We don’ need no education

So, England, Scotland, Wales and Norn Iron have monumentally fucked up their guesstimates at exam results. Of course they have. It’s a government thing. They fuck up everything they touch, no matter which of them is in charge.

What to do about it? If I was employing people (I’m not) I would regard the 2020 results as irrelevant and hire on the basis of interviews alone. Which is really how it should be anyway. Someone can get straight As and be an utter dick to work with, someone else might get Ds but be a diligent and effective worker. How clever you are is not an indication of how effective you are.

I have met a guy whose whole life was cleaning. He was the best cleaner ever, fast and very effective. As a conversationalist, oh dear me! All he talked about was cleaning! Set him to work though and he needed no supervision.

I have met ostensibly clever people who genuinely believe that if someone takes up vaping they will inevitably become smokers. I am talking about people with PhDs here. My response that dildos don’t turn lesbians straight and vegan sausages don’t make vegans crave meat was brushed aside. One issue. Smoking. They cannot see it.

If you are a smoker who has tried vaping you know it’s very different. I have seen young kids vaping in Aberdeen and wasn’t bothered at all. It’ll do them far less harm than smoking. If they try to move from fruit flavoured steam to inhaling face bonfires I bet they will go back pretty damn fast.

But I digress. Back to education.

When I was a PhD student, myself and some other school friends met up with one of our number who had left school at 16. He was working on oil exploration ships. He was wondering which car to buy. We were wondering if we could afford another beer. This was in the days before student loans, so it wasn’t about building up debt. We were just mostly skint.

It wasn’t until my 30s that someone pointed out that those who had left school at 16 were far richer than me, most had their own businesses by now, they had been paying into pensions since they were 16 and were set to retire comfortably well before 60. Whereas I was pretty well screwed for the state pension at least. They were also halfway through their mortgages. I hadn’t started. My high-faluting job kept me moving too much to buy a place.

On the plus side, I did get to live in a lot of different places and visit other countries as part of the job. I had an interesting career, learned things and had experiences that were better than having loads of money. I’ve never been that interested in being rich either, if I won a million pounds I wouldn’t really know what to do with it. I don’t want a yacht or a jet or a fancy car. I’d most likely have a massive garden railway though.

So, for me, it was the right choice. If you want to be rich though, get an apprenticeship in a trade. Skilled tradesmen are in short supply since the government decided to send almost everyone to university to study degrees that don’t even qualify them to flip burgers. And put them into a deep debt hole in the process.

Even practical degrees are oversupplied. Forensic science, for example, turns out around eight times as many graduates as there are available jobs. A sensible and practical qualification but the supply of graduates is far too big. As long as universities profit from the course, they’ll run it, even knowing most of their students will have to find a totally different career after being trained in a highly specialised one.

On the other hand, I recall hearing about universities closing chemistry departments because they weren’t profitable. A good basic chemistry degree gives someone a very wide range of options for the future. So does a physics, biochemistry or biology degree. These days it seems they teach ‘science’. I haven’t looked at the courses but I suspect it’s a mashup of the cheap parts from each of the sciences and is very likely far too vague to be of much use.

As for gender studies, does anyone enter that course with the slightest idea of their future career direction? As far as I can see, it trains you to… be a gender studies teacher. How many do the universities need? None, in my view, but it’s a highly profitable course since it has few overheads in terms of equipment.

Going to university nowadays is, in large part, signing up to indoctrination camp. Oh there are still genuinely useful courses out there. A business degree can be useful. There are still real science degrees available. Practical, useful degrees still exist but if you’re going into a specialised field, check the job market before you decide. No sense getting highly – and expensively – trained to do a job nobody wants done.

The exams fiasco didn’t just knock back gender studiers. It has knocked back doctors, nurses, scientists, artists (and there are practical applications for arts, it’s not all sitting in a Paris attic in your vest eating chocolate bread and having tantrums). It has knocked back those going for practical, useful degrees and in at least some cases, people who would have done very well with those degrees.

At the same time, it will have randomly inflated the results for some who might not be able to cope with university. Okay, university isn’t prison, you can drop out if you don’t like it, but you’ve already taken on that debt and wasted at least months when you could have been earning money and building towards your first promotion in whatever job you chose. Neither group will benefit from this mess.

Those are extremes of course and I suspect the extremes are few, but there’s still a mess in between. The worst part is that it seems the algorithm used to guess at the results downgraded those from poor areas and boosted those from rich areas. Rich does not equal intelligent. Look at the Harry formerly known as Prince for example.

