With undeniable chutzpah, Nicky Morgan decided that she was, once and for all, going to step out from Gove’s shadow and really hammer the nails into her own coffin. Forget forcing every school into an academy, and her immediate U-Turn, our Nicky had one more ace up her sleeve: the 2016 SATs.
If people think I can’t improve the quality of education, she must have thought, just wait until they see my new SATs papers, then they’ll see what I’m all about. Sadly, for her, we did just that. As children up and down the country struggled to read a story set in colonial Africa about some posh white kids trying to hunt and maim a rare white giraffe for their father’s trophy cabinet (I think that’s what it was about), we realised that Nicky Morgan didn’t have a clue about improving education. And, with an increasingly sinking feeling, as we imagined what our Raise Online would look like, we became aware that Nicky had confused improving education and raising standards with ‘just making tests harder’.
‘But it reflects the curriculum!’ She must have screamed at her Twitter timeline as the abusive tweets scrolled in. It would have been a brave advisor who took her aside and said ‘Do you remember when we talked about how you might not want to change everything: curriculum, assessment, the national standard, in one go?’ It wouldn’t have been clear at first, judging from her startled expression, whether she understood or not so they would have had to have broken it down into simpler terms:
- You wouldn’t ask a learner driver to enter the Grand Prix would you?
- Would you expect a McDonald’s drive thru assistant to beat Heston Blumenthal at MasterChef?
- Kittens can’t bring down zebras.
- Unqualified teachers shouldn’t teach for real should they? (Oh, ignore that one Minister)
Finally, her eyes would have widened further (if you can imagine such a thing) as the penny dropped – although if this were a question in the maths paper it would have been a shilling falling through the space time continuum whilst being converted into an Indian Rupee – and she would have then immediately rung her press office.
‘Tell them that we expect the national standard to fall dramatically because we’re raising it.’
A media soundbite of Govian proportions. Because it’s the government that has high standards, not the educators. We just sit around reminiscing about the days when you could smoke in the staff room and scrub out your morning maths lesson because it was hot outside. It is only through Nicky raising the standards that we finally got to see how shoddy our expectations were.
And, true to her word, the national standard plummeted quicker than the pound against the Euro after Brexit. 53% of children were unable to reach the national standard in reading, writing and maths.
But let’s be clear about the language here. Children didn’t ‘fail’ to reach the standard, they were ‘unable’ to make it due to an irresponsible shift in standard setting. It was, for some children, their destiny to fall short this year. Nothing, in the short amount of time since the release of the interim assessment framework, could have equipped children adequately enough to reach the dizzy heights of the sacred scaled score. In one fell swoop, their start in secondary school has been stunted.
And as schools reeled from their scaled misfortune, Nicky Morgan had the brass to stick her neck out and claim that this was a victory: a ‘good start’. Even she must have known that this was codswallop. It is not good. You can’t say it’s good for the children – or for schools who are counting down the days to their next Ofsted inspection – because there is literally nothing to compare it to. This year’s scaled scores are meaningless. 53% being the national average is just an inane statistic. So what? 53% of people, in general, don’t like liquorice. What does that tell you?
Forget ‘good’. The only thing you can say is that 53% – or your own school percentage – is just a ‘start’. Therefore, there is only one way to judge it, and it’s not by comparing it to last year’s figures or by some ridiculously wonky progress measure. If you really want to make a judgement then the only conceivable one to consider would be to compare it to your school’s first ever Raise online, after the first time Level 4B was deemed to be the national standard. Find out what your very first %L4 was to see how your pupils did the last time standards were changed so radically? If you look at that, you may get a picture of what your last ‘first attempt’ was and that could be worth comparing with the scores you got last week. It’s certainly worth more than any other comparison you could make and it comes with the added bonus of keeping your job.
So where does that leave Nicky Morgan? No doubt she will be hoping that, next year, more than 53% of children will meet the expected standard. Then again, if she really wants to raise the standard of education in this county, she should be aiming even lower. Now that’s what I’d call progress!