Sunday, 16 September 2012

Up The Creek

One of my little darlings managed to transmit a rhinovirus to me this week, so while my immune response takes care of it, and the Golgi apparatus in my nasal epithelia work overtime to produce how much?! mucus, there are some thoughts based on news in the past week or so.

A bastarding rhinovirus, currently making me feel like arse

Paul was affected quite badly by the AQA GCSE English scandal - he looked at the grades his students got, and what they could have got had the grade boundaries not been screwed, and at least two of them could have got a C. No mean feat for a class of students every school in the borough decided it couldn't or wouldn't teach. He's been following it more than I have - I don't teach GCSE, and haven't for over two years. It's all he teaches.

So, having fallen into that dangerous 10pm sofa snooze last night, I was woken by Paul saying "GCSEs are gone". News was carefully passed on to tame right-wing newspapers leaked that Gove would be replacing GCSEs with O-Level style exams in 2015. The Grauniad picked up the story when it could. Some of the chatter on Twitter last night offered further details, that it would be graded 1-6, with 7 being a fail. Paul pointed out that wasn't Gove recreating O-Levels - he's bringing in Scottish Standard Grades. Recreating his own childhood north of the border perhaps?

There will apparently be a consultation. I suggest everyone who has ever been to, has any children at, plans to send any children to, or feels like employing anyone who has ever been to a school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland at some point, submits their responses to this consultation. Too many people are confusing rote learning with rigour, and the two couldn't be further apart.

Every year, I and my students get a good bashing from the media and pretty much everyone not involved in teaching, to say that exams are getting too easy, and that we are sending idiots off to their universities unable to do the basics. The sensible response of universities to any perceived grade inflation would surely be to raise the offer level? After all, when I went to Cambridge I had to get AAA. Earlier generations had to get AAB, and now students are routinely asked for A*AA to get into Natural Sciences at Cambridge. Seems like a logical and rational choice if one feels that an A grade isn't a true representation of a clever and able individual.

So the Torygraph proclaiming that students are accepted onto degree places with E grades simply makes me wonder whose fault it is that universities are getting students unable to cope with the basics of their subject. Some of my students with D and E grades did get into university - however, with my blessing they've mostly gone to do foundation courses that will give them a further chance to get that grounding, and they'll be better graduates at the end of it. Let's face it, when the shitty syllabus from Edexcel waffles on about plant stanols at the expense of the ornithine cycle, there's not a lot I can do to give the students that grounding is there?

I love teaching, I do. Being in the lab or classroom is where I feel most alive, and I really enjoy my work when students have those "I get it" moments. By and large, I agree wholeheartedly with this article about being a teacher. I also have no desire to go up into management. Anything taking me away from my students is bad (though I am happy to have a couple of hours remission to coordinate our HND course).

That said, I did object a little to this paragraph:
I'm very fortunate to be teaching English. If I was a geography teacher I might need pupils to have understood Oxbow lakes, if I were a maths teacher I might need them to know about surds but as an English teacher I want them to understand more than using English devices to generate rapport: I get to give them the opportunity to be a better human being.
Now, English teachers get a rather rosy treatment in Hollywood, what with Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, Dead Poets Society and so on. But English teachers absolutely do not have the monopoly on being inspirational teachers, giving students the chance to be "better human beings" or getting their charges climbing on the desk shouting "O Captain! My Captain!" (though my lab technician would be furious if she found footprints on the benches!).

We all think we teach the best subject in the world. Otherwise we wouldn't be teaching it. But with Gove doing everything in his power to utterly destroy the education sector and the lives of the young people passing through it we could do with a little less point-scoring and a little more presenting a united front.


  1. You will, I presume, be permitting students to use "Gove" as a synonym for the end product of the digestive process, yes?

    1. Wouldn't dream of it. Faeces is a useful and necessary part of the carbon and nitrogen cycle. It would be insulted to be renamed Gove!

    2. I suppose. Meanwhile, Santorum has already been named.


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