2015-2016 Academic Year Review

Education, Learning, Learning Performance, Literacy, Mindset, Numeracy, Study Skills

This academic year has smashed all expectations. We are incredibly proud of what the Learning Performance team have achieved and as the end of term is upon us, what better time to reflect on the accomplishments of the year!

Not only have both our HQ and presenter teams expanded, we continue to reach more and more students, staff and parents each year throughout the country (and across Europe)! A massive thank you to each and every school, college and university that chose us to work with them to help raise achievement and inspire a love of learning this year!

So in summary, what’s been going on?


Learning Performance and our MD Carrie Starbuck have been featured in the press several times over the last few months, which is very exciting!

Numeracy and Literacy

This academic year saw the launch of our Literacy and Numeracy programme, the success of it has gone beyond all expectations. Our case study shows that 100% of students felt that the programme helped them improve in English- incredible! I am thrilled to share with you our 2015 – 2016 Literacy and Numeracy Impact Report! We have had an overwhelming demand for longer term and more sustained programmes, and we are so proud to have evidence that supports just how beneficial such interventions are!

Aspirational Programmes

We have also been working with a number of schools specifically targeting hard to reach students with our 4 – 6 week aspirational programmes, with dramatic improvement shown. Nearly 90% of a targeted group of students felt more confident as a result of the programme.


Growth mindset-Walk the Talk. We held our first ever off site event at Kings College, London which focused on ideas, techniques, research and case studies all linked to embedding a Growth Mindset in the classroom, with our NEW ‘Walk the Talk’ programme. Due to high demand, we are looking to hold further events in the Autumn term which we are already excited about!

We had a stand at The Academy Show, London where we spent a fantastic day talking with hundreds of education professionals from all over the county.

We attended The Festival of Education which was a HUGE success! Carrie Starbuck was in high demand after her talk on‘ Memory Matters’ on both days. You can download Carrie’s slides and transcript here.



Looking to the future

This year we have introduced Learning Performance Partnership Schools. This is an incredibly exciting development and we are so pleased to welcome on board a select few schools for the New Academic year. You can contact us to find out more about what a partnership with Learning Performance entails.

We have also launched an online hub for schools, which goes live in September 2016!


Below are just a couple of my favourite comments from school organisers this academic year.

‘We really enjoyed the day. Your presenter was fantastic and very inspiring.  I don’t think the children believed that study skills could be fun.’

‘The session was fantastic. Students were totally engaged throughout the whole session and the content he covered was exactly what we were looking for. I have seen a lot of motivational speakers whilst doing this role and was very impressed.’

‘I would like to say a massive thank you.  We absolutely loved the workshop.  I was so impressed, his manner and way with the students had them hooked on every word he said.  The activities the students were involved in were both engaging and relevant and I know the students left the workshop feeling that they had got a lot from the session including being more energised and confident.  We have had other speakers in, both this year and previous years, and I can honestly say that I really think your presenter was one of the best.’

‘The students absolutely loved the day that was delivered and are still speaking positively of how much the day has helped them.’

And now from the students themselves..

‘I have learnt not to give up easily and try until you succeed.’

‘It was awesome. The presenter was so motivated & enthusiastic that it made me engaged and want to find out more.’

‘ I have found this has really helped me in class.’

‘I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it.’

What a fantastic year it’s been! It’s finally time to catch our breath and get prepared for what the 2016-2017 academic year will bring. A massive thank you to all our lovely schools, our team of presenters and the HQ team. Let’s continue to work together to inspire the young people of our generation!


Building Blocks of Success: A summary of DfE report

Education, Learning, Politics, Pupil Premium, research, Study Skills, Teacher Resources, Teaching and Learning

The government commissioned NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research) to investigate good practice in raising attainment of disadvantaged students. They specifically looked at features of schools that narrowed the gap successfully and compared it to schools that weren’t doing so well.

It’s a fascinating read but the report, Supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils: articulating success and good practice,” like the title is long and hardly sexy. If you’re anything like me – teaching, being a governor, mentor, and business owner – it’s tough to find time to read research reports like this. Four months later I am celebrating finishing the study with a) a glass of wine b) a summary blog to make other teachers’ lives easier.