What else could have been done? Setting actual exams with all Boris’s silly rules in place would have been possible, but these kids have not been in school since March. Taking an exam six months after your last lesson in the subject would have been a nightmare.

Could they have been individually assessed? Well if they had sat exams, those exams would have been individually marked so it’s really not a stretch to look at the classwork for each pupil. In fact, they had probably done mock exams. Practice ones. Send those in to the indepedent exam markers and assign grades based largely on those. Not ideal but better than a random guess.

Finally, it’s not all Boris’s fault. Education is a devolved issue, like health. His government is only responsible for England in those matters. I note the Scottish schoolkids have been blaming Boris but this one’s not on him.

He has bigger fiascos to run.

18 thoughts on “We don’ need no education

  1. “Well if they had sat exams, those exams would have been individually marked so it’s really not a stretch to look at the classwork for each pupil.”

    Actually, effectively, that’s precisely what the teachers did – just as they were asked to at the beginning of all this. They knew their students because they’d been working closely with them for the last few years – they knew who was smart and talented, who was hardworking and diligent, who was struggling, who would have revised hard and well for their exams and who wouldn’t have bothered. They had seen all the work that the students had done for the last x years and were the best-placed people to make the most accurate assessment of how any particular kid would have done, had they sat an exam. In most normal years teachers are rarely surprised by many youngsters’ exam results because they’ve been working with them for long enough to know what they’re capable of and how many of them will live up to that capability. Of course, there’s always one or two who pull a white rabbit unexpectedly out of the hat on the day, or, conversely, one or two who go to pieces and don’t come up with the goods, but by and large any decent teachers’ assessment of what a student will get is pretty accurate. All teachers were under strict instructions not to “mark people up” just to make their schools’ stats look good, and the vast majority of them made genuinely honest assessments of their students’ potentials. So, from that point of view, asking teachers to submit the grades was probably the best idea under the circumstances. So it’s just plain daft for the Government to turn around now and say “thanks, but we’ve decided that we should do it instead,” and then to base final-result decisions on some bizarre algorithm comparing the results from a whole school last year (with a completely different cohort of exam-takers, remember) and pretty much randomly torturing the figures to make them around the same. Which is exactly what they have done.

    Mocks, incidentally, are a terrible benchmark for assessing final grades. Nobody does as well in their mocks as they do in the real exam, precisely because they’re not supposed to. Contrary to popular opinion, mocks aren’t just a practice run for sitting still for a couple of hours and writing or an exercise for teachers to show how good they are at their jobs by making them so easy that everyone gets the equivalent of a top grade. That would be pointless. No, mocks are specially designed by teachers to test the very areas that they think their classes as a whole might be weak on. Not easy to do when you’re talking about a group of people, but again, teachers will look back over the year at all the topics that were covered, will assess which ones overall got the best grades in classwork, verbal feedback, homework and essays set (indicating a good grasp amongst most students), and also the ones where, generally speaking, homework and essays were overall not so good. And it’ll be the not-so-good topics that will be stuffed into the mock exam, precisely so that the exact nature of the difficulties that the majority of students are experiencing can be ascertained and those knowledge gaps zoned in on and plugged relentlessly and intensively during the revision period (which incidentally, is virtually the whole of the summer term right up to the exam – formal teaching of the syllabus having been completed in the previous two terms). So, in a way, a good teacher actually wants the mock results to be poor, because that will tell them which precise areas the revision should focus on most strongly. Which is a very good argument for having mocks, but a dreadful reason for using them as a basis for final results. Which, unfortunately, is also what the Government have done as part of their weird “algorithm.” Madness.

    Generally speaking, I don’t think that the Government’s handling of all the unknowns of the Covid crisis has been 100% bad, and there are even some things that I’d begrudgingly say that they might have got more “right” than many other countries, but of all the things that they did get wrong – and there were certainly a few of those, too – this must surely be one of the worst. It wouldn’t even be so bad if every student had lost out on a grade or two, or every student gone up a grade or two, but unfortunately, the methods that they’ve used has meant that many students who, in all honesty, probably wouldn’t have got very good final grades have been awarded top ones, and ones who were almost certain to have done very well have been marked significantly down for no other reason than trying to “make the figures match,” which is appallingly unfair.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Ah, I didn’t know that about mock exams. I only ever taught HND up to PhD and we didn’t have that system in any of the courses.

      It does seem they totally ignored the teachers’ input though.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Re Jaxthefirst: very informative comment for which thanks and I would go along with if only for my profound distrust for so any presently in academia who appear to support or at least acquiesce to the current woke and intolerance insanities. Such a body of people…….who would trust either their integrity or judgment?

