Monthly Archives: October 2013

Me and My PGCE

Careers

Fifty-two years,
most of them taken in
growing or in the
illusion of it

— R. S. Thomas, Selected Poems 1946-1968

Some recent blogs on PGCEsQTS and initial teacher training led me to reflect on the practicalities of how I became a teacher.

Generally speaking, it takes two years to become a qualified teacher, by whichever route you choose (PGCE + QTS, Teach First or Schools Direct). Opinions vary as to how long it will take you to become a good teacher, although it is generally agreed that this is not an automatic process. (‘Good’ according to whom is a question I will leave to one side for this post.)

From my own experience, I would venture to make the risky generalisation that good teachers are not born, they are not made (in the sense of being manufactured on an assembly line); rather, good teachers are grown.

I entered the profession some 20+ years ago via the near-universal (at the time) PGCE route. To be honest, I wasn’t driven by any sense of vocation aside from a hazy idea that another year of uni would be kind of nice (ooh – and a bursary too, thank you so much). As I recall, the course had two school placements: a short one (of two weeks) and a long one (of — wait for it — six weeks).

The rest of the time was passed pleasantly on campus, sometimes attending lectures on educational theory and philosophy, and other times having useful (and sometimes not-so-useful) small class tutorials on the stuff of actual Physics teaching. I regret to say that I was often more focused on drama society productions and going to the pub than on my studies and placements.

Nevertheless, I passed. I don’t know how, but I passed. And I managed (again, God knows how) to get my first job. It was as a Physics teacher at a small rural comprehensive. I won’t say in which part of the UK, except that there were so many Mr Jones’s that we had to be distinguished by referencing our teaching subject. I was “Mr Jones Physics”.

And I was rubbish. I couldn’t control a class to save my life, my planning was abysmal (when I actually did any), and I spent most of each lesson shouting at students (well, at least all that drama society stuff was put to some use after all) in increasingly desperate attempts to get them to copy stuff off the blackboard (one of those old style ones where the writing surface was a looped belt that you used chalk to write on). Without a doubt, the present-day me would have fired the then-me without a second thought.

Surprisingly, I still made it through my probationary year (the prehistoric version of QTS), although with my ears ringing with a stern admonition to mark my students’ books more often.

What saved me? An inspirational Head of Science who — wonder of wonders — saw some teaching potential in me. He unselfishly gave me the lion’s share of A-level Physics teaching. Gradually, in the relative calm of an A-level class, I learned how to communicate my knowledge of Physics to students in a useful way. I learned how to talk with rather than at or down to students. I learned how to control a class using the maxim “It’s not the severity of a sanction that matters, it’s the certainty.” And, sometime near the beginning of my second year of teaching I remember a lesson with a Y10 group when I had the shocking thought “Hey, I’m enjoying this!” I became confident enough to write and develop my own teaching resources. I started getting positive feedback from students. I learned techniques and strategies to help students across the ability range. And . . . well, I was hooked.

So: fast-forward to today. Am I a good teacher? Hell, yes, I think so. A-level Physics take-up at my school has never been so healthy. Results are above the school average and improving. Ex-students occasionally write to me saying how much they enjoyed learning in my classes. A student gets up at the end of the final lesson before the exams to shake my hand and say “Thanks for being a great Physics teacher!” A young woman says that she persevered to the end of A2 Physics simply because “It’s so rare to a teacher who is so passionate about his subject.” (PS — I’m not making any of this stuff up, honest; blowing my own trumpet does not come easily to me, but I think I need this to give some perspective on what follows. Plus I need to counter some of the steady drip-drip-drip of SLT negativity.)

The point is: it wasn’t the PGCE or QTS* process per se that made me into a good teacher. It was time, good guidance and inspiring examples from colleagues and friends and — most importantly of all — learning that I, myself, wanted to do this well and putting the hours into thinking about teaching, planning lessons, developing teaching sequences and ways of communicating concepts and — perhaps most importantly of all — learning about how important it is to know about children’s possible misconceptions in order to effectively teach (thank you, Rosalind Driver and her colleagues for this research).

So if PGCE and QTS-equivalent did not, by my own admission, turn me into a good teacher, should they be dispensed with?

