I was fortunate to be educated in the UK before the 1988 Great Education Reform Bill started unpicking all the postwar liberal ideology that universal education (health and welfare) should form the basis of society and provide equal opportunities for everyone. State education then was far more rounded that today, promoting imagination, collaboration, divergent thinking and co-operation.
The 1988 GERBILL as it was known, introduced competition into the system but this was based on one very narrow measure – final exam results – and failed entirely to consider Goodhart’s law, “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” The current system reminds me of one hospital trust which addressed the problem of A&E waiting times by sending anyone who’d been waiting for 45 minutes for an eye test or to be weighed. Sociologist, Bruce Cameron (1963) summed it up with the wonderfully succinct chiasmus, “Not everything which can be counted counts and not everything which counts can be counted.” Final GCSE results are important but they are just one very small facet of Education and being obsessed with them at the expense of absolutely everything else is decidedly unhealthy.
After graduating from music college, I took a career in IT. I’ve recently completed a BSc Hons in Maths and Pedagogy with Statics although throughout my studies I was struggling to break away from the confines of the syllabus and apply what I was learning to the wider world. I’d attribute my desire to get more out of my degree than a certificate down to the excellent education I had as a child before the system was marketised.
The catalyst for my particular interest in the eleven plus test was when my son failed it. The grammar school debate is awash with anecdotal “evidence” from both sides. We should never base objective analysis of a system on an individual experience but that said he did go on to outperform those who passed the same test at GCSE. I moved on personally many years ago but by that time my curiosity about the whole system had already been aroused and there are a number of questions I want to resolve:
- Is it even possible to accurately measure a 10-year-old’s innate ability on the basis of a couple of hours of multiple choice questions?
- To what extent can the test be prepared for by those with the relevant financial and social capital?
- Has universal access to good education been undermined by those with the social and economic capital to work the system?
- Does the resulting state education system lead to more divisiveness in society as a result?
My objective, quantitative and analytical approach to these and other questions caught the eye of education strategist Melissa Benn who asked me to join Comprehensive Future in the capacity of Data Scientist. She is far more eloquent than I am in putting these ideas across (her book, Life Lessons, is must read for anyone interested in Education) but I can contribute by pointing her in interesting directions. I’d like to put my studies on a more formal footing by undertaking a PhD, although how I go about balancing that with a full-time job and a family is another matter.
I’m also passionate about openness and transparency which is fundamental to a well operating healthy society. So much of what goes on in public life is only sustainable because the public are kept ignorant of the facts. If parents knew just how much of a lottery the eleven-plus test is, so many more would be questioning it. Since 2014 I’ve been asking Durham University, who claim they don’t claim to have devised “tutor-proof” tests*, to reveal just how they come up with 10,000, different uniquely test results in Buckinghamshire from setting a few multiple choice questions. With no legal training, (just a well-rounded pre-1988 schooling) I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way but also learnt a lot. You can read a summary here.
*In written evidence responding to my latest legal challenge, Durham’s lawyers say they have never claimed its tests are tutor-proof. This is odd given this exact assertion appears at the bottom of page five of the legal ruling of my first appeal. Durham are invited to clarify exactly what they claim to claim in the comments section below.
This website was originally founded as part of a campaign to persuade certain local schools, which followed the market economy approach dictated by government, to do a bit more for local families.