Monday 3 September 2012


The air is full of talk of qualifications.

So let's look at the qualifications of people talking about qualifications:

Here's wikipedia's summary of Cameron's education:

From the age of seven, Cameron was educated at two independent schools: at Heatherdown Preparatory School at Winkfield, in Berkshire, which counts Prince Andrew and Prince Edward among its alumni. Due to good academic grades, Cameron entered its top academic class almost two years early.[24] At the age of thirteen, he went to Eton College in Berkshire, following his father and elder brother.[25] Eton is often described as the most famous independent school in the world,[26] and "the chief nurse of England's statesmen".[27] His early interest was in art. Six weeks before taking his O-Levels he was named as having smoked cannabis.[2] He admitted the offence and had not been involved in selling drugs, so he was not expelled, but was fined, prevented from leaving school grounds, and given a "Georgic" (a punishment which involved copying 500 lines of Latin text).[28]
Cameron passed 12 O-levels, and then studied three A-Levels in History of Art, History and Economics with Politics. He obtained three 'A' grades and a '1' grade in the Scholarship Level exam in Economics and Politics.[29] The following autumn he passed the entrance exam for Oxford University, where he was offered an exhibition.[30]
After leaving Eton in 1984,[31] Cameron started a nine month gap year. He worked as a researcher for Tim Rathbone, Conservative MP for Lewes and his godfather. In his three months he attended debates in the House of Commons.[32] Through his father, he was then employed for a further three months in Hong Kong by Jardine Matheson as a 'ship jumper', an administrative post.[33]
Returning from Hong Kong he visited the then Soviet Union, where he was approached by two Russian men speaking fluent English. Cameron was later told by one of his professors that it was 'definitely an attempt' by the KGB to recruit him.[34]
Cameron then began his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) at Brasenose College, Oxford.[35] His tutor, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, described him as "one of the ablest"[36] students he has taught, with "moderate and sensible Conservative" political views.[9] Guy Spier, who shared tutorials with him, remembers him as an outstanding student; "We were doing our best to grasp basic economic concepts. David - there was nobody else who came even close. He would be integrating them with the way the British political system is put together. He could have lectured me on it, and I would have sat there and taken notes.."[37] When commenting in 2006 on his former pupil's ideas about a "Bill of Rights" to replace the Human Rights Act, however, Professor Bogdanor, himself a Liberal Democrat, said, "I think he is very confused. I've read his speech and it's filled with contradictions. There are one or two good things in it but one glimpses them, as it were, through a mist of misunderstanding".[38]
While at Oxford, Cameron was a member of the élite student dining society the Bullingdon Club, which has a reputation for an outlandish drinking culture associated with boisterous behaviour and damaging property.[39] A photograph showing Cameron in a tailcoat with other members of the club, including Boris Johnson, surfaced in 2007, but was later withdrawn by the copyright holder.[40] Cameron's period in the Bullingdon Club is examined in the Channel 4 docu-drama When Boris Met Dave broadcast on 7 October 2009.[41] His friends outside the Bullingdon Club included fellow PPE student Catherine Fall. Cameron graduated in 1988 with a first class honours degree.[42]

Here's wikipedia on Michael Gove:

He was state school educated in Aberdeen, later attending the independent Robert Gordon's College, to which he won a scholarship.[2] From 1985 to 1988 he studied English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford,[4] where he served as President of the Oxford Union. He was awarded a 2:1 degree.

Michael Wilshaw, seems to have gone from school (I suspect a state school, but can't find evidence on that). He then went to training college in Twickenham (St Mary's) which makes me think he didn't do really well at A-levels. He is exactly the same age as me and this is what schools used to do with students who got three or two passes: encourage them to go to teacher training college. (My dad was teacher-training down the road from St Mary's at Borough Road Training College, in Isleworth at the time). It seems that at St Mary's he got himself what I think was called a 'Certificate in Education' (this was before the B.Ed had been invented, I think. You could upgrade your Certificate to be a degree if you got a good enough mark in your Certificate. There is no evidence that Wilshaw did that.) Later, while teaching he studied and got a part-time degree in History at Birkbeck, where I teach. (wikipedia is very thin on evidence for Michael Wilshaw)

This is what wikipedia says about Nick Gibb, the schools minister's education:

Nick Gibb was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire and was educated at Bedford Modern School, Maidstone Grammar School, Roundhay School Leeds, and Thornes House School Wakefield. He then attended the College of St Hild and St Bede at the University of Durham where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law in 1981.

And this is David Willetts the universities minister (from Wikipedia again):

Willetts was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham, and Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Willets graduated with a first class degree.

So, this group of people are in effect the powerhouse behind education in this country.

Now, what questions are we entitled to ask about their qualifications?

