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Topic: UK: Michael Rosen's letter from a curious parent
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
UK: Michael Rosen's letter from a curious parent
Posted: Jul 19, 2012 4:03 PM
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From The Guardian [UK], Monday, July 2, 2012. See
. Our thanks to Geoff Sheath for bringing this
piece to our attention.

Michael Rosen's letter from a curious parent

This week: harder exams as O-levels replace GCSEs
- but does that help students?

SIDEBAR: Does the education secretary, Michael
Gove, have any evidence that making exams harder
makes students better at anything? Photograph:
Chris Radburn/PA

By Michael Rosen

As you probably know, many people wonder how our
children's education is being run at the moment.
Up until the last couple of weeks, I thought the
one person who would know the answer to this
would be you. Now I have my doubts. Can I run
past you the chronology on how we parents heard
about something that will fundamentally affect
the education of all our children - in my case,
my two youngest?

You'll remember that on 20 June, Tim Shipman of
the Daily Mail landed a sensational scoop:
precise details of how GCSEs were to be scrapped
from September 2014 to be replaced by O-levels,
set and examined by a single exam board,
alongside "simpler exams, similar to the old
CSEs" for "less intelligent pupils".

What we don't know here is whose words are in
quotation marks. Are they yours? One of your
officials'? Or Shipman's? All we can say is that
it must be very convenient for you that we don't
know. That way, you can always lay claim to the
words that people praise and disown the ones that
people dislike.

When the story broke, we noticed, first, that you
didn't deny it, and secondly, it appeared as if
you were the only person in the world who had
heard of this plan. Will you ever clear that
matter up? The reason I ask is that there is a
feeling in and around schools and universities
that education is too important and too complex
to be left to one person, his pencil and the back
of an envelope - even someone as wise and
thoughtful as yourself.

What happened next wasn't the most successful day
in your career, with hardly a voice anywhere
congratulating you on what was clearly a two-tier
system, which would entail streaming pupils from
the age of 12 or 13. With the rage and contempt
you brought on yourself, you might just as well
have been talking about bringing back dip-pens
and ink-wells. (Now there's an idea for you.)

A few days later, the BBC website told us of a
speech you gave at a Spectator conference. Now we
learned that it most certainly wasn't going to be
a two-tier system: everyone was going to take the
new O-levels. In other words, it was going to be
the GCSE but harder. Do you have any evidence
that making exams harder makes students better at
anything? I'm sure you could put yourself in
charge of raising the high-jump bar in the
Olympics, but that would ensure that fewer high
jumpers could clear it. In so far as anything
resembling a policy is emerging here, that's
about the only one I can discern: make the exams
harder in order to get more students failing.

Then, on 28 June, the seemingly well-informed
Shipman was back with confirmation that neither
the prime minister nor the Lib Dems had known
anything about your original announcement. He had
something else up his sleeve: "Mr Gove made the
case that he can tear up the exam system and
bring back O-levels with the stroke of a pen, and
since no legislation is required Mr Clegg can be

Do you know, that's precisely what is worrying
many of us? It's the image of you roaming round
the Department for Education working out where
you're going to deliver your pen-stroke next.
Meanwhile, we know that though this flourish of
the pen will affect our children's education, the
matter need not pass through the mechanisms of
government. It's Govement, not government.

You've let it be known your inspiration for this
harder exam is Singapore. The great advantage in
invoking other countries is that few of us are
well enough informed to question whether you're
having us on or not. But some people are. On 25
June, David Price OBE (for services to
education), director of learning for the
Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, told us
on his blog: "Three weeks ago I was in Singapore,
invited by the ministry of education ... to share
the innovation of the educational projects I've
led. While Gove's proposed reforms are set to
follow Singapore's exam system, their aspirations
have already moved on. Singapore's minister of
education has given officials 18 months to
rebuild the system so that it can produce
students who can create, collaborate, think
critically and compete globally in our
unpredictable future. Among many other
initiatives, they have instigated a pilot
programme based on my work" - Price's specialism
being "re-engaging learners weary of the
exam-factory culture".

From inside Westminster, and indeed inside your
brain, it may seem as if you move like lightning:
scrapping one exam, inventing another, getting a
story out, then another, but the substance of
what you have in mind is yesterday's dinner. As
an experienced professional like Price is telling
you, the world is moving on. Singapore has
noticed but you haven't. Why not do us all a
favour and forget all about that silly "stroke of
a pen" stuff?

Yours, Michael Rosen

PS, I don't suppose you read Private Eye, but
would you like to comment on the story in the
latest issue, which claimed "educational
publishers are Š wondering at the conflict of
interest" in the roles played by Ruth Miskin, who
is reported as being a) the only primary literacy
expert on the government's committee overseeing
the national curriculum review, b) the creator of
a reading scheme that is government approved and
c) whose publishers are in receipt of up to
£3,000 of government match-funding each time a
school buys Miskin's reading scheme?
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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