1. What makes successful schools successful?

The question on everyones lips and in a nutshell they place an emphasis on;

  • Teaching and learning strategies including emotional/social support
  • Assessment for learning systems so they are straightforward
  • Clear feedback for pupils
  • Improving pupils’ ability to learn through metacognitive strategies

2. What is the magic potion? 

No magic tricks here. There is no one singular approach identified as raising attainment. (That’s important, they repeat that a lot) In fact, the most successful schools had on average 18 different strategies in place to support disadvantaged pupils.

In secondary schools the analysis identified four main groups of strategies used by schools to raise disadvantaged pupils’ attainment. The analysis of relationships between these factors identified one statistically significant relationship; more successful schools were more likely to use the Group S4 strategies.

GroupingThis is backed up by Schools’ Week Alternative GCSE League Table which show the best performing schools in the country for pupils receiving free school meals. We work with 4 out of the top 10 schools who have over 20% FSM pupils on study skills, metacognition, and independent learning strategies as part of our Pupil Premium Project.

3. What can my school do next?

What is clear from the study, is the effectiveness of such strategies relies on them being embedded into a whole – school ethos of aspiration and attainment.

The study identified seven “building blocks” for success for all pupils, including those from disadvantaged pupils.


Building Blocks

The details of the building blocks can be found between pages 73 – 82. You can skip straight to these pages as they are well worth a read and have handy comparisons.

4. The improvement journey 

This visualisation of the “schools’ pathways to success” in raising attainment I found particularly helpful.

Schools' Pathway to Success

(Timescale 3 – 5 years)

5. Conclusion

Tah dah! There is no simple solution or one size fits all solution to closing the attainment gap. Instead, a number of measures are required, including setting a culture of high expectations and looking at evidence based strategies such as, metacognition. It must be tailored to each school’s circumstances and above all, the students.

What do you think makes a school successful in supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils? Comment below!

Each School Is Unique

Education, Learning Performance

There are many factors to be taken into consideration when deciding where a child should go to school. There are so many variations between schools, not only based on results, but also the cultures and norms.

It doesn’t matter where a school is located, the demographics of the students, or the age group the school ranges from. Each school is unique. Each school is its own micro – world with all its social hierarchies, principles, expectations and rules.

The ultimate desire for many parents, however, is for each student to feel a sense of belonging.

It is important to understand the needs of each individual and what works best for them. This naturally affects the decision process. Different things work in different schools and different things work better for different individuals.

One decision regularly faced by parents is the benefits of a large school compared to a small school, and vice versa. It is hard to evaluate the impact of school size on educational performance and student happiness, but it is clear that there are pros and cons for each.

A a big pro for larger schools is that often they have more capacity, facilities and choices in terms of school subjects available. A potential con is that a child simply becomes another statistic.

Smaller schools have that ‘small school culture’ that many parents want for their child. Class size is a major factor of this with students benefitting from smaller, personalised classes.

Let’s not forget, that this ‘small school culture’ can be created within a large school environment. It’s about the relationships that are built within a school, irrespective of its size. It’s about a sense of community.

In my opinion, that is a major factor about choosing a school. What does the school believe in? What is its ethos and values? Finding a school where each individual child is valued is fundamental because with the right support everyone has the ability to achieve.

Students ultimately go to school to come out with exam results, but school is so much more than that, it is a journey.

Each school is unique, and each student, even more so. Every school has the ability and opportunity to be amazing.

Written by Holly Chandler

Educating Cardiff-Review


Episode 4 of Educating Cardiff took me back to my years at secondary school. It made me reflect- as often programmes such as these do.

Although it was the first episode of this series that I have watched I still felt instantly connected to both the teachers and the students. This was once a school where only 14% of their students achieved A*-C grades. This figure however has now increased to 50%- making it one of the nations most improved schools!

Last night’s episode focussed mainly on Linda, a young girl with the ability to achieve but who let behavioural issues get the better of her.

Both the Head (Mrs Ballard) and the focus teacher (Mr Sage) really proved in this episode that they go the extra mile to help the students at Willows High School. They showed care and compassion resulting in heart-warming viewing.

