilating knowledge that pupils can store away and keep returning to as adults because they find it interesting. The time for rigorous assessment is later when people start work and society needs to know they are competent to do their job.

 

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Thoughts on …

 

Recess reflections                                                                     16/4/19

   

The Prime Minister has suggested that MPs should use the Easter recess to reflect on Brexit. Excellent. I’m strongly in favour of MPs reflecting on political issues any time. But let’s not forget they’ve already had three years to reflect on this matter which, one would think, is long enough to have reached some conclusions.

 

During this period there has certainly been a lot of vocal and written debate and I like to think this has been preceded by a certain amount of reflection. But I do wonder if it has been the right sort.

 

Has it always been reflection about what is the best course of action in the national interest – an expression that is difficult to define precisely but which broadly means securing the welfare of most people? Has it been reflection about how the result of the referendum can best be honoured? Has it been reflection about what as a country we should do to shape a global rather than a European future?

 

Or has there been too much of the wrong sort of reflection. Reflecting, by the opposition parties, about making life difficult for the government in the interests of party political advantage rather than in the interests of the country? Or reflecting on how best to subvert the result of the referendum because it was not what many MPs wanted? Or at the other extreme reflecting on how to get a no deal Brexit when it was perfectly clear this option was not going to be passed by parliament? And for quite a large number of Conservative MPs has it been reflecting about who should be the next Prime Minister.

 

If necessary I’m happy to do some more reflecting about Brexit this Easter, and, apologies in advance, some more Tweeting. I’m prepared to reflect on whether or not I would support the idea of a customs union if the negotiations between the government and the Labour Party move in that direction. But I’ll not be spending too much time weighing up the arguments because like everyone else I have other things to think about.

 

If MPs also want do some more reflecting about Brexit that’s fine with me as long as it’s the right sort. If other people want to do some more reflecting about Brexit that’s fine too, and perhaps some of my posts could be helpful in this endeavour: https://www.quercuspublications.co.uk/brexit_blogs.html

 

But how about everyone, MPs and the rest of us, making time to have a break from Brexit and reflecting on something else this Easter – an event in human history that was far more momentous than leaving the European Union will ever be – the death of Jesus on a cross two thousand years ago. Whatever our beliefs, it is the meaning and significance of this event we should be reflecting on at this time of the year and, indeed, throughout the year.

 

My post from last year contains some ideas to think about and is copied in full below.

 

Have a thoughtful and mostly Brexit-free Easter.

 

 

 

Questions for Easter                                                                 23/3/18

 

I have never really understood the meaning of Easter but its place in western culture continues to fascinate me. It presents the ideal opportunity to ask some of the most fundamental questions we can ever ask about ourselves and our universe.


Questions such as: what happens to us when we die? Is there a God? If there is, who is he or she, and where does he or she come from? What does he or she do, particularly in the endeavour of saving us from our sins or indeed preventing us from sinning in the first place? How did the world begin? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?


Questions. Questions. And here’s another one. Why bother asking such questions? Haven’t we got better things to do with our time this Easter? Like go shopping for chocolate eggs, have a day at the seaside, cut the grass, catch up with social media, go out for a meal and get back to those unfinished bits of DIY.


We all have more than enough to do this Easter without troubling our heads with too much mental wrestling in the philosophy zone. But it doesn't hurt once in a while to spend a few moments pondering the big questions about our existence - preferably not while we are driving the car in the heavy traffic that clogs up our roads at this time of year.


The reason we do ask questions and seek answers is because, as human beings, we have an instinctive curiosity about the world we inhabit. The development of language has provided us with an infinite capacity for thought which allows us to explore a wider range of issues than those our prehistoric ancestors pondered upon.


Over the years I have tried to work out the answers to the big questions referred to but I accept that, for various reasons, other people have different answers. But where we can come together and agree with each other is, surely, in an acceptance of our common humanity and a belief that trying to lead a good and loving life is far better than the opposite.


This for me is the essence of the Christian message. It's not about loving God, it's about loving each other. It's about doing good in this life, not about what will happen to you in the next one. It's about putting into practice the words of the New Testament: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Mark,13), But I say unto you, love your enemies, (Matthew, 5) and, from the great parable everyone can learn from, A certain Samaritan had compassion on him. (Luke, 10)


The events of the first Easter became central to the founding of Christianity as a religion and for telling people about the teaching of Jesus Christ. It seems to me that many of the ethical principles that Jesus proclaimed provide us with some of the best guidance for living that has been devised and for this reason I am happy that Easter continues to be celebrated.


So this Easter let's set aside some time to think about some of the big questions associated with its meaning. And this Easter - whatever our beliefs, however busy we are, however unloving and angry we may feel, let us all love our neighbours, love our enemies and try not to walk by on the other side.

 

Note:


I do wonder how many people these days think about the religious significance of Easter and how many are familiar with the story. It should be taught in all schools and pupils should be encouraged to explore its meaning.

