Thursday, July 18, 2013

Of Decile Bands, Levels, Cabbages and Kings.

Sweet move, the decile banding announcement, Mr. Gove. Nice Coalition touch to package it with a Liberal-Democrat pupil premium increase. Politically generous (I mean airily self-confident and strategically agile) to give the Deputy PM & David Laws a day in the sun; to marry a welcome rise in funding with a beneficent vision of clarity, simplicity and objectivity.


Sweet timing too. On a par with the recent (optional but illustrative) packed lunch scare and the ticking off of your own department with regard to jargon (interpret: ‘I am so in control, my reforms are going so well, I even have leisure [and. of course,nota bene, the power] to muse on pupil diets and ‘educate’ my own ministry’). This juicy July bone is tossed out to be picked bare by teachers (see current blog and Twitter debate) this week, ensuring they have something to keep them preoccupied till term’’s end and well beyond.


Sweet move, sweet timing -  but neither surprising, important in itself or welcome.


TOM BENNETT and HEADGURUTEACHER have blogged valuably on the shortcomings of levels and the statistical meaning and implications of decile bands (not in themselves the as-yet-unknown assessment method). Mr. Bennett concludes that ‘Levels are the devil. Bands could be useful.’ His central theme is that decile bands are more ‘honest’ than gradings that have proven to be wide open to subjectivity. He is waiting to see just how they are used. Noting that Mr. Bennett is ‘not wedded to bands’ I was left wondering what this blogger would ideally recommend. should his advice be sought.


Not that I expect it will be. We are too far down the road.


The central problem with levels for a government committed to a compulsory National Common Core Curriculum is not merely their vulnerability to subjectivity and differing standards. It lies rather in the participation of teachers.


The logic is this. Government specifies what knowledge is most important to teach nationwide. Government specifies which parcels of that knowledge must be known ( and seen to be known) by specified ages. For this to operate it requires the simplest, most readily quantifiable, nationally consistent, teacher-free methods of delivery, assessment and reporting. This is easy and entirely possible - the narrower and more prescriptive the common core the simpler this chain appears.


Decile bands happen to be the ideal off-the-peg, objective (of teachers at least) final simplistic link. But, as Mr. Bennett rightly says, it all depends on your uses. On your motivation, I’d add.


In A PREVIOUS POST  I articulated my objection to the Common Core project:


“Sue Cowley is certainly concerned that the transmission of a circumscribed body of knowledge deemed more important than the general pool will become an end in itself, valued only for its provision of neat, but educationally suspect ‘evidence’ for assessment AND that not even this core knowledge will be learned within meaningful, relevant contexts.”


The imposition of a common core is the easiest and quickest option available to politicians set on driving change. Because I cannot believe such an approach has any real contribution to make to the benefit of general education, I can only make sense of what is happening in political terms. I fancy the Opposition is green with envy that it did not press the centralising of curriculum to assume its perfect form - a compulsory common core. I do not fancy, I know, that one of the most astute politicians of this cohort is sitting in the Department of Education blithely running rings round Parliament and country.


No, the levels/banding debate is a blind. Keep ‘em debating anything but the big picture is the strategy and it is working Oh so well.


What really matters is the inexorable assembly of a closed circuit curriculum which puts all the reins in the incumbent government’s hands: what is taught of significance, how it is taught, when it is taught, how assessed and (especially) how evaluated to secure world class reputation and continuity of power. Now there's a responsibility for you! 


Until the demise of this patronising, simplistic, impoverished excuse for a general education, I have to conclude motivation to continue its promulgation is cleverly political and altruistically void.


We need perhaps to recall that Cabbages are quite capable of growing, thank you very much, without the intervention of Kings.   


All my previous Education posts are listed with direct clickable links at the foot of THIS RECENT POST