I knew a lady who lived in a grey stone-built manor-house, her father had been a high court judge, knighted for his legal services. Calling one summer’s evening, she said, “you must have something to eat.” Beans on toast were served on fine bone china plates and eaten with silver monogrammed cutlery. The lady would have been encountered driving the country roads in an old Ford Fiesta van. There was no doubt that whilst she was wealthy in many ways, cash was not one of them.
Her urban counterpart would have been a lady who lived in a fine three-storeyed red brick house in the leafy Dublin suburb of Donnybrook. The house was worth seven figures, but call on a cold day and you would be welcomed into her big Victorian drawing room where her chair would have been pulled up to an electric fire.
No-one would measure wealth purely in terms of the single index of cash, so why would the much more complex concept of education be measured in terms of the single index of GCSE results?
To judge by the exchanges on Twitter last week, the GCSE results seemed to form the basis of “Yah! Boo! Sucks!” exchanges between conservative and progressive educationalists (whatever those terms mean). The results seemed to be more about bragging rights and the self-certainty of particular individuals than about how they could contribute to reflection on the educational process.
The government is obsessed with GCSE results, they form the basis for the Progress 8 score by which schools are deemed to be successes or failures. There is a fixation with numbers and data that can obscure the real young people behind the results.
The GCSE examinations have become intensely academic, the standard now is that of A Level examinations in former times. Knowledge is not enough; top grades demand evaluative skills that many young people will never possess, no matter how effective the teaching.
Isn’t education about more than grades? Why measure it by only one index? Why not have other indices? What about a measure of those in full-time employment or education five years after leaving the school? What about a measure of vocational skills developed by those who have studied at the school? What about a community engagement index to measure the extent to which young people are active citizens? What about a score for those who participate in voluntary and youth organisations?
Being a happy person and a good citizen demands much more than achieving a good GCSE result. In many cases, the GCSE results tell you nothing about the person achieving them.
GCSE grades are no more a reliable indicator of education than a wad of cash is an indicator of wealth.