We saw at the beginning of the episode Linda incorrectly calculating 99+10- a sum she clearly had the ability to work out. This clip emphasised her bad attitude towards education and her ‘kick up a fuss’ ways.

Mr Sage (Linda’s head of house) showed a well thought out approach to dealing with Linda’s behaviour. It was evident that he wanted her to improve and genuinely believed in her ability- “work with me, you are better than that.” Fighting a continued battle of Linda being on report and her insisting that she ‘hates it when teachers tell her what to do’, it was obvious that something needed to change! He showed a good balance between discipline and understanding which made him a brilliant head of house and support figure for Linda. Linda was troubled, but she without doubt wanted to be better and all she needed was a little encouragement.

Mr Sage believed that Linda’s behaviour and attitude was partially due to her lack of stimulation from being in set 3. She was regularly loosing concentration in class due to tasks being too easy for her, which meant that she completed her work before other students and was left restless. The main reason for her being in this set was due to poor behaviour. For teachers such as Mr Sage there are so many decisions to make in situations like this one. I can only imagine how stressful weighing up the choices must be. Both Mr Sage and Mrs Hammond after much deliberation decided to move Linda from set 3 to set 1 in all subjects, in hope that this would improve her attitude and stop her ‘playing up’ in the classroom.

Mrs Ballard refers to herself as not being ‘a traditional head teacher’ and I would probably agree with this- I honestly don’t remember my Head showing such sincere and endearing qualities. When she bought a present for Linda’s brother, to be posted on Linda’s behalf, I felt as though I understood her passion, her want to help, and her desire to be involved in the student’s lives- this student in particular. Linda’s brother had been sent to the Czech Republic to live with his Grandmother, due to his Mother no longer being able to deal with his bad behaviour. Both Linda and her brother were very big characters. Remaining at school without her brother left Linda very distressed.

Seeing Linda cry made me want to reach through the screen to hug her and seeing Mr Sage with tears in his eyes made me realise that teachers often can’t help but get emotionally involved in situations that often are out of their control. Mr Sage in this case clearly felt genuine sympathy.

The episode really confirmed for me the fact that what happens outside of the school environment has a huge impact on how students behave within school, something often too easily forgotten.

I loved Mrs Hammond’s idea of asking Linda to write a letter to include her thoughts. The outcome of this showed us all that Linda did have that desire to do well. She wanted to move sets, she wanted to improve her behaviour and she wanted to prove herself to Mrs Hammond and Mr Sage.

Improved body language, a more positive attitude and increased mental stimulation- it was clear that the decision to move Linda in to set 1 was a beneficial one for her. The clips of her weeks later showing a dramatic change in behaviour throughout classes was heart-warming to see.

She gained respect for her class teacher’s discipline and was taking responsibility for her own education. I felt many emotions towards Linda throughout the episode but ultimately I was pleased. I was pleased that it worked out for her, that Willows didn’t give up on her, but was with her every step of the way! She could now be proud of herself.

People emphasise that there are more things to life than education and I believe this to a certain extent, but at the end of the day whether a student loves or hates school, they have to go. School isn’t just about education though; it’s about the relationships you develop, your behavioural characteristics and your attitude to life. When I watch programmes such as these I realise the real impact teachers have on children. Each teacher is different, but each teacher has the ability to make such a big difference to every student.

10 Top Tips to Busting Back to Work Blues for Teachers

Education, Teaching and Learning

Following the recent Guardian’s Secret Teacher article and Carrie’s response to it, we put our heads together and bought you our 10 Top Tips to Busting Back to Work Blues! 

  1. Remember, it’s a fresh start.

This is a completely new academic year. It is the perfect time to make a fresh start, so wipe that slate clean and walk into those school doors like Rocky.

Walk into that school Rocky style.

Walk into that school Rocky style.


2. Let the creative juices flow.

You have had a break. You are feeling relaxed, refreshed and ready. Resist the temptation to fall back into your usual tired habits. Brainstorm. Reflect on what you can do differently and how you can build on successes. Then put it into action.

3. Take it easy.

Don’t laugh. We are serious. It’s great to hit the ground running in the first week back but arriving early and staying late every day leads only to burn out, which isn’t going to help you or your students in the long run. The autumn term is a marathon not a sprint.

Take it easy.

Take it easy.

