Twigg: Gove is the “enemy of promise”

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg MP responds to today's school league tables.

Stephen Twigg MP (Labour and Co-operative, Liverpool West Derby) is the shadow education secretary

One of the Labour achievements I am particularly proud of is the way we narrowed the gap in results between students from better and less well off backgrounds during our time in office.

It’s easy for politicians to talk the language of social mobility – after all, who would argue against these things? But it is far more difficult to transform aspiration into equality.

There is still a long way to go in education and I am determined that we break the link between economic background and school results, as countries like Finland manage to.

Getting more working class children into university has long been a Labour ambition. It’s why our target of getting 50% of young people into higher education was right. We massively increased opportunities for state school children to fulfil their potential.

It’s why it is so worrying to see the way in which the government is turning the clock back. The announcement to get rid of AS Levels as a progressive qualification to a full A Level is a blow to social mobility.

There’s no need to take my word for it – just read this from Cambridge University:

“This change is unnecessary and, if implemented, will jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access to the University of Cambridge.”

Today, a decline in the numbers of students getting two or three A Level passes has been revealed, and there are a quarter of schools where students do not get the top A Level results needed for the best universities.

Improving access to university is not fundamentally about quotas for state school pupils – it is about state schools providing high quality teaching, and ensuring there is support and mentoring for gifted and talented pupils who could go to our top universities.

But we need to go further than that today. We need to also take action for the forgotten 50 per cent of students who don’t go to university.

They deserve high aspirations too. That means creating a high status standard to aim for at age 18 – a Technical Baccalaureate. This would include rigorous vocational courses, accredited by businesses and a quality work experience placement. We also have to strengthen the links between schools and the world of work – with employers sitting on governing bodies and ‘work discovery’ programmes for primary school children.

In addition, we need to broaden the experience of young people from age 16, ensuring that all students study English and Maths until 18.

The Government is not interested in all students doing these subjects – only those who don’t get a grade C or higher. But 84% of students who get a B or C in Maths GCSE drop the subject at 16. Michael Gove would leave those thousands of students behind.

The Education Secretary constantly undermines technical and practical subjects. So creative and vocational subjects like art, design and technology, music, computing and engineering have no value in his EBaccs or his new A Level reforms and are now being sidelined in schools.

A broad and balanced education is what we need if young people are going to aim high. That’s why I’m interested in establishing an A Level Baccalaureate which would provide a balance of different subjects, so young people are well rounded and grounded when they leave school. Sadly, the Government’s changes to A Levels will narrow options available to young people.

Yes we need to reform our exams and our curriculum, but it must be the right reform. Yes, let’s improve the design of qualifications in sciences,
Maths and languages, but in a way that improves the preparedness of school leavers for university, apprenticeships and the world of work.

That’s what I’ve asked a taskforce of business leaders and education experts, chaired by Professor Chris Husbands of the Institute of Education to do.
Two tier exams are not the answer. Michael Gove risks undermining a decade of social mobility, by reducing opportunities for state school pupils. He is truly the enemy of promise.

See also:

Twigg: Gove’s plans will ‘take us back to the 19th century’ and risk a “decade of decline”January 17th, 2013

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

19 Responses to “Twigg: Gove is the “enemy of promise””

  1. David Lindsay

    What a grandstanding fraud is Michael Gove. He
    knows perfectly well that there is no Commons majority for bringing back proper
    A-levels with AS as a qualification in its own right, just as he knew that
    there was no Commons majority for bringing back O-levels. That never happened. Until the advent of the first Labour Government since 1979, nor will this.

    In the case of examination boards, the
    application of “free” market principles to the provision of a public service
    has proved an unmitigated disaster, including for the business community more
    widely, raising the question of whether that might also be true elsewhere.
    Commercial schools, which are tax-exempt as charities rather than being taxed
    as the businesses that they are, hardly ever use anything like the export strength
    IGCSE favoured in Saint Helena and other old outposts, but instead content
    themselves with fleecing the gullible by merely being adept at getting people
    through exams that are largely rubbish anyway.