See: Hosanna Soft Hosanna

 

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Thoughts on …

 

Brexit in perspective but three big deals                                 24/1/19

 

I agree with the prime minister that there are more important things in life than Brexit. As she said recently, the things that matter most are personal milestones such as getting a job, getting married, starting a family or buying a house.1

 

She could have added that many other aspects of our personal and family lives are always going to be far more important than issues like Brexit: loving and being loved, staying in good health both physically and mentally, enjoying friendships and having absorbing interests. For many, how we spend our leisure time and how well our football team is doing, will quite understandably be more relevant to our lives.2 And, of course, traumatic life events that have a lasting effect on us, like serious illness, bereavement or divorce will clearly have an enormous impact on our lives.

 

But because the issue of Brexit has dominated political discussion for almost three years and received saturation media coverage it has come to be seen as far more important than it really is. However, we need to guard against believing things are important in our lives just because they are covered so extensively in the media.  We must not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by the running soundtrack of the news.3

 

I go further than the prime minister. Not only is Brexit far from being the most important thing in our personal lives it is equally far from being the most important issue to have been addressed by parliament since the Second World War – as our politicians and pundits keep telling us. They are wrong, and their hyperbole does a huge disservice to our political discourse. To borrow an expression from another turbulent setting this is fake news.

 

The politicians and pundits are wrong because they are unable to grasp the fundamental truth I have just stated: that what happens in people’s individual lives is of far greater significance than the political theatre that takes place at Westminster – however absorbing this can be and however extensive the media coverage it attracts.4 Brexit has been high on drama but low on significance. What matters in the process of government is not the drama but dealing effectively with important issues.

 

Since the Second World War there have been thousands of important issues on which there has been legislation which has affected everyone’s lives more profoundly and directly than anything to do with Brexit. And, in fairness to our politicians, the legislation does seem to have addressed many of these issues quite effectively.  

 

Arguably it was the legislation which created the NHS that has had the greatest effect on the greatest number of people. This towering piece of social legislation has been of immeasurable benefit to all of us for the past seventy years and to compare its significance with what parliament is labouring to achieve now is an insult to the legacy of Bevan and others.

 

Legislation in the fields of education, welfare benefits, pensions, social care and child support has also had a profound effect on our lives and continues to do so. Laws that have been passed in the areas of health and safety, consumer protection and employment rights have affected each one of us and regular adjustments in rates of taxation or the level of the minimum wage have greatly affected our personal incomes. Road safety legislation affects us every time we drive our cars.

 

Momentous legislation has been enacted across a wide range of other areas too. The landscape of society has been completely reshaped by laws which have embodied reforms on gender equality, racial discrimination, disability, same sex relationships, marriage, divorce and abortion. The effect of these social reforms on the lives of countless people has been incalculable.5

 

Apart from enacting legislation parliament has supported the government of the day – the executive – when crucial decisions have had to be taken to safeguard the interests of the country. Such decisions have had far more serious consequences, good and bad, for individual citizens than anything that will arise from Brexit. Consequences, for example, for members of the armed services making the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts in Korea, the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world.  Consequences, too, though maybe less serious, when the Heath government declared states of emergencies in the 1970s, and when the last Labour administration took measures to deal with the global financial crisis.

 

Everyone can think of examples of how their own lives, and the lives of their loved ones, have been hugely affected by many pieces of legislation enacted in recent decades, or by some other government action. Positive examples would include life-saving treatment from the NHS, qualifications we gained during the course of our education, financial support for illness or disability, housing benefit, and home ownership achieved through the right-to-buy scheme introduced by the Thatcher government.6 On the negative side examples would include the loss of a loved one killed in military action, being made redundant as a result of failed economic policies, and, bringing the argument right up to date, finding life more of a struggle because of payment difficulties with universal credit.

 

I accept that the issue of Brexit has a certain amount of constitutional and economic importance for society but compared with the examples just cited and many other aspects of our personal lives it pales into significance. To use some vernacular that incorporates the word of the moment it is simply not the big deal it is claimed to be.

 

On the economic front it is not a big deal whether we pay a little bit more or a little bit less for a bottle of wine or an imported item of clothing.7 On the constitutional front it will not be that big a deal if, as I hope, we regain some of the sovereignty we have lost in recent decades.8 As I have indicated above our parliament has had no difficulty passing a vast amount of legislation which has brought massive benefits to society so it is logical to conclude that our constitution is functioning reasonably well.

 

Clearly Brexit would be a big deal if it resulted in a serious decline in living standards amongst the least well-off in society. I don’t want this to happen. Nobody does. But I think it is extremely unlikely. In the project fear campaign run by the remain side during the referendum we were warned of the dire consequences that would immediately follow a No vote. They didn’t happen and I don’t believe they will.9

 

Which brings me to what, in fact, do amount to big deals associated with Brexit. They are big deals because they are big opportunities and I can think of three of them. The first is that Brexit provides an opportunity to move away from current orthodoxies and gradually begin to reset our economy. Not being locked into EU trading arrangements will provide entrepreneurial businesses with improved global opportunities for trade but, more importantly than this, I am hopeful that leaving the EU will incentivise us to begin producing more manufactured goods ourselves and more of our own food. Becoming more self-sufficient and self-reliant would be good for jobs and good for the economy as a whole.