4. Be Organised

Returning to school after a long time off can feel overwhelming. Make a list of what you need to do that week, and then prioritize each one. A is urgent through to C which can wait till later. If you are anything like us you may find your entire list is full of As – don’t panic – number them 1 – 10, 1 being more important. This will ease the first day back mania.

5. Set Goals

Create and set meaningful goals that inspire you and your class. No matter how big or small goals give purpose to the day, month and year. Just remember, to make them SMART. To give you an idea here is our team goal for this academic year…

Our team goal for the year!

Our team goal for the year!

6. Create. Teach. Share. 

Chances are your colleagues will be feeling exactly same way so grab the bull by the horns and team up. Create an idea exchange in the staff room, a little wall space and post it notes is all that is necessary, fellow teachers can then share activities, ideas, research etc. with minimal effort.

7. Channel Carol Dweck

Let’s face it, nothing ever works out perfectly. Failure is essential. A capacity to persevere is what marks out the most successful teachers. Carol Dweck’s growth mindset theory is becoming a popular approach in schools, but we must not forget to apply the principles to ourselves.


Channel the mighty Dweck.

8. If in doubt, laugh.

Laughter releases endorphins that instantly raise spirits and give a feeling of wellbeing. To help raise your spirits watch this baby laughing hysterically at ripping paper. It is 1 minute 44 seconds of pure joy.

9. Book your next holiday. 

It is only 9 – 10 weeks, or about 50 days until October half – term. But hey, who is counting?

10. Sleep, Sweet, Sleep. 

There is plenty of scientific research on the restorative power of sleep, so we are off for a nap!

Sleep, sweet, sleep

Sleep, sweet, sleep

GCSE Results-Recognise Achievement


GCSE results day brings along a great deal of mixed emotions- a huge amount of nervousness, but I’m sure also a lot of happiness and excitement! It is a day where parents, teacher and students reflect on the positives and negatives. The educational changes that have already and continue to come in to place, affect schools differently. Those differences are proven by the results that have been achieved this year and we will continue to see the impact and improvement that further changes bring in the years to follow.

It is fantastic to hear that the amount of GCSE passes has risen this year again, especially in students receiving at least a grade C in English. Last year it was a concern that this figure had dropped by the largest amount since GCSE’s began, this increase is therefore very much welcomed. Performance in maths has also improved in comparison to last year- such positive news!

GCSEs are the first important set of exam results that students collect, so it is not surprising the worry that comes with that. The pressure that is put upon schools and teachers to achieve is another reason why this day is undoubtedly one of the most stressful of the year. It’s the end to the first big stage in student’s education, but it definitely doesn’t end there for teachers.

Today, success or failure will be the result students and teachers throughout the country receive. The feeling of success or failure however is personal to each individual. In relation to students, it is not necessarily to do with what grades that they have received, but if they are pleased with them. I think it is important to help young students put things in to perspective. Students beat themselves up if they didn’t get those straight A’s that they were hoping for, but it isn’t the end of the world- they must realise this! Many students receive results that are good enough to lead them on to their next step, however they are still left feeling dissatisfied with their achievement.

The futures of students collecting their GCSE results today are not determined merely by what results they see written in front of them. That fact however will not have stopped the nerves, disappointment and concern associated with receiving grades lower than anticipated.

It is very clear that not everything suits everyone. There are therefore cases where further education is not necessarily the correct next step. That may be because a student doesn’t currently hold the grades they need or because another route may be more beneficial for them.

Whatever the case is, I believe enjoying what you do is ultimately what leads you to success. The key is to help guide students today into their next step in life. To ensure that they make the right decision based on them as an individual, not on what they think is expected. Young people have to make big decisions so early in life- providing the support that they need today is essential.

Despite much criticism over exams, they are there to monitor achievement as well as progress. Without exams what is there for students and teachers to work towards? Exams and results aren’t everything, but without them we would live in a very different country, i believe one that would lack mind set and motivation.

I regularly question whether results are to do with intelligence or hard work. The two undoubtedly are linked in a huge way, however intelligence and hard work are each successes in their own right. Recognising and encouraging hard work irrespective of intelligence proven by results is so essential. I believe that this should very much be remembered on a day like today. For those students that missed out on that C grade and for that student who completely failed- it isn’t the end. Unfortunately we aren’t all gifted with natural academic intelligence. We do all however have the ability to work very hard. All achievement should be recognised!