    The present structure of A-levels is an
    inevitable consequence of the replacement of O-levels with GCSEs. Even assuming
    that there is any remaining need for a qualification at 16 when the
    school-leaving age is in any case to be raised in the near future, bringing
    back both O-levels and proper A-levels would therefore involve denouncing
    Margaret Thatcher. Replacing O-levels with GCSEs was her very worst domestic
    policy, and that is saying quite, quite something. Untold numbers of us will be
    filling in the gaps as best we can for the rest of our lives.

    Let Labour alone promise to legislate, both for
    the restoration of A-levels and AS-levels (do S-levels still exist, by the
    way?), and for the restoration of the O-levels that it voted to save in the
    first place. Let Labour alone promise that ultimate legislative reversal of
    Thatcherism. No one else could, even if they wanted to, which they do not.

    For Labour to do so would entail the removal of the Blairite living dead
    Stephen Twigg. But since, true to that tendency, he has ruled out
    restoring the Educational Maintenance Allowance, good riddance. Give the
    job to Rory Weal. Or, in a Government Of All The Talents, to Lord
    Lindsay of Lanchester. Why, in that latter case, I might almost re-join
    the party. Almost.

    Ed Miliband and Jon Cruddas, over to you.

  2. LeftyOxfordLifeScientist

    Although I disagree with many of the previous administrations’ ‘reforms’ (including the 50% higher education pledge — fewer than 50% of careers should require someone to spend three years in abstract study), I entirely agree with Mr Twigg’s argument regarding Gove’s insistence about ‘old skool’ A-levels; they narrow future choice. Having sat an exam at Twigg’s alma mater that really would have better been approached from a mixture of A- and AS- levels, or a baccalaureate, I am very concerned that students are driven to select a very narrow range of subjects at 16, and I can’t see how Gove’s reforms will prevent this happening.

  3. Newsbot9

    Unfortunately for that premise, both the real and the perceived need for degrees is only rising. The UK has actually had a slowly falling % going to university after Labour’s big hikes…and it’s now falling sharply! This will only cost us, long-term.

    We also still have far too little vocational training…

  4. Newsbot9

    Well yea, unless they revert to ancient creeky qualifications which are even worse than today’s, you might not try and push centralist policy that far back in other areas? Heh.

  5. David Lindsay

    Worse than today’s? How, exactly?

  6. Newsbot9

    Even more examinations, male-biased, norm referenced (automatically writing a large % of students off, not that the Government have not ordered that for GCSE’s anyway), completely inflexible to the topic…

  7. David Lindsay

    “Male-biased”? Apart from the odd statistically rogue year, girls always did better at O-level, because they are so much more mature in the mid-teens.

    The gigantic “gender gap”, on the other hand, began precisely with the introduction of Thatcher’s wretched GCSEs. Girls now do vastly better than boys because the whole thing is designed to ensure that they do. Not the only problem with GCSE. But certainly one of them.

    David Cameron and Michael Gove can do nothing about this, because that would entail denouncing Margaret Thatcher in the strongest possible terms.

    How hard could it be to examine everyone both by coursework and by final examination, simply awarding the lower mark as the final grade? Sadly, a great deal easier than admitting that there was nothing Iron about the oft-turned Lady.

  8. Newsbot9

    Uh no. Pure exam qualifications are skewed male.
    You’re complaining about the *absence* of bias.

    And that sounds like a massive amount of work wasted, and it will penalise kids not good at everything. Quite the opposite of what you want to be doing – which is finding where they excel and taking that forward!

  9. David Lindsay

    No, they were not “skewed male”. They were not designed with the sex of the candidate in mind at all.

    Whereas what we have now was designed specifically in order to favour girls massively, when of course they always did do a bit better than boys at that age.

    All that you are saying is that girls are, and ought to be, advantaged if it is all written over several months by the teacher. That is one of the most patronising and misogynistic things that I have ever read.

    And “work wasted” on what? On learning something, imply for the sake of learning it? Is that your definition of waste?

  10. Newsbot9

    Thanks for contradicting yourself there. They were written without fully understanding the sex bias inherent in them. This is unfair.

