Sunday, 30 September 2012

This advert really annoys me...

I'm sorry but as an England (and Team GB) manager I don't feel that Stuart Pearce should be intentionally causing pain to someone else.  Imagine what would happen on the football pitch?  As a manager I'm sure there are many times he disagrees with refereeing decisions there are probably plenty of footballs around there, would he kick one at the official?  Of course he wouldn't - well if he did there'd be huge repercussions   for him.  

It's not even supposed to be slapstick comedy, it's set up as genuine hatred that he's showing.  It sends the message that if somebody annoys you (and bear in mind the guy isn't even singing to Stuart) then it is acceptable to be violent towards them.  Following the Olympics there has been a lot of talk about sportsmen and women being positive role models and in this case I think he is far from that.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Gove Levels, the way forward or a step back?

So I've finally caught up on what I missed from having a week away (turns out it takes over two weeks to catch up - conference season probably hindered that even though I'm not there) and the main story I wanted to comment on is that of the Gove-Levels, where GCSE's are to be replaced by an 'English Baccalaureate Certificate'.  

Education is always, like healthcare, going to be a touchy subject.  It's hard to change it without a backlash, even if your changes are good people will always be sceptical   This is probably harder still when it seems that your solution is to jump into a Delorean and drag the countries kids with you.

I tried to go into reading about it with an open mind, but the more I read the less I liked.  

One potentially good reform is that of only having a single examination board.  When I was doing GCSE's I was confused by the 3 different boards that we used for different subjects.  It seemed very much like a race to the bottom where we'd just gone for the ones which appeared to give the best chance of higher grades.  Without having to compete for schools a singular board shouldn't feel the need to continually lower their standards as so many have been accused of doing in the past.  I would have the exam board working closely with Universities as they are a key stakeholder in the examination system and need to trust the outcomes.  

I've tried looking for other aspects for things that might be positive, however I just don't see them:

  • Reducing coursework and modules puts everything into an all or nothing exam, with added pressure and luck.  In this situation it is all about how you do on one day and that is basically supposed to assess what you have learned over your whole life of schooling.  What if you're ill?  What if you have hay fever? What if you're a 15 year old girl and it's your time of the month... What if you've got all three?  Is that really going to be a fair assessment of your ability?  This is also as far as possible detached from real life, where most jobs have constant deadlines and work goals which is reflected by coursework.  Also, this leads to a greater opportunity for a student to coast throughout the year and just put a big effort into a cramming session at the end of the year.  Modules and constant assessment require students to apply themselves all year round.
  • Grading on a curve - limiting the highest grade (Grade 1) to 10% of the entrants makes it impossible to compare standards year on year.  If the difficulty level is set correctly and consistently then improving teaching standards will not see an improvement in results and will hamper later students as they'd need to be brighter than previously to obtain the same grade as before.
  • If the one exam is to genuinely be one exam for all then I struggle to see how it would genuinely stretch the brightest and simultaneously not leave many behind.  There has been a lot of talk about "returning to a two tier system", well that's what GCSE's were, except in Maths where there were THREE tiers. This was to give each student the best chance of achieving their goal, as with the lower papers you could still achieve a Grade C, which is seen by many as the minimum good grade to have achieved, whilst reducing the chance of failing, which was possible by taking the higher paper.  I know that I was always left frustrated in classrooms when I hadn't been segregated by ability (I don't want to sound cocky or arrogant but I won my school's Maths prize at the end of Year 11 and was in the top set for everything, even English where I didn't feel confident).  I found my higher level GCSE Maths papers too easy as they were (I finished the non-calculator paper in about 40 minutes, it was a 2 hour exam), if I'd had to take the same paper as those in the lower tier it would have frankly been a waste of my time answering the easier question - or it would completely turn some other students off when they look at questions that they genuinely aren't able to do.
  • There's no reason that they can't just adjust GCSE's to act the way that they want, if Michael Gove's qualifications really will be more rigorous then great, but why can't GCSE's just be adapted to match the desired difficulty and challenging aspects.  Is there any actual indication that this wont just turn into an even bigger memory test?
I think the key is, what do we want our education to be for, what is the main goal.  Is it to teach our children to pass exams, to prepare them for life at work, give them life skills or to provide them with a good, well rounded education, even if they end up using very few of these skills.  Perhaps I would be more enthused if Mr Gove stopped focusing on the way we obtain results and more about the quality of them.  If the curriculum is good and the method of assessment allows students to apply what they have learned (not just what they have memorised), where the teachers teach rather than coach students to pass exams and the children come out of school with skills that will set them up for later life, then surely this is all that matters.  I fail to see how preparing for one make or break exam would allow all students to achieve what they are capable of.  

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Andy Murray take a bow.

The media liked to play up just how long it had been since there had been a British male grand slam champion.  The length of time lasted a full 76 years since Fred Perry last triumphed in the US open in 1936.  I guess it makes for a good narrative, but really it just casts a shadow on some of the excellent tennis players we've produced since, almost implying that their career's hadn't been good enough because they'd not managed to win one of the sport's greatest prizes.  The stat has been used to undermine a few excellent careers... well they can't use it any more...

On Monday night, in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, Tennis' biggest venue with a 22,547 capacity, Andy Murray produced a performance of a true champion.  He has had a great career to this point, 23 previous titles (including 8 Masters), almost continuously in the top 4 in the world for over 4 years, all the time competing against three of the best players the game has seen.  Despite his near $20million winnings prior to the US Open the media, and most of the public kept putting this monkey on his back even though he's the most successful British player in my lifetime - we do like to put down our successful individuals.

For years most people just saw the grumpy guy on court getting frustrated, I'm not totally surprised that he hadn't endeared himself to the public who in reality probably just see him once a year at Wimbledon and see another failed attempt, they don't see the gritty battler who is one of only two players on the circuit to have a winning record against Roger Federer and rarely fails to give the best players a game.  He obviously changed many people's view of him this year with his moving speech after his valiant effort in this year's Wimbledon final, then even more so when he was so obviously enjoying himself during the Olympics winning the gold medal but potentially more so with his appearance alongside Laura Robson in the doubles winning silver.

Now though he has cast this monkey firmly off his back, winning in possibly the greatest arena of them all and he deserves to laugh in the doubter's faces.  People may point to Federer's early exit and Nadal's injury but these shouldn't detract from Andy, he deserved it and won the final against a great player.  When you compare this to the other three's first victories it is definitely harder: Roger won against Mark Philippoussis, Rafa only needed to beat Mariano Puerta and Novak had his first victory against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.  No offence to those players but beating the world number 2 and a player who hadn't lost in a hard court grand slam event since 2010 is a much harder prospect.  

Murray has worked so hard improving his game, every time he's lost it's like his attitude has been that he just needs to work harder and improve.  I've watched so many of his matches over the past few years and he's been so near, he's had some great games against the big 3, the Australian Open semi against Novak this year will live long in my memory, but now it's finally time for him to stand up on the top step and take a bow - hopefully though he wont stop working hard and can go on to cement himself as one of the games greats, just as his coach Ivan Lendl did.