Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Layer 77 Rapping Bankers, Scrapping SATs.

The events of the past month or so have been so wild and whacky there’s very little that any blogger can really say that isn’t superfluous and hasn‘t already been said. Wherever you look there’s craziness going on that’s almost beyond satire or even comment - the events speak for themselves. 

There's Gordie Broon as superhero, deftly clearing up the mess he’s made, thanks to his admiration for the City and his determination not to regulate its greed and mad excesses. 

There’s the USA and the UK nationalising the major providers and guarantors of mortgages, and the pillars of the banking system, in a manner advocated all those years ago by Michael Foot and various other socialists. 

There’s John McCain trying to make himself electable by selecting as his vice presidential candidate someone who’s obscure even in her own country, and clearly a dimwit even by backwoods standards. 

How do you satirise any of that? Fortunately Jon Stewart’s ‘The Daily Show’ (on More Four) and Private Eye are still having a very good go.

Stewart and his team are pretty much unmissable in this run-in to the election, especially in a time of financial and economic chaos and meltdown. Last week, commenting on what the Republicans can now do to improve their electability, he swerved around Obama’s crack about McCain choosing Palin for VP as like ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ and delicately settled for any future actions by McC & Co as being like ‘putting perfume on a turd’.

Stewart replayed the footage of the mad woman in one of McCain’s audiences fulminating about Obama being an Arab. Whereas the casual observer might have thought McCain gained some credit from the incident by telling the batty one that Obama was ‘a decent family man’, the Daily Show skewered him for letting the label ‘Arab’ stand as a something true and self-evidently a bad thing - i.e. no attempt to say a) he’s not ‘an Arab’, and b) even if he were, so what? 

The woman was a barking racist, and all McCain did, whilst backing away from her, was condone her racism by merely pointing out that at least Obama had a family, as if that has anything to do with his character and his ability. Later in the programme one of Stewart’s team, in role as a Republican commentator, said to Stewart with pride in his voice, “The McCain campaign speaks for us - the Ignorant - the people who shouldn’t necessarily speak”. 

Meanwhile, the current issue of Private Eye carries an ‘editorial’ by the former boss of the ‘Royal Bank of Gnome’ (i.e. RBS), which begins, 

“The Royal Bank of Gnome has been taken over as of this morning by the Government. I welcome this development and I am happy to give a reassurance to members of my family that my money is perfectly safe. Despite my sadness at leaving a bank that I have done so much for over the years, I can walk away with the knowledge that I have done everything in my power to safeguard my salary, bonuses and pension scheme. Investors may take comfort in the knowledge that although they have lost all their money, I haven’t.”

The Eye also points out that Sir Fred Goodwin last year received a ‘performance bonus’ of £2,860,000 for his work in manoeuvring the Royal Bank of Scotland group into a position where it needed a £20billion bail-out. 

The Eye carries ‘An Apology’ that’s ‘Exclusive to all Tory Newspapers’:

“In recent years we may have given the mistaken impression that the City was the driving force for growth in the economy, and that the “masters of the universe” and “superwomen” in the City who raked in mega-bonuses for deals which had transformed London into the banking capital of the world were people everyone should be proud of, as the wealth they’ve created has benefited each and every one of us in some way.

We now realise, in the wake of the ongoing credit crisis, that nothing could be further from the truth, and that the City is in fact nothing but a collection of sharp-suited robber barons, crooks, spivs and peroxide blond harpies, all shamelessly feeding at the trough as they scoop up mega-bonuses for dodgy deals which have taken us to the brink of Armageddon, and who are deserving of nothing but stoning or beheading for the misery they’ve wrought. 

We apologise for any confusion caused, and any confusion in the future when we criticise the government’s plan to take a share in the banks, saying that stifling risk-taking in the City will only make us all poorer in the long . . . etc, etc, etc.”