Absolutely not. I believe that QTS is the “Goons’ Cambridge tie” (see below) of the teaching profession. It is the minimum standard. It is the line drawn in the sand: to be a teacher you have to do this and this and this*. And to an extent, anybody who wants it can get it (assuming they do the necessary work, of course). It is the necessary first step.

So far, I have not heard an argument that convinces me that QTS is a major obstacle to outside experts entering the classroom. As far as I can tell, all such arguments are obfuscatory justifications for cost cutting by way of employing temporary or transient staff.

Teaching looks easy but is actually much harder than it looks. Unless a person is willing to “buy the tie”, so to speak, I do not think they will develop the classroom expertise that students need and (usually) respond so warmly to.

Receptionist:
Do take a seat with the other applicants.

Greenslade:
Thank you. I sat down next to a man wearing a brass deerstalker, white cricket boots, and a shredded cardboard wig.

Eccles:
Ha-llo!

[…]

Greenslade:
Don’t tell me you’re applying for the post of announcer?

Eccles:
Oh, yeah! And I’ll get it too, you’ll see! I’m wearing a Cambridge tie!

Greenslade:
You? You were at Cambridge?

Eccles:
Yeah!

Greenslade:
What were you doing there?

Eccles:
Buying a tie.

The Goon Show, “The Greenslade Story”

* Ridiculously oversimplified, I know. My apologies to all those who have had to assemble multiple ringbinders of evidence for the QTS standards.

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Knowledge vs. Skills: Big-endians vs. Little-endians?

Gulliver’s Travels contains the memorable episode where two peoples are engaged in a long war over which end of a boiled egg to break first, the war of the Big-endians vs. the Little-endians:

[T]wo mighty powers have … been engaged in a most obstinate war for six-and-thirty moons past. It began upon the following occasion….the emperor … commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown. … It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy: but the books of the Big-endians have been long forbidden, and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments.

I suggest that the current knowledge versus skills debate is, at its heart, no more than a Big-endian versus Little-endian debate.

I started thinking about these issues after reading Daisy Christodoulou’s recent blogpost. I think I agree with two of the main points that she put forward: that (1) the so-called “knowledge vs. skills” is a false dichotomy; and (2)

people who say that it’s a false dichotomy go on to make what I think is a further misconception. They say – ‘we should teach both’ or that ‘we should have a balance – let’s make sure we don’t get too knowledge heavy/too skills heavy’ … The other semantic problem this gives rise to is that when I talk about teaching knowledge, a lot of people worry that I am not concerned about skills. I am absolutely concerned with skills. The end point of education should be to produce skilled individuals. My point is that the best way to achieve that aim is not to teach skills; it’s to teach knowledge.

I would perhaps go a little further still. Although the word skill and the word knowledge are useful in many contexts to express nuances of meaning (e.g. he is a skilled footballer as compared with he is knowledgeable about football), I am not sure that they actually refer to different cognitive realities.

When a person makes a claim to knowledge, I believe that they are claiming some form of demonstrable ability. If the Major-General from The Pirates of Penzance says that “I know the kings of England” then we are quite within our rights to say, “Go on, then, name them.” If the Major-General can go on to list the kings of England then we might conclude “Yep, he really does know them.”

I believe that the salient point is that a claim to knowledge is not assessed by reference to any sort of brain- or cognitive-state, but rather to the successful demonstration of an ability to do something. As a consequence, I think that the opposition of skills and knowledge is not only unhelpful and a false dichotomy, as Christodoulou points out, but is actually something worse.

I think that those who seek to distinguish between skills and knowledge on a fundamental level are relying on a false model of how the human mind works. I believe that it is a mistake to think of the mind as a blank slate onto which facts or knowledge are written on the brain, like sentences on a page. This model suggest that intelligent actions consist of interpreting these sentences (howsoever encoded in the brain) and changing and applying them to the real world. In other words, gaining knowledge is no big deal since the propositions that encode them just sit there in the brain until an active intellectual agent grabs them and uses them.

Champions of the [intellectualist] legend are apt to try and re-assimilate knowing how to knowing that by arguing that intelligent performance involve the observance of rules, or the application of criteria. It therefore follows that the operation which is characterized as intelligent must be preceded by an intellectual acknowledgement of these rules or criteria.

Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (1949), pp.29-30

To put it bluntly, those who argue that there is a fundamental distinction between skills (knowing how, in Ryle’s phrasing) and knowledge (knowing that) are succumbing to the ‘intellectualist legend’.

… the absurd assumption made by the intellectualist legend is this, that a performance of any sort inherits all its title to intelligence from some anterior internal operation of planning what to do … It is also notoriously possible for us to plan shrewdly and perform stupidly, i.e. to flout our precepts in our practice. By the original argument, therefore, our intellectual planning process must inherit its title to shrewdness from yet another interior process of planning to plan, and this process could in its turn be silly or shrewd. The regress is infinite, and this reduces to absurdity the theory that for an operation to be intelligent it must be steered by a prior intellectual operation … When I do something intelligently, i.e. thinking what I am doing, I am doing one thing and not two.

Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (1949) p.32 [emphasis mine]

The point argued by Ryle is that a dichotomy between so-called skills and knowledge presupposes some form of homunculus reading sentences from the book of the brain and deciding how, when and where to put them into action. That model of the mind leads to an infinite regress: how does the homunculus make up its mind? Does it have an even smaller homunculus deciding on its course of action, and that homunculus have an even smaller homunculus, and so on…?

In short, I am suggesting that the thoughtful teacher regard the entire knowledge vs. skills debate as a ‘category-mistake’ based on an old and discredited model of the operation of mind.

This is not to say that word skill is to be outlawed. It is a useful word that I will continue to use for appropriate emphasis and nuance. What I hope is that I will have persuaded other teachers to avoid thinking of knowledge and skill as two completely separate entities that are in opposition to each other, but rather as different ‘ends’ of the same ‘egg’ — the golden egg of learning, if you will.

I will leave the last word to Jonathan Swift:

During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefusca … accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words are these: ‘that all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end.’ And which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion to be left to every man’s conscience.

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels [my emphasis]

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Weasel Words In Education Part 3: “Monitor” and “Track”

Monitor (v.) and Track (v.). Examples: “What system have you in place to monitor departmental results?” or “What are you doing to track the progress of underachievers in Y10?”

Meaning: set up a colour coded Excel spreadsheet. (Usually traffic light influenced e.g. red for danger etc).

Each of these should be an entirely bespoke document — you wouldn’t want departments or schools to actually share a common format, would you?

Some teachers actually use conditional formatting formulas to get the cells to change colour automatically; however, a typical SLT member generally does not care about this provided: (a) there are lots of colours; and (b) there are lots of numbers and letters (or “data” in quotation marks — generally, just randomly generated* numbers and letters will do.)

* Just make sure that the randomly generated numbers display a slight upward drift (or “progress over time”) for a quiet life…

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A Letter from Talleyrand: ‘Some Thoughts on Education and Political Priorities’ by Dominic Cummings, aged 39¾

Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings

If Michael Gove can be likened to Napoleon, would that make Dominic Cummings his Talleyrand? (after Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord 1754-1838, Napoleon’s éminence grise.)

The Duke of Wellington once remarked that the battle plans of Napoleon were made of marble, whereas his own were made of little bits of string. Napoleon’s plans were brilliant and effective, as majestic as a triumphal arch. However, they all shared one fatal flaw: if one little bit went wrong then the whole edifice came crashing down. Wellington said that his own battle plans were different: if one string broke, he would merely knot two other strings together and the plan would continue on.

The pdf what Cummings wrote*  has the feel of man attempting to build a Napoleonic battle plan in order to sort out, once and for all, all the tiresome disagreements about educational policy.

And there’s no denying the man has been busy: he has read a lot. An awful lot. From a very wide range of authors. And it’s quite an interesting and eclectic read.

But it also gives the impression of being no more than an energetic exercise in quote mining, and not a dispassionate investigation of the issues. In other words, I strongly suspect that Cummings read so widely in order to find extracts to support his pre-existing views, rather than thoughts or insights to help form or challenge them.

Reading this document, I was put in mind, more than once, of the fictional doctor, Andrey Yefimitch:

“You know, of course,” the doctor went on quietly and deliberately, “that everything in this world is insignificant and uninteresting except the higher spiritual manifestations of the human mind … Consequently the intellect is the only possible source of enjoyment.”