    And no, you’re the one arguing for bias towards boys. Keep on arguing that 30 years of studies are all wrong, because {magic}.

    And no, you want kids to have their WORST result counted. It means if they’re poor at exams, there’s no point them trying hard in coursework…they’re not going to get anywhere. And vice versa. Those kids are going to be disruptive, with nothing to look forward to…

    It’s all about writing kids off in your world!

    (Tip – we need to stop doing that. And we need to start paying attention to modern pedagogy at a level above individual teachers)

  11. David Lindsay

    No, they were written without any sex bias, unlike what has come after them. Why does everything have to have one? In any case, girls outperformed boys at O-level, just not by the contrived margin that they do at GCSE. In the mid-teens, they were bound to. Call that “sex bias” if it impresses your PhD supervisor or whoever. But to the rest of us, it’s just called life.

  12. Newsbot9

    Ah yes, in your world it’s fine to have a bias against one sex by ignoring the issues! And you’re ignoring the reality that Boys are better at exams than Girls.

    And right, keep on saying that Exams = Life.

  13. David Lindsay

    No, girls being more mature than boys at that age is just life. That was why girls outperformed boys at O-level. There was never a problem. GCSE deliberately created one, namely an absurd exaggeration of the gap that was bound to occur naturally, and which duly did.

    In your own terms, if girls are better at coursework, then why is that any less of a “gender bias” than that boys are better at exams?

    But the real point is this: GCSE is simply inferior to O-level academically. By defending it, you are defending Thatcher. That is why Gove cannot change back to O-levels. That is also why Labour, which voted against GCSEs, can, and therefore must, change back to O-levels.

  14. Newsbot9

    “Just life”. That’s your excuse for restoring a system which is biased, got it. You’re complaining because the system isn’t rigged against girls, by including coursework.

    And no, I’m defending what little bits of modern teaching we have in the system. You’re trying to drag us even further back!

    Your “logic” is laughable. You are seeing things in a black and white. Simply because a party did something once isn’t a reason to continue it if it’s not a good idea!

  15. David Lindsay

    It is the present system that is biased, because it was designed to be. The old system wasn’t. Perhaps in class terms, although enough working-class people seemed to do very well under it. But certainly not against girls. The first ever sex-biased system was this one, against boys. Introduced by Thatcher. Why are you defending her single most destructive domestic policy, and that is saying a hell of a lot?

  16. Newsbot9

    Ah yes, you think it’s destructive not to have a biased archaic examination system. It’s not even in her top 100.

    The working class most definitely didn’t do well under a system designed to throw away the chances of most of the working class!

    You have this idea that ignoring bias makes it go away. It does not.

  17. David Lindsay

    Oxford and Cambridge (since that is how people measure these things – I am a Durham man and it was equally true there, and everywhere else) were state school institutions in those days.

    Until comprehensivastion and then the introduction of GCSEs, private schools were on the brink of dying out, although it is worth mentioning that they very rarely avail themselves of their right to use superior examinations.

    No, she never did anything more ruinous across the board than GCSEs. If your educational model is so left-wing, then why did the Tories never change it in 18 years, and in fact create a very great deal of it during those years?

    There was no sex bias in the old system. Girls slightly outperformed boys, naturally. There is in the present system. Girls absurdly outperform boys, as a contrivance. Why is that all right?

  18. Newsbot9

    Did I say left wing? No, it’s one of the very few things which isn’t entirely stuck in the 1950’s in UK education!

    Of course the old system was biased, it was created without knowing what to do to counter bias, as you’ve admitted! The contrivance is your attempt to reinstate bias.

  19. David Lindsay

    No, it was not biased. It simply wasn’t. Girls outperformed boys slightly but clearly, as is bound to happen naturally at that age. And universities, of which only what are now the fairly swanky ones existed at the time, were full of working-class people.

    It is what has replaced all of that, that is biased. Contrived to ensure that girls massively outperform boys. And serving to keep down the plebs. Both of those tie in perfectly with the wider Thatcherite context.

Leave a Reply