Holly Chandler

Presenter Coordinator

Forget Paxman – The Real University Challenge

Education, Exams, Learning, Motivation, Politics

More young people than ever are applying to university, with 495,600 getting a place in higher education in 2013.  That’s a lot of teenagers applying for the same courses.  I found out recently that the most popular of these can have up to 18 applicants per available place – what?!

I know what you’re thinking.  Not another student complaining how hard their life is, how difficult applying to university is, bla bla bla.  But give me a chance – I promise I won’t moan too much…actually don’t hold me to that one!

A lot of changes concerning higher education have happened during my time at secondary school, notably the rise in tuition fees.  The pantomime villain responsible for this, according to most students, is Nick Clegg.  After Clegg (boo hiss) promised the National Union of Students that he would oppose any rise in fees, the coalition government proceeded to increase the cap on the amount to be charged to £9000 a year.  Hmmm.

My main memories from this time are of the student marches in London and the auto-tuned YouTube parody of Nick Clegg’s apology (if you haven’t already seen it you’re missing out).  However, now that it’s time for me to start the university application process myself, I’m realising how much of an impact changes such as this are going to have on the choices I make.

It could be argued that the rise in tuition fees has had some positive effects.   After a dip in applications in 2012, numbers have continued to rise.  The difference is that teenagers have to think much more carefully about university – it’s no longer an option if you aren’t sure about any aspect of university life, or your course.  Interestingly, despite the increasing price of attending university, the numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education have never been larger – the reasons for this welcomed change are not yet clear.

Since higher fees have encouraged teenagers to look into other ways of gaining further education, it could be argued that this has prevented many young people from making the wrong decision.  Unfortunately, I know of a few students who have taken up a course and realised that it wasn’t what they wanted a few years in.  Now that tuition is so high, dropping out or switching courses is a huge decision to make; £9000 is a lot of money to ‘waste’.  As a result, it seems to some students that once you begin at university, there really is no going back.

The main thing that I have noticed since starting to consider higher education is the increased pressure to guarantee employment after your course ends.  Again, this is largely down to the amount of money you are investing – it makes sense to want to get something back!  The continued popularity of medicine, education and law courses support this idea, but what about those of us who don’t want this sort of job?

It seems to me that more and more people are choosing a subject because of its employability levels rather than how passionate they are about it.  Three years is a long time to study something you hate, even if you do get a ridiculously well paid job out of it.  This is one of the main issues with increasing the price of going to university; I’d like to think we should at least partly be motivated by doing something that we love.  Maybe that’s a little naïve.  Perhaps the opportunity to study for pleasure is one only available to a privileged few, with everyone else having to think in more practical terms.

I’ve faced issues frequently since deciding that I want to study English at undergraduate level.  Even though I love the subject, many people seem to see it as a waste of time.  When I tell people about my plans, a common reaction is a kind of strained smile followed by: “So do you want to be a teacher then?”  As well intentioned as this comment is, I often feel like screaming: ‘NO.  NO I DO NOT WANT TO BE A TEACHER’ (don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate teachers – I just don’t fancy it as a career).  The other frequent reaction is a look of surprise and a comment about me being ‘a clever girl’ – why don’t I want to study law or ‘something sciencey’ instead?

The answer?  I love literature and I always have done.  I’m not put off by the very small amount of contact hours for arts degrees and I want to do something that I’m good at.  I’ll confess:  I don’t yet know exactly what career path I want to take upon the completion of my degree (shock horror).  I’m sorry if at the age of 17 I don’t know how I want to spend my entire future – I’m certainly not the only one.

My last year of A-levels is going to be packed with decisions and applications.  The most pressing concern upon my return to college is writing my personal statement, something which seems to involve a whole military style procession of checks, redrafts, more checks and rewording.  Who would have thought that 4000 characters could be so intimidating!  The fact is that competition for courses at some universities is so fierce that a good personal statement is more valuable to a student than an iPhone.  Well, I say that…

But what about those who might not have had as much help with their personal statement?  There is still a heated debate over whether success depends primarily on preparation or natural talent.  Many people are complaining that a system which favours pupils who have been ‘trained’ during their A- levels reflects unfairly on those who attend less affluent schools or colleges.  Are university applications still affected by issues of class?

