Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Not To Design An Examinations System, Part One: Grade Inflation

Yesterday, the Government announced their new examinations system to replace the GCSEs.  They released this (rather thin) consultation document.  It's not very good.  In fact I'd say it's woeful.  They do not back their reasons for change with compelling evidence, and the proposals they are making are sketchy at best.

But who am I to criticise?

Well, I've been teaching Maths in this country since 2005.  I don't think that GCSEs are not "challenging", or that students' hard work is "in vain", or that their grades are "worthless".  They're the best measure we have at the moment for determining students' abilities.  Students deserve what they get.  (Mostly.)

However, the system has numerous faults, many of which I'll outline below.  I think we can do much much better.  So I'm not going to blindly defend it in the face of change.  In fact, I'd love to see GCSEs replaced.  Just not by the English Baccalaureate Certificate.

Grade Inflation
"This consultation sets out the Government’s plans to restore rigour and confidence to our examination system at age 16, which has been undermined by years of continued grade inflation."
[Paragraph 1.1]

In the 1988 Olympics (the year the first students sat GCSEs), 2.9% of the men's 100 metre runners ran (legally) faster than 10 seconds.  In the London 2012 Olympics, that figure had increased to a staggering 11.0% - nearly four times the proportion of athletes meeting the same standard!

Does this mean that the men's 100 metre sprint is an easier race than it used to be?

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Michael Gove Method: A rigorous mathematical proof that any percentage can be shown to be equivalent to any other percentage.

"What's 2+3, Michael?"  The Education Secretary
demonstrates the wonders of 'GoveMath'.
As a Mathematician, I'm always looking to push the boundaries of my knowledge, and learn new and surprising (and often exciting!) mathematical methods.

It was particularly fitting, therefore, when the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, directly educated me by personally demonstrating his new branch of Mathematics on the Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning.

But I'm not only a Mathematician.  I also have a degree in Civil Engineering.  As such, I find great beauty in simple and elegant design solutions, and Mr Gove's latest foray into the curriculum and qualifications landscape truly is a thing of great beauty.

I am referring, of course, to Mr Gove's plan to re-introduce an examination "that has all the rigour of the old O Level but which is sat by a majority of students", and if that's not a quote that screams, "I've given thorough and considered thought to what will happen for everyone else," then I don't what is.

In order to support his push for reform, Mr Gove quoted a percentage.  And not just any percentage.  A percentage from Singapore, admired from afar for their "rigorous" approach to education.  Remarkably, 81% of students who took "O-Level-style" examinations in Singapore passed those examinations.

This is clearly much more impressive than the 58.3% of British pupils who gained 5 GCSEs at grade A* to C including English and Maths in 2011.  Look, the number is bigger and everything.  It's bigger by more than 20%.  That's huge!

It's all the more impressive because the 81% was achieved using the new Michael Gove Method, or 'GoveMath' for short.

And now I'm going to demonstrate how it works.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Trust Recommends Solution To Problems Caused By Publishing School League Tables - Publish More School League Tables

The Sutton Trust last week published on its website an interesting report on England's failure to help gifted and talented pupils achieve in Maths education.

There are many reasons why this is the case, not least of which is that it appears to be socially acceptable to be bad at Maths.  But it is not just the top end who are being let down by the education system.

This will rarely be better illustrated than by Michael Gove's plan to bring back O Levels.  While higher ability pupils would be taking the new, harder exams, clearly no serious thought had been given for mid- and lower-ability pupils.  They were dismissed off-hand and promised "something like the old CSEs", a worrying afterthought that was barely commented on amidst the ridicule dished out (rightly) to Gove for harking back to some imaginary 1950s Golden Era

But the worst culprit for the neglect of the highest and lowest ability pupils?  League tables.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sewing Buttons/Polishing Glass

The final performance of our drama school course this year was preceding by costume photos.  For large parts of this I'd set my camera onto continuous mode, and I couldn't resist turning these two into an animated gif.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Journalist Fury: Cost Of Not Issuing iPads To Police Not Enough To Save 500 Jobs

Some officers will lose their jobs, in a move
completely unrelated to tablet computers
Unidentified Telegraph journalists reacted angrily today as plans emerged that Surrey Police are probably not going to issue their frontline officers with expensive Apple-branded products.

