Monday, May 12, 2008

Layer 34 IQ, SATs, and other complete nonsense.

Ther's more and more rubbish in the so-called quality press about intelligence, education and social mobility. These are definitely zeitgeisty issues. Yesterday’s Observer had three pages devoted to “The Problem With IQ - Are we too clever for our own good?” Friday’s G2 had six pages considering “Is Meritocracy Dead?” And this evening’s Panorama had half an hour on “The pressure that exams place on children and schools”. All part of a never-ending debate on “standards”, “social mobility”, and “progressive methods”.

The Observer’s feature was the biggest let-down. Three pages of rehashed argument about the validity of IQ tests, theories about the relative intelligences of different ethnic groups, and the reasons for joining or not joining Mensa. So why can’t we just say that some people are good at IQ tests and some aren’t, and just leave it at that? Some people are good at verbal reasoning, mathematical puzzles, spotting patterns, anagrams, etc, and some are not. So what?

Is intellectual agility the same as intelligence? Of course not. Is there only one kind of intelligence? Of course not. Is being coached for a test the same as developing one’s intelligence? Is being a creative thinker the same as being intelligent? Is having a good imagination the same as being intelligent? Do tests foster one’s imagination or creativity?

Jim Knight, the School’s Minister, appears to be a moron. Asked whether it made sense for children and teachers in English schools still to be subjected to SATs when Scotland and Wales don‘t see any need for them, he waffled and avoided the issue, parroting the party line (i.e. the right-wing political consensus in England) that SATs are helping to raise ‘standards’. Even though he knows very well that research shows that what’s gone up is the amount of time spent preparing for the tests (to the detriment of all else), and teachers’ skills in preparing kids for tests.

Has intellectual ability gone up? No. Has creativity gone up? No. It’s gone down, due to the narrowing of the curriculum. He even lied about the impact of SATs on children, maintaining that in most schools the children don’t really notice they’re doing special tests, and that they’re frequently tested anyway.

Well they certainly are now you fuckwit - tested to death in fact - since everyone feels compelled to do “optional” SATs throughout Key Stage Two, and the practice papers are never-ending in Year 6. As for children not minding all this crap they’re subjected to - the man’s a disgusting liar. Of course they feel the pressure, and they feel bad when they don’t do as well as the government’s targets say they should be doing, and they worry themselves sick in the run-up to the tests that they won't meet their parents' and teachers' expectations, that they won't do as well as their friends, etc.

Meanwhile the Observer article has nothing to say whatsoever about other sorts of intelligence - creative and artistic ability, use of the senses, empathy, intuition, imagination, and so on. How many more times do we poor bloody English have to debate all this rubbish? The simple answer seems to be - forever.

The Guardian article, meanwhile, in looking at the Bullingdon Club, the intake of Oxbridge, the numbers of ex-private sector pupils in government and the professions, etc, concentrates on whether we can get back to promoting meritocracy, by which it means greater social mobility. Michael Gove, the Tories’ school’s spokesman, says, “School may be the only place you learn, and progressive methods let you down.” This ignorant pillock has much to learn.


What all of this amounts to, of course, is a conspiracy. There is in England a vast network of people who have built careers on the notion that we need a massive centralised system of control involving Ofsted, the department for education (under its various and never ending changes of name), inspection contractors, overpriced independent consultants, and so on. This system has wasted billions of pounds that should have gone towards the well-being and teaching of our children.

None of these people who support the SATs system and in the name of ‘accountability’ favour a highly confrontational and vindictive system of ‘targets’ and ‘standards’ have any idea as to why other countries - the most successful countries included - have either never had an Ofsted and target-setting culture, or have abandoned one when given an opportunity. They never ask themselves why England, uniquely, has looked to the USA for a model of test-based schooling.

They haven’t a clue as to what works best in the best systems. All that the people who are involved in the conspiracy know is what they know, and what they actually do to support our current system is simply done in order to bring in the money to pay for their various mortgages and lifestyles. Most of these people are involved unwittingly, but in my view ignorance is no excuse. They have never had to defend their support for the dominant system which they help to manage, and in any debate about the actual needs of children and schools they could never defend it. They are just carrying out orders. Unquestioningly. Which is what the system likes and expects. God help you if you question it or suggest changing it.

