Wednesday 20 June 2012

The new Gove-levels: segregation is back

The Daily Mail has a scoop: it looks as if Michael Gove is planning on bringing back O-levels - a set of exams I sat in 1962.

Here's the story:

The rationale seems to be that if you set harder exams you raise standards. Is there any evidence for this? The key small print to look out for here is the fact that the intention is to create a two-track system. O-levels for those who are deemed O-level material and a CSE type exam for the rest.

And this is what it's all about really: even more segregation, an even more rigid way of building selection into education. Michael Gove knows that he cannot universally re-introduce the 11-plus exam that I sat in1957. He knows that research would blast him out of the water for it being such an unreliable predictor of the ability to access the school curriculum. So he brings it in by the back door. Any school admitting students who might not succeed in sitting a difficult O-level exam, would have to start streaming the students by 12 years old at the latest. In effect, this would re-introduce the 11-plus type exam - and its effects - within schools. And this wouldn't just be the 'setting' that occurs now. It would create what would be in effect two schools under the same roof.

Is there evidence that this 'raises standards'? Or does the evidence say that it just helps the bureaucracy of education attach labels and numbers to students?

But of course we also know that the earlier we label students, the more fixed and self-fulfilling these labels become. Children and students assume that being labelled failures is a matter of being told the truth about them as if they're saying to themselves:  'I've been told by an infallible system that I'm a failure, so I must be a failure.'

We should ask the Campaign for State Education and Professor Harvey Goldstein in particular to make a very loud noise about what the stats tell us on all this. I'm pretty sure that they won't confirm the idea that if you a) make exams harder you raise standards for the whole cohort; b) that creating segregation earlier than at present raises standards for the whole cohort.