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Primary Education News
News Education in brief: Is Michael Gove playing fast and loose with the facts?
Surely some mistake in the education secretary's latest speech; more GCSE delays? Plus Gove's choices for the family Ocado order
Michael Gove: the facts
Fact-checking Michael Gove's speeches is becoming a theme of this column, and his recent start-of-term address to the Policy Exchange thinktank compels us to have another go. In the published version of the speech on the Department for Education's website, Gove encourages teachers to break the link between challenging pupil characteristics and lower attainment, highlighting a couple of schools that seem to have succeeded.
"In schools like Woodpecker Hall primary [part of an academy chain in north London] or Durand Academy in Lambeth far more children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs," he says. "But every child – regardless of the challenges they face – achieves far above the national average in numeracy and literacy."
The official 2012 DfE data on Durand suggest that, at 2.8%, its proportion of pupils with special needs is well below the national average (7.9%). And it is hard to see how the "all far above the national average" claim stands up, given that 10% of pupils are not listed as achieving even the "expected" level 4 in both English and maths. At Woodpecker Hall, the figures suggest that the proportion of special needs pupils (11.7%) is indeed above average. But as a new school that until this summer had only nursery to year 1 pupils, there is no official data on test results.
Most of these statistics were unearthed by the dogged Janet Downs, a former teacher, who blogged about them on the Local Schools Network website. So how can the apparent discrepancies be explained? A DfE spokesperson admitted one cock-up. "The secretary of state mistakenly cited Woodpecker Hall instead of Cuckoo Hall [an academy in north London]," she said. "Both Durand and Cuckoo Hall have far more children than the national average registered as having SEN," she said, explaining that Gove's figures apply to year 6 children only. But, she said, "90% and 94% of their pupils achieved at or above the expected level in numeracy and literacy." So that's not "every child" then.
New GCSEs – still waiting
Will the latest, delayed, schedule for GCSE reform, forced on Gove this month by the exams watchdog, Ofqual, have to change again? Reformed GCSEs, which last year were unofficially trailed as starting in schools from 2014, are now scheduled for 2016, except in English and maths. Courses in these subjects are still due to start in September 2015. But Ofqual, in its latest letter to Gove, describes even that timetable as "under review".
The schedule seems tight, with the new maths and English qualifications supposed to be with schools in a year's time to allow them to prepare. But exam boards have been struggling even to start designing them until ministers announce the results of a summer consultation on their content.
There also seem to be major technical stumbling blocks. An exam board source said the biggest problem was the DfE's proposed wording of the new GCSEs' "assessment objectives": statements setting out exactly what candidates should be tested on. The source said: "The assessment objectives are not suitable [for the boards] to design questions against, as things stand. This is one of the key reasons that the other subjects [beyond English and maths] were delayed: it wasn't possible to sort it out for so many subjects at once."
The source said the boards were working with Ofqual and the DfE to resolve the issue. But there was still no final clarity on how the new GCSEs would interact with school accountability, or on a new "regulatory process" overseen by Ofqual. "It's really getting to crunch time; everyone recognises that," said the source.
Will there be another delay? We wouldn't bet against it.
Resits cost schools dear
Still on the qualifications front, an annual report from Ofqual has found that the amount spent on exams in English state secondary schools increased by nearly 70% in real terms over the years 2002-11. Although individual exam fees have risen, they have done so much more in line with inflation. This suggests other trends – for example, multiple resits, meaning many more exams being taken – may be the reason.
Sweetness at home
And finally … Gove was roundly criticised last week for appearing to tell MPs that people using food banks might be partly to blame for their predicament, through poor financial management. But his influence on his own family's food supply has also come in for comment closer to home. In her new Daily Mail column, Sarah Vine – Gove's wife – writes of problems with the family order from Ocado, middle England's grocery-deliverer of choice.
She writes: "Normally, [the Ocado order] is my sole and exclusive domain. During the holidays, however, my son and husband suddenly developed an interest. Our house was, they claimed, woefully lacking in Doritos, Coca Cola and Dairylea Dunkers. And so one afternoon, while I was out, they seized their chance. The following day, I opened the front door to a tide of contraband comestibles. Giant multipacks of crisps; fizzy drinks; luxury coleslaw; an insane amount of sugary cereal. It was as if my account had been hacked by a teenager high on Haribos."
What would Jamie Oliver, who has been at odds with the education secretary over the policing of healthy food standards in academies, make of it? And to what extent is Gove in touch with the lives of those using food banks? We await future columns with interest.