— Anton Chekov, Ward 6

Cummings laments that “less than one percent are well educated in the basics of how the ‘unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’ provides the language of nature and a foundation for our scientific civilisation.” That, though true, is not necessarily a reason for lambasting our current education system as “mediocre at best”. For me, this seems a curious priority.

Sir Isaac Newton was roundly criticised by his contemporaries for lacking a solid theoretical foundation for the infinitesimal calculus: Bishop Berkeley accused him of trafficking in “the ghosts of vanished quantities”. A couple of centuries later, the rigorous** notion of a limit laid that criticism to rest. Now of course it is generally better to understand more rather than less, but would learning about the foundational difficulties of the calculus be the most pressing priority of a 18th Century student of Physics? I would argue no, not necessarily.

For my part, I have thought long and hard about the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences” (in Eugene Wigner’s phrase). I have discussed it with students. I think it’s a fascinating issue, and I adore far-ranging, off-spec discussions of this ilk. But is it an educational priority? Not in my opinion.

Other parts of the pdf seem just plain odd to me:

It would be interesting to collect information on elite intelligence and special forces training programmes (why are some better than others at decisions under pressure and surviving disaster?). E.g. Post-9/11, US special forces (acknowledged and covert) have greatly altered … How does what is regarded as ‘core training’ for such teams vary and how is it changing?

— Cummings, p.98

Interesting, sure. These special forces teams are (I presume) made up of already highly-motivated and highly-capable individuals. Cummings overarching priority always seems to be towards the individuals on far right of the “bell curve” (another Cummings hot topic: see pp.13, 20, 67, 224 and others). He genuinely seems to recoil in fastidious horror at the very concept of being “mediocre”.

This essay is aimed mainly at ~15-25 year-olds and those interested in more ambitious education and training for them. Not only are most of them forced into mediocre education but they are also then forced into dysfunctional institutions where many face awful choices: either conform to the patterns set by middle-aged mediocrities (don’t pursue excellence, don’t challenge bosses’ errors, and so on) or soon be despised and unemployed.

–Cummings p.4

Compare with Dr Yefimitch:

Life is a vexatious trap; when a thinking man reaches maturity and attains to full conciousness he cannot help feeling that he is in a trap from which there is no escape.

— Anton Chekov, Ward 6

Apparently, Mr Cummings plans to leave the DoE and take up the headship of a Free School. Although I have serious reservations about the Free School programme, I welcome this as an encouraging example of a politician putting his money where his mouth is. And I wish him well. I genuinely do.

However, from my own experience I have to say that I do not think his abstract philosophy will be as reliable a guide for navigating the choppy waters of a headteacher’s life as he believes it will be.

I have quoted from Chekov’s Ward 6 already. This masterful short story is the best description I have ever come across of the result of a collision between a man with an abstract philosophy and real life. In a discussion with a lunatic, Dr Yefimitch proposes that: “There is no real difference between a warm, snug study and this [cold, freezing] ward … A man’s peace and contentment do not lie outside a man, but in himself.” However, disaster strikes and he is committed to the asylum:

Andrey Yefimitch was even now convinced that there was no difference between his landlady’s house and Ward No. 6, that everything in the world was nonsense and the vanity of vanities. And yet his hands were trembling, his feet were cold, and he was filled with dread…

Now, I am not suggesting that our Dom will end up in an insane asylum, or even cold, hungry and alone. What I suggesting is that since one Free School head of what might be described as “the-how-hard-can-it-be?” tendency has, sadly, already bitten the dust, Mr Cummings may find that running a school (or just being a plain old teacher for that matter) requires far more than is dreamt of in his philosophy.

Unless, that is, he learns to make his plans out of string rather than out of marble…

______________________________________________________

* This joke ©Morecambe and Wise c.1972, as are most of the rest of my jokes
** Now where have I heard that word before?

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I Will Have At Thee With Mine Index Finger! Or, Two Thumbs Good

Not for the first time, I did a double take during a lesson today. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought one student was texting. During an AS Physics lesson? Shameful! This behaviour cannot and must not be tolerated!

But she wasn’t texting at all. She was actually using her scientific calculator to solve projectile problems exactly as I’d asked her to do — but using her thumbs to press the keys rather than her fingers. And she was holding the calculator in exactly the way she would hold a smartphone when texting.