In fact, it appears likely that less expensive tablet computers are going to be issued only to a small number of officers on a trial basis.  "At a time when 500 officers are about to be laid off," wrote one correspondent, "it is infuriating that Surrey Police are spending a sum of money that might be enough to save one of those jobs, if they're lucky."

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Wanky: An Open Letter To BBC 6Music

Dear BBC 6Music,

Please don't go all wanky.

I know you feel good about yourself right now, having fought off the threat of possible closure, and you recently celebrated your tenth birthday.  I'd even go as far as to say that you're entitled to be a little smug about it all.

But really, you're beginning to sound a bit wanky.

I'll confess I'm as interested as the next man if Alex James from Blur is selected to write the next James Bond theme tune.  But that's not what he told you.  You asked him if he'd ever like to do it, and he said yes.

I'm sorry to be frank with you, but I think that most musicians would have given you the same answer.  And I fear that you going on about it all the time will only serve to make people think you're quite wanky.

I feel awful about telling you this, but I consider you a close friend.  I've been with you since the very beginning.  And friends don't let friends be wanky.

And your story about when Brian Wilson told you he wasn't going to re-form the Beach Boys?  That isn't momentous.  It's wanky.

So please.

I'm begging you.

Stop being wanky.

Your friend,

Philip Hatchard x

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

TEACHERS: Email your actual working hours to the Education Minister

My friend Tor has started up a rather marvellous Facebook group encouraging we teachers to all email Michael Gove to let him know how much time we put into our jobs outside of our normal teaching load.

Gove announced a few days ago that he wants to lengthen the school day, open schools on Saturdays, and reduce the school holidays.  He has bizarrely (and patronisingly) suggested that teachers would welcome the increased workload:
“If you love your job then there is, I think, absolutely nothing to complain about in making sure you have more of a chance to do it well.”
I do actually quite like my job most of the time, but there's only so much being-in-charge-of-twenty-plus-children I can actually physically and mentally cope with.  The two main reasons I became part time were:

  1. I wanted to achieve other things for my own personal satisfaction and not just spend all my time being a teacher.
  2. I was exhausted all of the time when I used to be full time and it made me hate my job.

The real effect of these proposed changes, of course, would be to demoralise and tire teachers out even more, making many of them worse at their jobs, and put more pressure on students to achieve ever increasing numbers of qualifications.

Schools would be under more pressure to achieve and maintain their league table positions, exacerbating the culture we already have of teaching children to pass more and more exams at ever increasing rates without ever actually educating them.

So obviously I think "The Reality of a Teacher's Day" group is a super idea.  If you know any teachers please do let them know about it.  If you're a teacher yourself then start submitting those timesheets!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

PayPal (Might Not Have) Ordered Destruction Of Antique Violin

Violin destroyed by a buyer at the insistence of PayPal
[Edit] There are now suggestions that this situation is not so clear cut.  But to be honest PayPal have hardly covered themselves in glory for a long time over issues such as these.

PayPal seem to be on a mission to set themselves up as the most cold-hearted, evil organisation in the universe.

Imagine you own an antique violin predating the Second World War.  Imagine you then sell this item for $2500 and receive payment via PayPal.

Now imagine the buyer disputes the authenticity of the label, and demands a refund.

Now imagine that PayPal decide, with neither proof nor expertise, that the violin is counterfeit and that they will only refund the money to the buyer if he destroys the violin.

Leaving you $2500 and one antique violin out of pocket.

Why is there no alternative to these bastards?

[Edit] There are now suggestions that this situation is not so clear cut.  But to be honest PayPal have hardly covered themselves in glory for a long time over issues such as these.

[hat tip to @roryparle]

Monday, January 02, 2012

Christmas Movie Poster Quiz!

This year I spent Christmas Day with Laura's family.  Her dad suggested that we make up a quiz to send out to the various branches of the family around the world, and then Skype up with the results on Christmas Day.

So I decided to make a movies round, specifically recreating Christmas movie posters using myself, my (and sometimes Laura's) wardrobe, and Photoshop.  And also Laura.  Although the slightly disturbing thing is that I only had to use Laura for one of the eight movie posters.  Because the other seven only featured men.

Which reminds me of the Bechdel Test.  To pass it, a film has to feature two named female characters who have a conversation with each other about something that isn't men.

So, two things.

1) Can you work out which movie posters I've recreated?
2) Hollywood is sexist, but this is so normal that most of the time we don't even notice it.  Discuss.

No cheating!