The behaviour of Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove is in the spotlight once more, and this time it looks to be serious, and not just for his career, but the education of thousands of teenagers around the country who were expecting to achieve a Grade “C” pass in their GCSE English exams, were predicted so to do, and yet when they opened the envelope saw it was only a “D”.
If it quacks like a Gove ...
What is claimed to have happened is that there has been a moving of the “grade boundaries”, that is, the point on the marking scale which divides one grade from another. The dividing line between “A” and “B”, and that between “C” and “D”, are said to have been moved upwards. If this is true, it is simply inexcusable. Moving the goalposts during a course is bang out of order.
Gove claims he wants to raise standards, and also does not see the merit in the numbers getting the highest grades rising every year. But students and their teachers are working under the understanding that the GCSE is criterion based – you get the mark, you get the grade – and not marked normatively, as the “O” Level was, with no more than a certain proportion of students getting any one grade.
Why should it matter? Well, getting that “C” grade, roughly the equivalent of an “O” Level pass, means the pupils get to go to college. If they only score a “D”, they don’t. So has Gove been sticking his bugle in? He does not deny that grade boundaries have been moved, making a statement of the obvious that “the number of Cs has fallen but the number of Ds has increased”.
And Gove also said “that is the result of the independent judgements made by exam boards entirely free from any political pressure”, which is an interesting form of words for someone not wanting to draw attention to themselves. On the one hand, he says he has no influence, then on the other stresses the need to maintain standards, which sounds rather like the veiled wielding of, well, influence.
One sign that all may not be well for Gove is that his own side is not united behind him. John Redwood has signalled his disquiet, and admitted that he is unsure what examiners are trying to achieve, making this observation: “It is unfair on those taking the exams if they do not know what is expected, or if the standards change between the time they start and the time they finish without them knowing it”.
Redwood goes on “It is particularly unfair if someone needs a C or higher in a GCSE to go on to further study, and has just failed to get this through some unannounced change in the standard required”. He is not known as “The Vulcan” for nothing. Something less than logical appears to have happened in the marking of GCSE English, and there needs to be a coherent and prompt explanation.
And it will serve all parties best for Michael Gove to come clean about his role.