Possibly this seems unremarkable to you. I guess it depends on your generation. It seems remarkable to me. Let me explain why.

Similar to my first calculator, but ours had even more keys.

I still remember the first scientific calculator that entered my parents’ house. It was a hulking unwieldy thing with a primitive red LED display that completely drained a 9V battery after barely an hour of use; it also had what seemed like a button for each and every function (e.g. a separate button for both sine and inverse sine), since the SHIFT key had yet to be invented. It was still hailed as a liberator, since it freed me from the tedium of looking up values in printed, mark you, printed log and sine tables.

The calculator was placed flat on the table, or held in my left hand, and the keys pressed using my right index finger. It’s the way I still use a calculator today.

Not so the young folks of today. They have been raised from birth using a variety of teeny tiny little keyboards. I don’t know if it was a lone, unsung genius who figured out that holding a touch screen keypad firmly in both hands and operating the keys using two thumbs was preferable to the I-shall-stab-at-thee-with-mine-index-finger method, or whether it hailed from the mind of Steve Jobs or his minions, but the technique has conquered the world.

Even I use it with my phone these days, although at such a slow, cack-handed pace that it makes any teenagers in the vicinity wince with frustration.

And why do I think that this is worth commenting on? Because this is an example of a real live copper-bottomed twenty-first century skill. It is an efficient, effective way of interacting with mobile electronic technology

You know the “Shift Happens“* brigade, those folks who say that the current education system is not teaching the skills necessary for the world of tomorrow?

Well, taught or not, it seems that some of the “skills of tomorrow” are developing apace. And I think that it is a skill that could not have been anticipated by any futurologist. It developed to meet a need to input data quickly and accurately on a mobile device.

But you know what has not changed for the student I mentioned above? The mathematical knowledge required to press the number and function keys in the correct sequence. I may not have taught my students the “two thumbs” input technique, but at least I taught them the mathematical foundations required to use a calculator to solve Physics problems. The other stuff they were able to teach themselves. (Good thing too, because I don’t think I could.)

I feel that examples like this quite take the wind out of the sails of those who claim that traditional teaching is too “old hat” to be taken seriously: it’s the traditional skills that provide the footing for the new skills. I think that we ignore that truth at our peril.

The fact is that human beings have adapted successfully to many novel changes in the past. The likelihood is that we will continue to do so, albeit in ways that may well be surprising and unexpected. But the point is, we generally build on or adapt things which have worked in the past. Evolution rather than revolution if you will.

I think that too many people have claimed oracular powers to see into the future and thus justify the revolutionary changes they wish to make to the education system. Frequently these appeals sound plausible and have emotional power, with phrases like flexibility and creativity and breaking the factory model, but as Tom Bennett points out in Chapter 9 of his excellent Teacher Proof, these buzzwords are about as deep and thoughtful as they go. Pragmatic Education also also does a good job of taking down one of these oracles in a recent post.

There is no royal road to educational nirvana, no quick revolutionary fix to make people learn without effort and hard work.

Do you want me to walk otherwise than with my feet, and to talk otherwise than with my mouth?
— Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary

I think that, as Voltaire suggests, we will continue to walk with our feet and talk with our mouths for a long whiles yet. But we may well be typing more with our thumbs…

*The Youtube video that has launched a thousand CPDs

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Spongebob Squarepants Explains the Higgs Boson!

Congratulations to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert on their Nobel Prize for their work on the Higgs Boson and the Higgs Field — yay, them!

In a nutshell, the Higgs Field and the Higgs Boson were born to rescue The Ultimate Theory Of How Twelve Particles And Their Interactions Can Explain Pretty Much Everything That Has Ever Happened and Probably Ever Will (Oh, Except For Gravity, That Is); or, as physicists called it, a little more prosaically, The Standard Model.

The Standard Model works really well except that, in its original form, it cannot explain the origin of mass. In other words, it cannot explain why some particles are heavy and others are light. The Higgs Field explains how this happens, and if there is a Higgs Field, there must be a special sort of particle called a Higgs Boson connected with it.

What follows is my attempt to explain some of these concepts in a manner suitable for school students. I call it the Spongebob Squarepants Analogy.

Our Spongebob Squarepants lives, not at the bottom of the sea, but on the steeply sloping side of a mountain (work with me on this!) and for the life of him cannot figure why things like sponges are heavy but un-spongelike things are light.