Our government, meanwhile, didn’t shirk the opportunity to slip in, undercover of the cacophony of a collapsing financial system, and their own collapsing credibility, a decision to quietly scrap KS3 SATs, whilst retaining tests at KS2. Well Hoo-ray. Two bloody cheers. A left turn, or a U-turn? Maybe not as momentous a U-turn as now promising to strictly regulate the money markets as well as put overseers on the banks’ boards of directors, but a major reversal of policy all the same. 

Jenni Russell, as ever, in her Guardian column, neatly hit the nail on the head: 

“These are good times to bury bad policies, and the government is making the most of it. Less than a day after the Home Office dropped 42-day detention came the totally unexpected announcement of the abolition of Sats for 14-year-olds. This was a U-turn of the most remarkable kind. The blind defence of the testing system despite a wall of evidence about its failure has been the defining and depressing characteristic of the schools policy for a decade. And on Tuesday, in a near-empty Commons, the facade finally cracked. A test that skews the education of hundreds of thousands of children every year was suddenly found by schools minister Ed Balls to be "not justified", and "less and less relevant" to children's learning. It is a welcome change of perspective from a minister who has insisted until now that Sats are essential.”

Jenni then went on to say, 

“Every argument against Sats at 14 applies even more strongly to those at 11. They are simplistic and unreliable, they usually ruin year six, and they don't reflect what children understand. Almost every secondary school retests its 11-year-olds. At least a quarter can't do what the Sats claim they can. Yet since primaries' ranking, heads' survival and teachers' pay depend on the results, no junior school can afford to let a true picture of children's achievements emerge.

Every recent report on education has concluded that this system of perverse incentives is demoralising pupils and failing to develop their talents. We know why ministers have clung to it: the fake results have been a fig leaf for policy failures. Now we will find out whether Balls has real political courage.

He stepped out of the bunker this week, but if Balls is to retain any consistency he can't stop mid-stride. The biggest problem in education is the boredom and alienation of children. It's good to be acting to cut the disillusionment of 11-to 14-year-olds, but if he really cares about children rather than statistics, he needs to tackle the primary problem too.”

Oxzen’s comment in Comment Is Free, in case anyone missed it, was 

As ever Jenni Russell has done a great job in skewering New Labour’s ludicrous and harmful education policies, and in highlighting the ridiculous and inconsistent arguments used by Ed Balls for not following his own logic and moving to an effective system of tracking pupil progress at KS2 as well as KS3.

Mr Balls must think educational professionals and parents alike are entirely stupid if he thinks he can get away with saying, effectively, that we must have external and objective tests at the end of Primary school because, well, we have them at the end of Secondary school.

This is a typical politician attempting to fudge the issue and behaving like someone who cares more about covering his own back from attacks from both the Tories and from within Labour than he does about the wellbeing and educational success of children. If Balls sincerely believes what he’s saying then he really is stupid, and if he doesn’t then he’s as cowardly and shifty as his media performances would indicate.

As Jenni Russell says, the testing regime has as harmful an effect on the learning and motivation of pupils at KS2 as it's had on the learning of pupils at KS3, and the tests don’t even give an accurate picture of what pupils know and what they can do. Only evidence-based expert teacher assessment and regular tracking against clear learning targets can do that.

The Year 6 SATs results are more often an indicator of the willingness of individual schools to abandon a broad, rich and balanced curriculum and cram their pupils for tests than they are an indicator of actual pupil progress and ability. As for schools producing pupils who love learning for its own sake, who are creative, confident, imaginative and emotionally intelligent - you must be joking. Schools that focus primarily on cramming and "standards" (i.e. their position in the league tables) normally don't even address these issues.

Recent New Labour murmurings of appreciation and praise for the success of the Finnish system of education don't seem to appreciate that the Finns don't formally test pupils until they are 16. They DO, however, rigorously track their progress throughout their school years, instead of relying on formal tests at the end of each Key Stage.

New Labour were wrong about formal tests for pupils at KS1 and had to recant. They were wrong about holding on to formal tests at KS3 and had to recant. Do we really have to hope the Tories win the next election in order for the right thing to happen at KS2?

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