Monday 25 February 2013

Brightest Shine Less Brightly At 16

Institute of Education
Institute of Education (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A new study has highlighted the differences in mathematical ability between the children of different countries at different ages. According to researchers at the Institute of Education in London, England's brightest primary school pupils are on a par, mathematically, with the those from Taiwan and Hong Kong. But by the time pupils reach 16, the comparative performance achieved by the top 10% falls. Overall the English pupils came 28th out of 65 countries at this age.

When looking at the average scores of the entire cohort, the pupils from east Asia performed better than those from England at all ages, but the gap didn't widen as the pupils became older.

What is going on here? There is no doubt it is disappointing, but what or who is to blame?

a) The curriculum? Is the curriculum too narrow at secondary school? There is no doubt that the very brightest pupils in UK schools will absorb everything they are taught. So are we simply not teaching enough? Do the top 10% need extra challenges?

b) The teaching? There is a long-standing debate over whether, as a society, we value the work of teachers enough. Would increasing the average pay of teachers encourage better, more inspirational teachers into the classroom? Would this really make a difference in educational standards?

c) The culture? Is there enough of a culture of learning in our schools? Are there schools in which pupils learn little or nothing mathematically? Are there schools in which the poor performance and behaviour of a section of the cohort is adversely affecting the chances for the brightest to progress?

d) The basics? Interestingly, the Institute's report's recommendations suggest taking a new look at the way mathematics is taught in our primary schools, despite the brightest pupils apparently being close to the top of the world rankings at this age. Are we failing to build the foundations of a successful mathematics education with our primary education?

We would be very interested to hear your view. Email .

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Is Gove's GCSE U-Turn Enough?

Another week, another controversy in the Department for Education.

After criticism from teaching unions, academics and fellow MPs, Michael Gove has withdrawn his plans to replace the GCSE with English Baccalaureate certificates in key subjects from 2015. The Commons Education committee had said that Mr Gove had been trying to implement "too much too soon". In his Commons speech reversing his plans, Gove did, however, say that he has asked Ofqual to ensure new GCSEs would be in place by 2015 in seven subject areas: English, maths, the sciences, history and geography. GCSEs for all remaining subjects would be reformed by the following year.

Now, the head of England's exam regulator Ofqual has warned that these changes may be too rapid. Glenys Stacey has replied to Mr Gove, saying that she will delay the education secretary's GCSE changes if there are problems with the timetable. She continued "The timetable for qualifications development that you have set out is challenging." She expressed concerns about maintaining the quality of qualifications if drafting new curricula within such a short timeframe and pointed out that she would be conducting her own consultation with the exam boards.

Other criticism has come from the head of the Mathematical Association, Peter Ransom. He pointed out that "The 2015 schedule for implementation is so ambitious that no time will be available for piloting, reflection and refinement."

Dr Kevin Stannard from the Girls' Day School Trust expressed concerns that many aspects of Michael Gove's Baccalaureate plans may still be pushed through in the GCSE reform "on the mistaken assumption that the DfE has done a U-turn."

The Department for Education maintains that it will act quickly in order to address a loss of rigour in GCSEs.

All of this comes on top of stories about bullying by Michael Gove's special advisers and controversial plans for the privatisation of academies.