Friday, October 23, 2009

“National standards” – the ordinary standard of competition

You can tell by the amount of screaming that this is going to produce some interesting and likely useful outcomes.

Within two years schools will have to reveal how their pupils are achieving in some core educational skills. The screams of outrage are no less predictable than those from any self interested group about to held to account. The quality of argument is much the same as that heard when the taxi industry was deregulated.

The screams seem a little more valid because education is “important”, “crucial” and “fundamental” – and so it is. Further these people are bright (we would certainly hope so), persuasive (as any good teacher should be) and impassioned (again we certainly hope so). But nothing more.

The people we pay to tell kids they are accountable get to be held accountable for their part – and only their part – in some of what the kids achieve.

Will these disclosures be abused, misinterpreted, misquoted, used in questionable ways? Of course. All disclosures are. Will the disclosures measure the “right things”. Not perfectly – certainly not…. no measuring tool is perfect.

Neither of these issues mean we are better off being ostriches. Neither of them mean we should not try to rank institutions by their performance.  Life has no “teachers exempt” clause.

What is most important here is not the detail of “national standards” – it is, as the principals et al rightly suspect, the fact that a wedge has begun to to be driven into making the education process subject to the same pressure for performance that everyone else – in healthcare, in the government, on the factory floor, in the office etc – is subject to.

Competition.

Competition – the word and the process it’s popular to hate at dinner parties…. saying you hate it is the current means for, well… competing.

Actually, the more important the issue, the more important it is that open competitive processes drive it – like it or not, they are the best processes for producing excellence in any field.

Seen in it’s totality, competition is a rich and varied process – incorporating all of education’s “love words” – collaboration, team work, individual merit, individual differences and collective strength. That richness can generally never be learned from a book nor internalised from lectures – it has to be experienced.

This move, it should be hoped, even with a wimpy 2 year “ease in” phase, is a step along the way to that experience.

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