Adonis Agonistes

There's none so blind as he who will not see. And Schools Minister Lord Adonis seems to be as blind as they come.

So once again it's time for the GCSE tractor production stats, and once again production has broken all records. We haven't yet got this years' full stats - as per, they're not released until government ministers have had a free run at spinning them first - but here's the long-term trend taken from the Department's website:

Percentage given 5 A*-C GCSEs

Now, out here in the real world most people recognise that the upward trend mainly reflects the wholesale dumbing down of exam standards. When it comes to GCSEs, employers can no longer rely on them, top independent schools are abandoning them, and ex-teachers gasp at GCSE questions they once set for 7-8 year olds.

But His Lordship sees none of this. On the contrary, from his lofty vantage as an entirely unelected commissar (in the House of Lords!), he reckons criticism is down to evil class enemies:

"It is the class-based elitism that instinctively wants to ration success and cap the aspirations of the less advantaged. The underlying premise is that there is a fixed pool of talent in society.

So every August we are told that increased success rates demonstrate declining standards in state schools (increased success in private schools, by contrast, is usually put down to hard work and good teaching).

I reject this ration-book view of talent and opportunity. It was a bad recipe for the 20th century and is a disastrous one for the 21st. Successful societies flourish above all else by mobilising talent and educational potential. There is no genetic or moral reason why the whole of society should not succeed to the degree that the children of the professional classes do today, virtually all getting five or more good GCSEs and staying on in education beyond 16."

Can an allegedly bright man really believe such old-time socialist drivel? Does he really not understand that on average independent schools do deliver better education? Why else does he think parents are prepared to stump up shedloads to buy places? And does he not understand that the only reason virtually all privately schooled kids now get top grade GCSEs is because the exams have been dumbed down to accomodate his shocking state schools?

It is a blindness driven by 19th century class hatred.

Either that or he's yet another failed Big Government politico trotting out the same tired old scape-goating distortions of commissars throughout the ages. Distortions unchanged since Cromwell's Commonwealth, or Big Brother's Oceania.

Check out too the parallel Adonis draws with the Olympics. In a laughable attempt to grab some feelgood, he says he applauds our medal success, even though it is elitist: "As Education Minister in a government that funds at record levels elite sports, elite universities, elite music and drama, and gifted and talented programmes in state schools, I am an unabashed elitist."

But how does that "elitism" square with his opposition to "rationing success"?

Does he actually understand how the Olympics works? You see, there is only ever one gold medal, no matter how easy you make the qualifying standards, or how well the others do. Success is rationed. Elitism in his terms - elitism for all - doesn't exist. Usain Bolt is the 100m and 200m champ, even though they all did jolly well, and even though Bolt lords it over the losers in a highly unegalitarian manner of which his Lordship would certainly not approve.

Most real exams do ration success. Sorry, but they do. Employers need to know that the bit of paper signifies competence, as a minimum. And at the top end, they need to know that an A*, or a first, actually means outstanding achievement, not the unrationing of success.

PS See this blog for a comparison between our dumbed down state exams and a real exam. The Chartered Financial Analyst Institute sets rigorous exams for its CFA qualification, so rigorous that the current pass rate is well under 50%. The result is that the qualification has retained its significant economic value to holders right around the world. Compare and contrast with GCSEs and A levels.

PPS: More statistical gobbledigook. I've now taken a look at the Press Notice summarising the results. I grade it borderline D/E. First off, it says in Editor's Notes "This press notice relates to 'England'. Yet in the very next line it says "These results are for England, Wales and Northern Ireland". The candidate is clearly very confused. He goes on: "Overall A*-C pass rate now stands at 65.7 per cent, an increase of 2.4 percentage points". That implies a pass rate of 63.4% last year. Yet in his own continuous assessment project submitted on his own website, last year's pass rate appears as only 60.8%. Are we to believe this year's increase is actually 4.9%? Very muddled, betraying a gross lack of scholarship. Either that, or a deliberate attempt to confuse by chopping and changing the geographical areas and the age groups involved.
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