He comes up with a groundbreaking idea to explain this difference: it’s raining!!!

Its raining, all the time. Everywhere. Invisibly and imperceptibly. Neither Spongebob nor the spongepeople can see the rain, but it’s raining. And it never, ever stops raining.

Spongbob reckons that spongelike things are heavy because they absorb this mysterious, invisible stuff called water. Non-spongelike things do not absorb this water stuff and so they stay light.

The rain represents the Higgs Field.

Now, how can Spongebob tell if he’s right about this water that he cannot see directly?

He predicts that if he bangs two pieces of sponge together with enough energy then they will release enough water to form (sorry, more technical terms here) a puddle.

The puddle will not last a long time because it will start running downhill (remember that our Spongebob lives on the side of a mountain?) The puddle is not stable in Spongebob’s universe. But if Spongebob is very quick and very lucky he might be able to catch a glint of sunlight from the surface of the puddle, and this will prove that he’s right about the water and the rain.

In fact, Spongebob persuades the spongepeople to build what he calls the Large Sponge Collider…but that’s another story.

So, to sum up:

Spongebob Squarepants = Peter Higgs
Rain = Higgs Field
Water = Higgs Mechanism
Puddle = Higgs Boson

My dad would sometimes respond to my more strained and unlikely metaphors in a stern voice, saying: “Son, an analogy is only an analogy!” However, I like to think that he would have enjoyed this one.

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Samuel Johnson vs. Michael Gove

Michael Gove suggests that schools who enter GCSE students early in order to “bank” a C grade are, essentially, cheating. Some school leaders have criticised the tone of his announcement. Keven Bartle says they have a point: “The one element of twitter and blogging reportage critical of the announcement by our less-than-beloved Secretary of State for Education with which I wholeheartedly agree is the dismay that met the tone of the piece, particularly with the repeated use of the word ‘cheating’.”

I think I agree. As Samuel Johnson said (and I am not quoting him as an authority here, rather I simply adore his turn of phrase):

Sir. It must be considered, that a man who only does what every one of the society to which he belongs would do, is not a dishonest man. In the republick of Sparta, it was agreed, that stealing was not dishonourable, if not discovered. . . . I maintain, that an individual of any society, who practises what is allowed, is not a dishonest man.

And it must be conceded that any school that entered students early — either in the hope of banking the magic C grade, or starting a borderline C/D student on the treadmill of resit after resit in pursuit of the same goal — was not, in the technical sense, dishonest in terms of breaking rules: they were simply practicing “what is allowed”.

And what about their motives? That’s a more difficult question. Some schools, no doubt, did the deed out of a genuine desire for the best results for their students. Others, perhaps, could be likened to the “lions-led-by-donkeys” generals of World War One, heedlessly throwing underprepared cannon-fodder into the bloody fray in order to “move their drinks cabinet five yards closer to Berlin” (as Blackadder might put it), or improve their league table score by two tenths of a percentage point.

And therein lies the rub. Although early entry (or repeated entry ad nauseam) might be in the interest of a small minority of students, an over-reliance on them smacks of gaming the system

Sir, I do not call a gamester a dishonest man; but I call him an unsocial man, an unprofitable man. Gaming is a mode of transferring property without producing any intermediate good. Trade … produces intermediate good

And there (although he was speaking of gambling rather than GCSEs) I think Sam Johnson nails it once more. The frantic pursuit of exam grades for their own sake is an empty pursuit, and all too often the chancers, gamers and gamblers of the whole byzantine examination system have done their students a disservice, and been (in my opinion) unfairly lauded and feted. The “intermediate good” that their students were deprived of is hard to identify precisely but could include: the luxury of time to prepare (and be taught properly) for their exams, understanding that the exam is part of the process and not the point of the process, and that panicked random cramming (either on their own or as part of teacher-led “intervention” cram-fests) is not the way to understand complex and subtle ideas.

Gove’s latest animadversion apparently signals an end to “unsocial” and “unprofitable” gaming of the exam system.

I hope. As with many of Gove’s more sensible announcements (and there have been one or two), it’s not the animating spirit of the idea, but the inflexible, procrustean, peremptory finality of the rule change that could make it a change for the worse, rather than for the better.

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