Essentially the UCAS application process seems to me like one big competition (I’m thinking a Crufts style arena and everything) where only the students with the best grades, the best work experience and the best interview technique  get to go where they really want.  No pressure then.

I know that there are options other than university, some of which are absolutely brilliant.  But for me personally, I feel this is the right choice – unfortunately this means A LOT of work for me over the next twelve months, as well as for the other estimated 500,000 – 600,000 people applying through UCAS this year.  Despite this I’m still excited about (hopefully) starting university in 2015.   I’m telling you, it had better be worth it!

Education: how forgotten girls have the power to change the world

Education, Learning

Two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. That’s 493 million women: more than the populations of the USA and Canada combined or enough people to fill Wembley stadium 5470 times. How depressing is that?

Improving equality in education is severely overlooked by governments who have more ‘pressing’ issues to deal with. Poverty, illness, the economy, overpopulation. Here’s the thing: evidence shows that improving women’s education reduces all these problems.

Educated women earn up 20% more, and have fewer, healthier children who are more likely to stay in education themselves. By teaching a girl to at least primary school level, you are not just improving her self-esteem and well-being, but that of her family as well. And so the cycle continues.

As a result of this, a country can increase their social and economic development significantly. It is clear that female education has an incredible power to transform societies. Unfortunately, this power is often seen as a threat.

Educated, opinionated girls are an extremist’s nightmare. Proof of this fact was given, in the most horrific way, when the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped almost 300 girls from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. The abduction shocked the world and led to an international campaign to ensure the safe return of the children.


The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls started trending on Twitter and within a few weeks the movement had exploded. Since then, over 3.3 million tweets have used this hashtag and celebrities have thrown themselves behind the cause. Michelle Obama, Alicia Keys, Angelina Jolie and David Cameron ensured that this was the story on everyone’s lips.

But that was months ago and 219 girls are still missing. It is feared that many have been sold into slavery or forced marriages. Small groups have escaped from Boko Haram but the rest remain imprisoned over 100 days later. The story has dropped off mainstream news and you could be forgiven for thinking that the world has forgotten the Chibok girls; I know it seemed like that to me.

However, while news channels have moved on to other crises in other countries, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai is ensuring that the girls are not forgotten. Since being shot by the Taliban for speaking up about girls’ education, Malala has become one of the most prominent figures in the fight for gender equal schooling. After the Chibok kidnappings, she helped to spread the #BringBackOurGirls message and has visited Nigeria to meet the families of students who are still missing.

Alicia Keys

I am the same age as Malala and she is a personal hero of mine. Two weeks ago she was encouraging Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to contact the families of the missing girls. I’m pretty sure my greatest achievement that same week was managing to get out of bed before 10am. Not quite the same really…

The following quote is from Malala’s speech at the United Nations in 2013. It really resonated with me as it emphasised how simple it can be to completely transform the life of a child for the better – these are inspirational words.

“So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” – Malala Yousafzai

Malala survived her bullet wound after being airlifted to the UK, where she now lives. I don’t know about you, but I’m incredibly proud to live in a country that is home to one of the most inspiring young voices in the world and the winner of an EU human rights award. She is still consistently campaigning for the right for all girls to go to school, as well as being a student herself. Now that’s impressive.

I am guilty, like many people my age, of forgetting how lucky I am to receive the education that I do – at 7 o’clock on a Monday morning there is nothing I would like more than to not go to college! I take it for granted that I can go to school and study anything that I want to without fearing for my life. A lot of girls my age do not have that privilege. Many are still too scared to walk to school because of the risk it poses – abductions and hate crimes towards schoolchildren are all too common. The fact that many girls continue to attend lessons shows just how determined they are to make a better life for themselves.

All the research points to one thing: educating girls can only have positive outcomes. Yet this is not enough to guarantee the schooling that is so desperately desired by many. It’s going to be a long fight to change attitudes and academic systems so that female education is brought up to the level that is needed – but I can’t think of anything I’d rather fight for.