Between them, there is very little (Gove?) or no experience at all of comprehensive education as pupils. Michael Wilshaw taught in comprehensives.

Gibb and Willetts seemed to have gone to selective state schools which, I think, had wriggled free of total local authority control and had what used to be called 'direct grant' status - a select group amongst the select.
None of the group seems to have any post-graduate qualifications, not even a Post-graduate Certificate in Education.

Are we entitled to ask whether it's OK for people to talk endlessly about 'rigour' in education but who have not exposed themselves to the 'rigour' of MA and Ph.D. work in education or in some related field?

One part of me says that this would be shooting myself in the foot to go on about it. After all, I'm very much in favour of counting people's life experience as part of their 'qualification' to get on to eg my own MA course. And of course I believe that people in work can, over time, develop a vast range of experiences, wisdom, ideas etc through engagement with the problems thrown up by work. I may disagree with almost everything that Michael Wilshaw says, but I can't deny he has had decades of experience in classrooms and in schools and that this informs him in what he says.

The others seem to have acquired their expertise mostly being Tories, in the Tory Party. They are what the Russians used to call 'apparatchiks', people in the 'apparatus' of their party.

Now these four people not only run education, but also make pronouncements about 'standards', 'qualifications', 'bad teachers' and the suitability of new kinds of schools, new kinds teachers, and, I suspect very soon, a whole raft of new kinds of education based on privately supplied online packages.

So how does this group of chaps sort out evidence in education? How do they make their judgements on what is good and bad, between what is necessary and what is useless in education? When they talk endlessly about 'rigour', what do they really know of the 'rigour' behind teaching children and students in comprehensive and non-selective schools? What do they know about rigorous and non-rigorous research in education? When speechwriters write their speeches, how sure can they be that what they're saying is 'rigorous'? In my first Dear Mr Gove, letter for the Guardian, I outlined several cases in which it was quite clear that Michael Gove is not at all rigorous in his own job, doing what he's paid to do. (eg in his false comparison of science papers between Massachusetts and UK and eg in how he wasn't aware that Academy parents had not proper procedure for dealing with their complaints when their school was failing or eg in his selective use of data from Sweden.)

Now I don't want to make a fetish of higher education qualification, but as education and issues to do with education become more and more technical, I do wonder whether there is a real anomaly in the idea that education can be run so directly and with such hands-on intervention by people who lack the higher qualifications which headteachers, heads of department, inspectors etc have to have. (As I have said at length elsewhere, I am opposed to this highly hands-on approach anyway. I think that real change and development in education should come from a system of conferences, research and seminars led by teachers, researchers and representatives from local authorities.)

I wouldn't imagine for one moment that if this group of chaps did all have eg PGCEs and/or MAs, we would be talking about people with different political ideas, but I still have a nagging feeling that there is something odd about (say) one of these people standing and telling a hall full of headteachers about what they should be doing in schools and classrooms while every single one of them has a higher qualification in education than they have.

In a way, this is the sub-text to what has gone on with the GCSEs. The marking of exams has become a highly technical matter, driven by stats and the whole jargon of 'norm-referenced' versus 'criteria-referenced' systems. The heads are clearly sure that what has happened is wrong: their pupils have suffered. This group of chaps are saying, in effect, that the heads, many of whom would have done a 'unit' on exams and testing as part of their MAs and Ph.Ds, are wrong. Isn't there something absurd and odd about that?

Quite honestly, I'm being a bit agnostic about all  this, whilst being particularly suspicious about the fact that Michael Wilshaw has avoided doing an MA and Michael Gove (BA) seems quite so certain that he knows so much about education.

For the record (so that we're all open about this!):
I went to two state primary schools in Pinner, Middlesex.
I went to a mixed 'County' grammar school from 11-16 ie run by the local authority (Middlesex, at the time).
16-18 I went to Watford Boys Grammar, which at the time was run by the local authority but I think was 'voluntary controlled' ie had a church foundation which had some say in its governance. It was not 'direct grant' even though its whole ethos and sports fixture list aligned the school with 'direct grant' grammar schools.
I did one year of a 'First MB' at Middlesex Hospital Medical School - this was equivalent to A-levels.
I did one year of a degree in physiology at Wadham College, Oxford.
I did three years for a degree in English at Wadham.

I then did two-three years of the BBC's 'Graduate training' scheme before being thrown out by MI5.

I then did three years at the National Film School, which at the time didn't offer a formal qualification at the end of the three years.

I did an MA in children's Literature at University of Reading.
I did a Ph.D in reading and writing children's literature at the University of North London (now London Metropolitan).

I work almost exclusively in the state sector of education - and have done since 1976 - approx two days a week in classrooms, but also teaching in universities, first at London Met, then at Birkbeck.