Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back from the beyond

Well, I apologise for my absence. I can bring a note from my Mum so it's OK.

This particular week for me is spent, as usual, in a state of insomnia waiting for A-level results to come through. I am more worried than usual as it is a truth universally acknowledged that a school or college who have recently been inspected will suffer a dip in results. I am worried about the pass rate, I am worried about the coursework moderation (which is playfully inconsistent from year to year despite us following identical working practices), I am worried about my retention rate because of the students who figured out that we couldn't actually stop them from absenting themselves from exam... I am pretty sure I am more worried than most of my students.

Anyway, here are a couple of pre-emptive A-level headlines. Pick one.

"As A-level results reach a record level of passes, there are calls for change as standards of assessment continue to be eroded."

"As A-levels results dip for the first time in 5 years, there are calls for change as the quality of teaching in schools and colleges comes under fire."

There is a phenomenon in the sociology of scientific knowledge known as 'The Experimenter's Regress'. This is the inability to agree on a test to decide on the truth or otherwise of a controversial hypothesis, as any two competing scientists can argue that the other has a flawed experiment.

Prof A 'Look at my whizzy wave detector, it proves the existence of whizzy waves'.
Prof B 'No, your machine is faulty. My machine shows there are no such things as whizzy waves.'
Prof A 'Ha ha, Prof B, it is your machine that is faulty, not mine!'
Repeat ad infinitum.

Sometimes it seems that the whole of education is in danger of spiraling into itself in the same way. When more students pass, we say that we have taught them better, but our critics say that obviously standards have dropped. When less students pass, our critics say that we have not taught them well, but we could equally say that standards have risen. The problem is that even in these enlightened times of measuring absolutely everything we possibly can, we have no consensus about how we measure either pupils' achievement or institutions' performance. The figures thus become pseudo-scientific garnishes to endlessly cyclical and cynical arguments.

The final word, however, must go to the defense of our students. Yes, there are dozens of them who are over-dependent, lazy, or manipulative. However, I think it's true to say that in my institution at least, the majority of young men and women who get large numbers of high grades have worked very hard indeed and deserve a sense of pride and security in their qualification. And the same is true of many of the students who will emerge with a clutch of C and D grades and take up places at universities with long names.


The Teacher said...

It is nice to have you back! Good luck with the results...and don't lose any sleep, because it won't help anyway!

Pepperpot said...

The same to you; I hope your students have done well!