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Category archive: Targets

Thursday July 03 2008

Continuing with the first comment on this that I quoted the beginning of below, and continuing with the theme of higher education as a British export industry, the final paragraphs of what “illuminatus” says go like this:

The wider cult of the metric is of great concern to me and is also starting to creep into HE too. Stories published this week about degree inflation and pressure on academics to wave through international students whose grasp of English is so tenuous as to be pretty much non-existent are just small indicators that the era of the comprehensive university is upon us (trust me, I work in one). Ed Balls is not unique, just the latest in a long line of education ministers who has covered their ears and whistled so they can’t hear the concerns of those of us in the education system telling them some rather uncomfortable truths about education policy and its implementation.

In the words of Albert Einstein: not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

He’s talking about these stories.  Further evidence, I suggest, that Terence Kealey is wrong about the alleged continuing excellence of universities, but right that universities should retain their independence, and preferably have it strengthened.  Instead, that is to say, of becoming “comprehensives” living in a state of perpetual political derangement and deterioration.

Friday June 27 2008

Terence Kealey thinks there’s no problem with University exams, no grade inflation.  But here are a couple of recent pieces ...

I’ve been told that if I didn’t give out more firsts to my students then it would reflect badly on me and my teaching, with the unspoken threat of my visiting lecturer contract not being renewed, even though all my observations and assessments by peers and managers have been excellent.

image… that say otherwise.

Prof Geoffrey Alderman, who used to be in charge of safeguarding standards at Britain’s largest university, the University of London, blamed grade inflation on “a league table culture”.

He told The Independent newspaper that lecturers were under pressure to “mark positively” to secure a good position in the tables.

“The more firsts and upper seconds a university awards, the higher a ranking is likely to be,” he said.

“So each university looks closely at the grading criteria used by its league table rivals and - if they are found to be using more lenient grading schemes - the argument is put about that ‘peer’ institutions must do the same.”

This later bit strikes a particularly ominous note:

He said universities were particularly “generous” when they marked non-European Union students, who pay far more in fees.

Both are in the Guardian, with the second quoting something said to the Independent.  It seems that in this argument the free marketeers are defending the status quo, and the lefties are attacking it.  Kealey was responding to all this stuff.

Go here, and you learn about a podcast interview with Professor Alderman, and find a link to Alderman’s own website.

And look what it says there:

In June 2007 Geoffrey joined the University of Buckingham as Michael Gross Professor of Politics & Contemporary History.

So he’s at the very same university that Terence Kealey is the Vice Chancellor of.  Hah!  Alderman doesn’t sound like any kind of lefty.  He favours complete autonomy of universities of the sort they have in the USA, just as Kealey does.  But, he also favours good and honest external examiners.  At present, he says, we have neither.

A complicated argument, pulsating with ironies of all kinds.  But it’s clear who the politicians are inclined to believe.

I can’t find the Independent front page article about what Alderman said which he refers to in that podcast.  It happened while I was abroad, I think.  Link to that, anyone?

Thursday June 26 2008

Here’s an interesting twist on a familiar argument.  This is Terence Kealey writing in yesterday’s Telegraph:

The degree system in British universities is “rotten”, with grades based on “arbitrary and unreliable” measures, says Peter Williams, chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the government-sponsored body responsible for maintaining university standards. Not since Gerald Ratner announced that his products were “crap” has a chief executive made such a suicidal remark. In this case it is not true.

Williams’s major complaint is that whereas, 10 years ago, only 45 per cent of students got firsts or upper seconds, now some 60 per cent do. This, he says, reflects grade inflation.

So far so predictable.  Grade inflation.  But of course.

But here comes the surprise:

Actually, because our admissions procedures tend to work well (i.e., we tend to admit only students with appropriate A-levels) 100 per cent of students should be getting firsts or upper seconds. The only students to get lower seconds and thirds should be those who succumb to laziness, drunkenness and the other ills that student flesh is heir to. Since no one reviewing our universities can doubt that the students are more serious than ever, no one need be surprised that their degrees are getting better.

Because the league tables reward universities for awarding firsts and upper seconds, there is, admittedly, pressure to inflate the top grades, but my experience of the examination system in Britain is that underhand practices are uncommon. I hate to sound like a minister or Dr Pangloss, but students are getting better grades because they are working harder. We should be pleased.

So what does Kealey think Williams is up to?  Here’s his answer:

Williams is being political.  The QAA is power-hungry and resents the autonomy our universities have retained in this target-driven world.  He wants more bureaucracy and he wants his QAA to supply it.

The QAA is already too intrusive.  The best universities are in America, yet American higher education bureaucracy is trivial.  There are no external examiners at American universities, for example, and the US equivalents of the QAA are pussy cats – which is why American unversities flourish.

The QAA and other bureaucracies damage higher education because universities flourish only by self-regulation.  Universities do best when they are independent, because scholars are innately self-critical, so only when external agencies displace self-criticism with arbitrary ticks in boxes do standards slip.

It’s the QAA, not our degree classification, that is arbitrary and unreliable.

So there.

Friday April 04 2008

Snuffy, in a comment on this, re something or other said by somebody or other:

Notice how you blame the teacher (when there are in fact 3 teachers involved here) for the disruption and say she should learn to control her classes. It is this type of mentality that is the root cause of the problem in the first place. Change it. Or you will be part of the problem.

Which would be Snuffy’s answer to this guy, I bet you.

Read the posting too.  It’s a classic case, yet again, of perverse incentives, this time in the form of clever but disobedient boys, ruining things for a less clever but more obedient and motivated girl, but the boys are kept in the class instead of slung out because they just might come up with some good exam results.  And make the teacher look better than if she merely got on with teaching something to a less clever kid, who merely wanted to learn something.

Badly behaved white boys, by the way.  I don’t agree with Snuffy about everything, but there is no better teacher blogger out there that I personally know of, if you want to understand what happens in state schools in disadvantageous places, and what it feels like to work in such a place.

Saturday February 16 2008

The Independent reports on how educating otherwise is on the rise.  Partly it’s the fear of violence and bullying. 

Ann Newstead, the charity’s spokeswoman, said there had been a steady increase in the number of families teaching their children at home. “Whether it is perceived or real, the apparent rise in drugs and knife culture in schools is shocking and makes people think their child might not be safe in school. We have had a big increase in people joining with pre-school children. They are looking at the state system but do not believe it is working.

Mrs Newstead, who has four children, aged 12, 10, 5 and 8 months, withdrew her two eldest sons from school in July 2005 because of bullying. “My seven-year-old [now aged 10] was being badly bullied,” she said. “When we took him out of school we gave our eldest son the choice. It’s worked so well that this September we made the decision not to send our third child to school.”

But now there is a new fear, of too much testing:

Last week the biggest review of primary education for decades revealed that parents were increasingly choosing to educate children at home because they objected to the state school regime of testing and targets.

The link at the bottom, where it says “Interesting? Click here to explore further”, leads to further interesting stuff.