I think there needs to be a new shift in where teachers and educators pour their energies. Currently, lots and lots of focus is on teaching methodology, when it actually should be on the massive injustice that happens before any student even enters a classroom.

forest for the trees

Getting passionate about methodologies in improving outcomes for students is certainly an admirable pastime, and any practitioner worth their salt would aspire to delivering quality lessons, but both are futile endeavours when in the background of it all an evil divisive ideology permeates and drives the entire system. It’s as futile as getting worked up over the weather in the middle of a war.

So what’s the war?


Well at the end of GCSE, by definition nearly 40% of students are labelled as FAILURES.

Let’s actually take a moment here and think about this, and what it means to our culture at large. Effectively, we can be sure that 40% of the people coming out of their GCSE courses have a shattered personality. They are deemed as failures, and no matter how schools try to dress the results up, the sense of failure is unavoidable, because for years, schools have no choice but to pump into students’ minds the importance of progress and achievement. Imagine what it does to a young person’s mental state to receive the results on the day, having actually put in quite a bit of energy to succeed, and not pass. Some students can sometimes bounce back, with either a rare or remarkable show of resilience, or with enormous energy provided by family or support networks, but boy oh boy, what an incredible feat to do so. For most, they absorb the notification, internalise it, if they haven’t already in their schooling life, and move into the greater culture with it – which is a loss for everybody.

gcse reality

Now here’s why the current norm distribution can never work. The psychological outcomes for students who have the same ability and skill level in a course are at the mercy of the rapacious and inexorable ambitions of those in government. The ostensibly innocuous rhetoric of unending progress is in fact a great big lie, as it is literally impossible to achieve. Those in power know this, and so their actions can be interpreted as nothing short of invidious. Let me just restate that – a student who gets the same result as a student last year cannot move forward in the culture with the same sense of confidence. How can this be good for our society? What dangers are we actually inventing here by providing so many with such little hope? Let alone the pressure it places on those responsible for the success?

So are criteria based assessments the answer?

There are two main arguments against criterion-referenced assessment:

  • Reliability: it’s difficult to keep the standard of tests similar year after year. Well surely an exam board can collaborate with a group of recognised teachers in each field and moderate papers to be comparable year on year, especially when the consequences outlined above are so damaging.
  • It doesn’t promote competition: students ought to know where they sit compared to others taking the same test, right? Again, this isn’t really a necessary focus at GCSE level, as long as the student knows they’ve achieved a certain level of skill the community believes is advantageous. The current competitiveness of wanting to know if you’re better than others is hardly conducive to societal success, as logically, knowing you are or aren’t better only creates an imbalance and reduces a desire for cooperation. Is it so bad that everyone passes exams if they’ve reached a recognised level of skill? If you want to know who’s the best and would be eligible to take advanced courses, then apply norm referenced testing at A-level, not GCSE.

But the lack of focus on this issue and the enormous energies that go into educational debate, including the best way to teach, to the efficacy of technology and PowerPoint’s, to the more concerning immature and disgraceful abusive tendencies of some, is the context that justifies appropriation of Marx’ wisdom. Let’s not be distracted by the opiate. Let’s prioritise! Let’s as a collective (not a fraternity) step back from the noise, and pour our souls into the far more urgent situation at hand: education shouldn’t be a numbers game.

I’m @edmerger