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Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’


The Background

So last weekend a rather long document (47 pages) was doing the rounds, purporting to be authored by Mr Lamb, a former senior Geography teacher at the Liverpool Blue Coat School, which related how he and other teachers no longer at the school had allegedly been bullied and sacked.

At the start of the week, letter was sent to all parents, aptly summarised towards the end of an article in the Liverpool Echo on the issue.

The paradox relates to what happened next, as there are two events that cannot both be true simultaneously.

The first event is the emergency assemblies held for the 6th form, led by the head teacher, Mr Pennington, and for the entire KS4 years (9-11) by another member of the senior management team on Tuesday December 3. In the 6th form assembly, Mr Pennington declared openly in front of the entire 6th form that he ‘had seen the chats’ on Whatsapp and Discourse (sic) of particular students. He also instructed students to delete any messages on the subject to protect them from legal action.

The second event is a further article in the Liverpool Echo, which had bene contacted by concerned parents. The Echo’s summary of the School’s response was “Blue Coat school slams ‘ludicrous’ claims they are checking pupils’ phones amidst teacher bullying row”.

The Paradox

What was told to 6th form students in the assembly and what was told to the Echo cannot both be true.

So one is false.

If the first is false, then the head teacher lied to students in assembly, regarding the fact that he had accessed the chat accounts of some students. If the second is false, then the head teacher did access the chat accounts of students and lied to the press.

However this paradox is resolved, the standard of behaviour by the headteacher is not what I expect as a parent and I await a full and transparent account to be issued in due course by the Governors.

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An article in the New Statesman this summer argues that the British degree has lost its value. The evidence is largely restricted to:

  1. A complaint by students at the University of Sheffield (course not mentioned) which resulted in an uplift of the marks, particularly at the bottom end.

Without context this is a non-argument. Was the course new and there was a mismatch between what was delivered and examined? Was the marking rogue (not everyone does their job with due diligence…)?  And so on.

There follow a few paragraphs that provide no evidence, but plenty of hand waving.

The last paragraphs consider the increase in the number of students going to university and asks the question, sure, if access if wider, there should be more at the bottom, more failures. A corollary is that schools are doing no better now than they used to.

I agree there has been some grade inflation, which has two sources. The first is using the full range of marks available, rather than deciding in advance that there will be no more than one first class degree each year. Current practice is the right thing to do and past practice was wrong. The second source of grade inflation is due to the law of unintended consequences. Legal challenge, now possible because students can access their marks (transparency can only be a good thing) means there are issues at degree borderlines. Common responses have been to avoid all marks at borders (of course this fails singularly to solve the problem, since the final mark is an average of many, so student still end up under the border) and to push students up a % or two if their final marks are below a border. These and other responses to the problem have had an inflationary effect, but I would estimate it to be more more than a few %.

Counter arguments to very substantial and continual grade inflation are:

GCSEs and A-levels are harder than they were, and students are better prepared for university (just as primary students are much better prepared for the jump to secondary). While every year ministers and sections of the press whinge that the all time high level of passes represent a failure, the teaching profession (who have forgotten more about teaching than ministers or members of the 4th estate ever knew) argue the opposite. I always take the expert over others and my limited personal experience of the matter supports the views of the teaching profession.

University courses have changed. At least for STEM courses, they are much harder and demand a lot more effort on the part of the students (my personal opinion is we have gone too far) than 40 years ago, when I was an undergraduate. There is far greater challenge and courses develop skills that in STEM subjects were not even touched on, such as critical thinking and critical analysis of data. Back in the day you either figured this out or you didn’t, so this was learned by the time-honoured system of osmosis. Importantly, a student’s abilities in these areas had no impact on the degree awarded. There is perhaps a generational difference between the young (18-35 and the middle aged and older graduates >35), with the former better at critical thinking  and analysis than their elders.

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