 

The second big deal is this. Leaving the EU must be used as an opportunity to focus our minds on the kind of society – the kind of nation state – we actually wish to inhabit. We have become a compassionate and tolerant society, and despite Brexit generally good-humoured, but we need to try a lot harder to become a fairer society in which there is a much more equitable distribution of wealth.10

 

And the third big deal that Brexit can deliver? It is one that doesn’t come any bigger. It is a great opportunity and a perspective on Brexit that regrettably has been overlooked.

 

It is the rather obvious perspective that the future of our planet must be global, not European. A global future in which we embrace, as never before, our shared humanity. A future in which all continents and all nations come together. One where the citizens of democratic, sovereign nations forge the kind of societies they wish to construct for themselves as well as reach out in friendship and love to their fellow human-beings wherever they live.

 

The great opportunity, the biggest deal, that Brexit presents is for the UK to take the lead in persuading the countries of the world to work in harmony with each other to confront the major global problems of poverty, ill health, inequality and conflict and, when necessary, the minor problems of trade and tariffs.11 For some people, especially politicians and pundits chained to a geopolitical mindset of the past, this will require a leap of imagination which takes us way beyond the inward looking aspirations of the European Union. It will be a leap that will enable us to focus properly on global issues and find global solutions  – just as we are attempting to do with the challenge of climate change.

 

Technology, both old and new, has shrunk the world and made global interactions at an individual and collective level easier than ever before. We are constantly buying products from each other, visiting each other’s countries and having sporting competitions amongst ourselves. We communicate easily with friends and relatives overseas, we move to different parts of the world to live and we have husbands and wives from different countries. It should not be difficult, therefore, to make the imaginative, and for some perhaps, the emotional leap to thinking about political decision-making in global terms.

 

There has been too much hype surrounding Brexit as well as totally unnecessary rancour. It is not a big issue in the context of our personal lives and is a long, long way from being the most significant political issue to be addressed since the Second World War.

 

When we leave the EU let us continue to be good friends with our European neighbours but use our departure to have a new perspective on the world. This will contribute to greater harmony across the globe and that would be the best deal of all.

  

 

Notes

 

1  Theresa May’s New Year message, 1/1/19.

2  Bill Shankly, a former manager of Liverpool F C, made the famous remark that football was not a matter of life and death, it was much more important than that.

3  We should not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by anything!

4  I have to confess I have found it extremely absorbing but I am a bit of a politics geek.

5  On the whole it is probably fair to say that parliament follows rather than leads social change.

6  In my view the right to buy scheme was an excellent idea which allowed many people to get a foot on the housing ladder. For some thoughts on home ownership see:                                 http://www.quercuspublications.co.uk/thoughts_on_36_-_40_copy.html

7  Tariffs are just one of many factors that affect the price of imported goods. Others include the cost of production, with labour costs being a crucial factor, supply and demand, cartels, productivity, competition, shareholder value and, in the case of a bottle of wine, a serious amount of excise duty.

8  Some real constitutional advances would be: reform of the voting system, the introduction of more direct democracy, a written constitution and the abolition of the House of Lords.

9  See Ruth Lea’s post on project fear at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2018/01/23/project-fear-was-groundless-the-uk-economy-has-been-remarkably-resilient/                                                Plus according to the latest figures from the ONS unemployment is currently at 4%, its lowest level since 1975, and earnings increased by 3.3% in the year to November 2018.

10  We can begin the process by significantly raising the minimum wage, reducing tax for those on lower incomes and introducing compulsory         profit-sharing schemes. 

11  See: The EU Referendum and a Global Vision and Brexit – a global, good news story.

 

Plus, for more thoughts on Brexit please visit: 

 

Brexit Blogs

 

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Thoughts on …

 

Planting Peace – at Christmas and beyond                            23/12/18

 

 

                      

I have just planted a rose in my garden. It’s a beautiful rose with a beautiful name – Peace. It was so named in April 1945 in a ceremony in Pasadena, California.1

 

I am pleased to have planted it shortly after the commemorations in November marking the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War. And I am pleased to have planted it just before Christmas when we are reminded once again of the message of the Angels: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.2

 

Can we all try planting peace this Christmas and beyond? Not simply by wishing or hoping for peace, nor even by praying for peace. But by actually doing something, however small, to try to achieve it.

 

If peace means ending conflict in a relationship or in the family perhaps we could try speaking kind words and doing kind deeds to one another. If it means inner peace we could visit someone who is distressed or anxious, for whatever reason, and try to bring comfort to that person just by listening. If it means stopping wars between or within nations, as in Syria or Yemen, then we should express our views unequivocally on social media or to our member of Parliament.

 

Whichever meaning of peace we wish for, let’s do something practical to bring it about. I have planted Peace in my garden. I will try to plant it in other places too.

 

 

1   For the story of the Peace rose click here 

 

2   See also: Messages that are not just for Christmas

 

    Many thanks to Peter Beales Roses for permission to use their image of the rose

     http://www.classicroses.co.uk