Pulling Up The Ladder

Darren Stephens
Aug 13, 2020 · 4 min read

Normally at this time of year I’d be sitting here talking about trivia like Left Hander’s Day (which is 13 August), as well as rolling my eyes at the pictures on social media and the websites of the Daily Mail and the Express showing nubile 18 year old girls pictured mid-leap as they celebrate their A Level results.

Not today.

Today, Gavin Williamson, The Secretary of State for Education, sat during an interview and used the words:

“…people being over-promoted into jobs beyond their competence.”

Leaving aside the clanging irony of one of the most mediocre Cabinet Ministers in living memory (and that’s a high bar right now) complaining about anyone else being promoted beyond the levels of their basic competence, let’t talk about the worst parts of all this.

First, are the algorithms used to calculate grades, teacher predictions, mock exma results, and evaluations have been downgraded. And guess what? Schools in the state sector are disparoprtionately affected. Partly becasue the previkous record of the school is considered, so higher abiliry puplis from those schools are immediately diasdvataged.

Second, Not all teacher predictions have been downgraded. No, those in classes with fewer than 15 students weren’t. Guess which schools that benefits the most, and which kids will gain an advatage as a result? Here’s a clue: not your kids.

Worse yet, when the exams were first cancelled, who was it who stood up and said that kids not taking exams wouldn’t be disadvantaged by the exceptional circumstances this year? That will have been the Prime Minister, who absolutely according to previous form, was talking out of his overly-upholstered arse and lying. Whoever could have predicted that?(1). But as it happens, in some schools up to half of students were adversely affected by this statistical chicanery.

The head of Williamson’s old sixth form in Scarborough made the not unreasonable point that perhaps just going with teacher grades wasn't a terrible idea. Given the effects on the mental health of kids who’ve not been able to go to school over this spring and summer period, a year of even moderate grade inflation would be an acceptable price to pay, especially because the system of grading would only be used in this year. And that assumes that there would be any, because this brings us to the next point: just how little do the qualifications authorities and the government not trust teachers to do something basic like their actual job? Well, you can probably guess that too, because of the amounts of knocking copy in the usual places having a go at teachers not wanting to rush back to school in September. This government really don’t like teachers, and it’s just another punch in the guts for a career that’s being systemically deskilled and deprofessionalised by degrees. Teachers have every right to be angry about this, and schools should be looking to innundate QAs with appeals to attempt to address the outrageous inequality being dished out here.

And that brings us to inequality generally. Because another feature of this day each year is the parade of trite posts saying things like this:

Of course, having an herititary title and a pot of cash always helps too. And there are the endless discussions about “social mobility”, and letting some kids from the realms of the great unwashed be permitted to feast on a few of the crumbs from the top table. But this debate is always framed in one way: social mobility is one way. A ladder you can’t climb down. Because after all, what we huddled, miserable proles want more than anything is to be like our betters. We can aspire to nothing greater. And just to make sure, the plan now also seems to stop the greate unwashed engaging in arts, and getting them to do something useful. You know…trade.

The pattern is the same every year, but this year is so transparently obvious in its arrogance and condescension that it’s.actually offensive.

Next week my daughter collects her GCSE results. Her school is vague about how far results have corresponded to teacher predictions, or how this has affected student performance. But reading between the lines I’m less than encouraged. GCSE results will be much more of a minefield than A Levels, with wider ability ranges, greater numbers of students (including those from disadvantaged backgrounds), and greater marking pressure. If the noises today were mostly ones of disappointment and anger, God alone knows how things will pan out next week. And there’s less hope that there’ll be a sensible response to that, as there was in Scotland. Expect what can only be described as a total clusterfuck . Again.

Of course, one possible upside is that being treated like this is very likely to radicalise a generation of kids (and their parents), who now know what it’s like to be properly fucked by a Conservative government.

(1) Apart from anyone with a pulse, and an IQ high enough to allow walking and talking simultaneously

The Cult of Stupid

No, I distinctly said, “CULT”

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