Last night, I had a dream.
Doesn’t that make you shudder at the start of a blog? But don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a detailed description of my weird and wonderful dreams. I don’t really have those. This is just what triggered my current musings.
In this dream I was in a strange place; some kind of academic institution I think. (My dreams often include a return to places like this. I think it signals a not very hidden desire to learn something new.) Still, I digress. The noticeable feature of the dream was that I was welcomed and everybody tried to help me find my way and were supportive of what I was doing. This is a good dream. When I was teaching, and to be fair, in previous jobs though to a lesser extent, my dreams were similar in location but very different in tone. I found situations and people frustrating and obstructive, I had a goal, a destination and I was constantly being prevented from getting there in various ways; thwarted at every turn. I assume this is because it was what was constantly happening in real life. I knew what I wanted to do and what was needed, but was prevented from doing it by circumstance (and to be honest often by individuals) I fought against this, and succeeded to some extent for several years but was eventually beaten into submission when a combination of circumstances at home and at work meant I had no more energy to fight.
I’m generally an optimistic kind of person. I don’t give up easily and although I actually try to expect the worst because that way you’re less likely to be disappointed, in fact I don’t do that. I still have a secret core that believes things will turn out for the best. I can find a positive in bad things that have happened and regard setbacks as an opportunity to develop rather than as an end.
Just now I’m struggling to do that. There have been blogs (such as this from Sue Cowley which caused a flurry of comments both pro & con) and comments (for example this conversation ) again recently about the macho language now being used, especially noticeable in education. (I’ve also just come across this which is making a similar point.)
But it’s not just the language that’s becoming hard and ultimately competitive. It’s actions. Look at the way exams are now graded “to prevent grade inflation”. We’re heading back to norm referencing. Not only in A levels and GCSEs (as far as I can tell) but also in SATs results. I think the fact that “pass marks” are not being published until papers are in is a hint there. ( I suspect this is what Michael Gove was really talking about when he made the all schools can be above average remark) The actual quote from the education select committee
Q98 Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?
Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.
Q99 Chair: So it is possible, is it?
Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.
What he wanted was for all schools to compete to be in the right hand side of the bell curve. And Ofsted had already been doing this for years by only classifying schools as *Good* if they were above average. This is all well and good if schools, teachers and pupils are not then castigated for not being good. And, ultimately, it means that you can only improve at someone else’s expense.
Today, this was again illustrated beautifully by our own dear SMW. First he criticised a local authority being the “worst performing region in the country“. Well, if you rank regions, schools, children, some will inevitably be the worst, whatever the overall standard. Next he claimed children are nor making enough progress after primary school (Odd since the government is currently claiming it’s primary schools who aren’t doing well enough and are hiking up the expected levels) and is reasoning that because of this we should re-introduce KS3 tests.
Last year, 68% of non-selective secondary school pupils who achieved a level 5 or above (which is significantly above average) in English and maths at the end of primary school failed to attain either an A* or A in these subjects at GCSE; 27% failed to achieve the minimum expected progress, a grade B.
Now, I don’t know the details of this, but I do know that to avoid grade inflation GCSE grades are pegged Jack Marwood knows much more and if he calls foul, I trust him.
The part that really worries me now it that this is not just in education, or even just in the workplace. It’s everywhere. The far right narrative which is currently in vogue seems to want to rank everything and everybody then specifically praise those who succeed at the expense of others.
Does everything need to be about competition rather than co-operation? Do we have to divide schools, the country, the world into them and us? Does your success have to come at someone else’s expense? Is co-operation a dirty word?