Talk to any of these people and you’ll be aware that a) they’re ignorant of what it means to have a system based on meeting children’s actual developmental needs, and b) they don’t give a damn about why good teachers and head teachers (who actually do know how to provide for all of the intelligences and the creativity of every child, and who do know why the vision for education set out in such visionary publications as “All Our Futures”, “The New Learning Revolution” and “It’s About Teaching” is so vital) are giving up and looking for ways out of a profession they used to love.

Politicians like Jim Knight, Andrew Adonis and Gordon Brown (who ought, as a father of a child with special needs, know better, as should David Bullingdon Cameron) are fed statistics and nineteenth century bullshit about ‘attainment‘, which they are in any case, as academic high-flyers themselves, predisposed to believe, by a vast civil service of academic over-achievers and loud voices from the stupid wing of the commentariat. These voices are all in favour of the idea that we must measure and assess children’s ‘attainment‘, as if rote learning, memorisation and the accumulation of ‘facts’, as well as the ability to pass tests, is really what makes someone well educated.

Thus they continue to promote a system that’s effectively a counter-revolution to the Plowden ‘revolution’ that tried to put the needs of the individual child at the centre of our schools’ practice and organization. The English system post-Plowden used to be admired throughout the world for its child-centred philosophy, which insisted on enabling children to love learning for its own sake, and which encouraged imagination, creativity, intuition, empathy and collaboration rather than competition, since these are all key life skills.

Nowadays enlightened educationalists elsewhere (as well as the few that remain in this country) are incredulous that our system has abandoned doing things for the immediate and genuine benefit of our children, and runs according to the benighted ideas of ‘tradition’ and the elitist ideas of those who believe that the only way to do well by working class children is to cram them from cradle to eighteen to enable them to get into universities and thence into well-paid employment that will enable them to abandon the concrete jungles of the inner city for starter homes in the suburbs.

This is bullshit of the highest order, and no wonder our inner-city streets are full of violent disaffected adolescents who have been tested, bored and excluded to a spiritual death, if not to actual death, and resort to violence and drugs in order to find some kind of escape, identity and self-expression.

England had managed to defeat the more enlightened vision of educational ‘progressives’ through doing untold damage to its children, who have been identified by various studies as the unhappiest in the world. There is no doubt at all about this. Unesco, for example - by no means a radical organization - has published a damning report, which of course our system has ignored and gone into denial about.

It will take more than damning reports for our political masters to overthrow the conspiracy. In the first place they must be predisposed to do so and must possess some enlightened views of their own, which they patently do not. Neither will the next administration. Michael Gove, the Tories’ ‘schools spokesman’, an ex Times journalist, pretends he’s not an opponent of ‘comprehensive’ schools as such, but says merely, “What’s gone wrong is . . . not the comprehensive ideal, but some of the educational theories that came with it”.


In case anyone was wondering, what the best systems do to ‘measure’ pupil progress is to carry out continuous assessment as to what skills, concepts and knowledge children are acquiring week in, week out. They do not attempt to ‘measure’ these things in high-pressure timed tests. The reason our system imposes timed tests of its own devising on children, and has the tests marked by people outside the schools, is because they do not trust the schools to carry out effective continuous assessment, and in any case they use the tests to measure the effectiveness of schools and teachers (and head teachers) as much as they use them to supposedly measure the educational progress of pupils.

Of course no-one could possibly claim that academic tests show us anything at all about schools’ effectiveness in promoting emotional intelligence, social intelligence, spiritual intelligence, creativity and imagination, let alone a life-long love of learning for its own sake, but then no-one currently in a positions of power gives a damn about these things anyway.

And we’re still awaiting the publication of Professor Alexander et al's Primary Review. Though don’t hold your breath in the expectation that it will have any impact whatsoever on the views or careers of our politicians, bureaucrats and commentators, all of whom have vested interests in maintaining the system as it is, and cannot therefore be expected to disown their current idiotic views on children and education.

And people wonder why we've become a nation of cynics.


(See Layer 3 Making the News for previous thoughts on Jim Knight, Michael Gove, schools and education)

Breaking news at 8.18 am. The Commons Select Committee on Education has just delivered a damning report on SATs and standardised testing, and the pressures on schools, pupils and teachers. Jim Knight is still talking shit. He's now defending the system by saying we have to have high-pressure tests at 11 and 13 in order to prepare children for the stressful tests they have to sit at 16! Thank God for some sensible comments from Mick Brookes of the NAHT about Assessment For Learning and the need to abandon the testing regime.

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