By Gove he’s gone!

Education, Exams, Politics

Michael Gove got stuck in a toilet. Yes, you heard me right. Cue maniacal laughter from teachers all over the country who can’t quite believe their luck.  This incident capped what must have been a satisfying week for the majority of the teaching population. I think it’s safe to say that Mr Gove is not a very popular man.

As Gove leaves his position as Secretary of State for Education (accompanied, as I imagine, by sinister Darth Vader style music and a gleefully waving Nick Clegg), now seems a good time to reflect on his time in office.

As an A level student, I haven’t been subjected to many of the coalition government’s changes to the exam system as most of them are only now starting to take effect. I was one of the last years to take the ‘easier’ exams with more class based ‘controlled assessments’.  I sat those exams – easy is not the word I would use.

I have however, experienced a few reforms, such as the axing of the opportunity to take AS and A2 exams in January.   I appreciate that this is intended to make the exams harder, but Mr Gove, or more likely the minions he sends out to deal with this sort of thing, have not thought this policy through very well.

It now seems that all the arts and humanities subjects are examined together, as are maths and the sciences. This is all very well until you put it into practice and people like me end up taking 70% of their exams (all essay based) in one week. I could really have done with that January sitting. Just saying.

I’m not saying that Michael Gove is all bad (I didn’t say he was all good either mind you). Amongst some of his deeply unpopular proposals, there are elements of genuinely good ideas. A good example is the reform of the English GCSE. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly disagreed with most of Gove’s opinions on this subject. But, he did want to encourage children to start reading more pre-1900 literature.

While it could be reasonably argued that a move like this would be more suited to A level students, there is a real point to be made here. In both my English Literature GCSE and A level, I haven’t studied any author other than Shakespeare who is pre-Victorian. However, when (hopefully) I study English at university, I will be expected to have a working understanding of texts dating at least from the middle ages. There is definitely a knowledge gap here; I’ll at least give Mr Gove that.

Despite this, I feel Gove has been extremely misguided when it comes to English. As a graduate of the subject himself, I would expect him to show a love for a wide range of literature. But no. Many American authors are now ‘discouraged’ on the most popular exam boards, apparently down in part to Gove’s personal dislike of the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’.

Having studied ‘Of Mice and Men’ at GCSE, I can see why it is such a popular text. Its short length makes it easily accessible to the majority of students, but it also has layers of symbolism and multiple themes which make it hugely interesting to analyse. What Steinbeck ever did to Michael Gove is a mystery.

On a more positive note, after it disappeared from the reformed English syllabus, Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ shot up to number nine on Amazon’s bestseller list. Suck on that Govey.

Ignoring (temporarily) some of Gove’s more…questionable policies, I think it’s pretty clear what his biggest problem was. I know a lot of teachers, both through family and my sixth form, and none of them has ever had a good word to say about him. In fact, one of my teachers hates him with such a passion that I briefly considered buying her a Gove shaped piñata as an end of year present.

Something about the man just drove people crazy, and whole articles have been written on exactly what exactly it is about him that caused this. When it came down to it, he was just a man doing his job. However, it seems to me that teachers specifically hate HOW he did it.

Most teachers saw Gove as a man who not only had no firsthand experience of teaching, but who refused to listen to people that did. Of course, being constantly in denial about just how disliked he was didn’t help much. All I can say for sure is that Gove alienated the majority of teachers, and therefore also the students that they are teaching. Not the smartest move for an Education Secretary.

So what next? Until last week, I have to admit, I had never heard of Nicky Morgan. She is a largely unknown figure who has a pretty tricky job ahead of her in attempting to win back the teaching population of Britain. Although portrayed in some parts of the media as a superman-esque figure here to rescue teachers from The Monstrous Gove ( I picture him as some sort of reptilian villain wearing glasses), I have my reservations.

Nicky Morgan desperately needs to provide some sort of stability within the examination system and give children a break from the relentless reforms that have been taking place over the last few years. Whether the urge to make immediate changes will prove too much is yet to be seen.

For many teachers and students (including myself) the attitude at the moment seems to be one of relief mixed with a sort of smug triumph. The conclusion for now seems to be: ‘Anyone is better than Gove’.