I’ve been worried about your health for a year now and dear me, you’ve had a bad week. Allow me to help your reflections.
Let me deal with the elephant not so much in the room as in your face yesterday, Mr P Morgan of the telly. I wasn’t allowed to watch ITV as a child and old habits die hard, and the man represents the kind of newspapers I don’t allow in the house. Having properly established myself as a snob of the worst kind, I might add that Morgan, P. supported and sympathetically interviewed the former President of the USA several times, only at the very end referring to him in terms both appropriate and unrepeatable. Being interviewed by such a one must be an unpleasant experience. Shudder.
But what were you thinking? You can’t be oblivious to the furore surrounding your continuing as top dog at Sanctuary Buildings. You must know that there is general assent to the proposition that a dishwasher or astute turnip would be a better Secretary of State. You must have expected the question? You surely had an answer prepared? ‘No, the PM has not asked for my resignation and loves me with all his generous heart’ or ‘Yes, the PM has asked for my resignation but I’ve barricaded Great Smith Street at both ends’ or ‘Yes, I’m keen to resign as soon as a I can find a pen’ or ‘No, as the Kingpin in a palace coup I expect to be PM by Candlemas and you’ll be first against the wall’. Surely any of the above would have been better than obliviously droning about what’s been allegedly achieved. At the very least, you could have said ‘I’ve been precious little use to child nor beast so far but look at the size of my consultation document’.
Piers Morgan, sadly, may not have read it. Had he done so he might have scoffed at the 64 questions. He might even have raised a sclerotic eyebrow at the sentence (p9) ‘That would put [teachers] in an impossible position, as they would be required to imagine a situation that had not happened’. If either of you had ever taught year 9 on a wet Wednesday in November you’d know that imagining things that hadn’t happened is a pre-requisite for good behaviour management.
He might even have suspected that you were about to implode after a sudden change of mindset to one which includes trusting teachers’ judgments. Upon which matter, do you take us for fools?
‘Centre Assessed Grades’ worked pretty well eventually last year. It gave the correct impression that there was a standard centrally-directed process which schools followed. ‘Teacher Assessed Grades’ knowingly shifts the emphasis. It's reasonable to assume that you hope that all the doodah that descended on you last year when you ploughed on with an algorithm you’d been told wouldn’t work might this year be spread upon the teachers of the nation.
Why do I think this? Because I’m ancient and recognise treachery when it bares its teeth at me. It is quite a theme of the document. Let’s look at the proposal for mini-exams. First, it is optimistic to assert that all young people are disappointed by not being able to take exams. Some of them will but many of them won’t. Me, I’d have loved not having to take exams. Second, the proposal of exam-board-issued tests which teachers mark, have standardised by the board and include in the final grade by early July is boggling. Children in different places have missed different amounts of work taught in different orders, so how many papers will be available? How many exam board moderators are there? Are Ofsted inspectors going to be repurposed? What are you thinking?
Ah, but the penny drops, Mr Williamson, again and again. Here’s a fact not in the document: exam boards are not only going to charge for whatever they do this year but they’re going to put their prices up while reducing their service as we mark the things ourselves. For the big businesses that, shockingly, run our formerly independent examination system this is a scheme to print money. Reduce output and accountability while increasing profit. Kerching and thank you, Secretary of State.
However, some Headteachers whom I respect are convinced that exams are the only fair way to judge children, and that teacher assessment does a disservice to disadvantaged children because teachers are prejudiced in some way against them. I think they are wrong. Disadvantaged children are disadvantaged by poverty. If they had space to work at home, parents with secure jobs, good food on the table and a realistic hope of modest security in adult life they would do better. It is fallacious to assert that exams can mitigate disadvantage. This, too, is not teachers’ fault.
Mr Williamson, I was myself grilled on both sides at quite a temperature this week. I do try to sympathise. Although, on reflection, perhaps I could spend my time better.
It's nearly Burns’ Night and I do love auld Rabbie. I’ve procured haggis and tartan napkins, other ingredients being part of daily rations chez Roberts. One of Burns’s biographers observed that he appeared to live his rackety life in the confident expectation of posterity’s attention. You could learn from that. You could certainly learn that the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley and perhaps decide to lay them in collaboration with people who know the terrain.
I think you should think hard before appearing on any more telly. Actually, I just think you should think hard. As Burns remarks
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
Yours, at the end of my tether,
PS A correspondent has asked me to make good on my promise to comment on the National Tutoring Programme. Next week, dear readers.