      Liked by 2 people

    • When I were a lad, some time in the Middle Ages, the received wisdom re mock exams at my school was that they were fiendishly difficult in order to frighten all us lazy little buggers into doing some work for the actual exams. 🙂

      On a “point of order”, it really grates to see schoolchildren described by the ghastly americanism of “students”, they’re not, they’re “pupils”. You don’t become a student until tertiary education. (/pedantry)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Interesting pedantry-point but I don’t agree. Sorry!

        I’m guessing from my knowledge of Latin that the word “pupil” derives from “pupa” or “doll”. I am a private tutor of Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology (I studied biochemistry, in the transition decade when it was emerging at last as “molecular biophysics”) from years 8 to A-level (and often after that) to those whom I am delighted to call my “students”. They prefer it too.

        In barrister-ing, in the Law, I think barristers’ gofers and accolytes are called “pupils”, and undertake pupillage.

        My students are just that – students! They study, with me, and learn. If I could get them all together in one place, I might have a “university”… a place in which they can also, with my sometimes-distant but always-vigilant supervision, educate each other.

        That’s how it felt for us when I was up.

        Think about that one.


        • And none of this nonsense either about “social”, “studies”, “gender”, “intersectionality”, “decolonisation”, 2 + 2 does not equal 5 in some cultures”, etc.

          None also of the other nasty words our enemies use, that I can’t presently recall.


        • Dragooned to school you are a “pupil”… Derived from the latin “pupillus” meaning “ward”, “minor”, “orphan child” which implies a state subordinate to and dependent upon the establishment in which they are being educated. Said establishment therefore has a responsibility for those “In statu pupillari”. Thus, schools are, in essence, responsible for the wellbeing of their pupils.

          “Students” choose to study, they are not in statu pupillari and the college / university / whatever has no direct responsibility for or to them.

          I agree that, in your specific case, your students are “students” – they choose to study with you. I can understand their preference for being called “students”, much more “grown up” than “pupils”.

          Re “pupil barristers” – the law is a law unto itself in many things! 🙂


      • “ … they were fiendishly difficult in order to frighten all us lazy little buggers into doing some work for the actual exams.”

        Much more succinctly put than my lengthy comment but, yes, essentially that is another purpose for the mocks (although never officially stated as such!)

        And re students/pupils – yes, agreed. The majority of my experience in education is with sixth-formers (which is why this debacle around A-level results grates so badly) which I why I tend to refer to them as “students” out of habit. As they are sort of in-between “real” students, as you say, at tertiary level, and “schoolchildren,” they are generally referred to by most sixth-form colleges as “students” to mark the move away from formal schooling – the work “around the subject” at A-level is a quantum leap forward from the (generally) rote-style learning of facts, figures and basic principles required for the previous level, GCSE. The different terminology is used to sort of reinforce the more adult nature of study at A-level and (up until recently) to underline the fact that this level of education was not compulsory and was therefore something that they needed to take a degree of self-responsibility for having chosen to do, just like they will be expected to do at university. A sort of subconscious way of marking the difference, I guess.

        However, now that pupils/children/students no longer have any choice about whether or not they stay in education post-16, I suspect this may change over time and they’ll start to all be referred to as “pupils” again. After all, there’s no point in trying to convince young people that they are starting to move into the grown-up world when the Government is effectively forcing schools and colleges to still treat them like silly babies who can’t make up their own minds. Teenagers are the hardest people in the world to fool, and they certainly won’t fall for any this-is-different-from-school terminology if it isn’t genuine.

        As you can tell, I’m not a great supporter of the recent increase in the compulsory school leaving age …


  2. Will those students who feel they are under marked be able to sit the actual exam with the loss of 2 month schooling being taken into account?

    When passing my ‘A’ levels (Highers) well I asked the U6th tutor (Geraint, one of those you remember) if he was surprised?
    “No, not really, just like with your ‘0’ levels you produced just enough work not to get kicked out of classes and scrape through your mocks.
    Btw, why did you only get a Pass ‘O’ for Economics ?”
    “Went to see Chuck Berry the night before Sir, and anyway I didn’t need it to get into your L6th.”

    I would have done very badly under the system adopted this year

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Before getting too invested in a position it would be useful to know how accurate teachers predictions were in the past, i.e. do they have a good track record of accurately predicting results?
    Are they normally higher / lower / spot on?
    The absence of any conversations around this little factoid gets my spidy senses tingling as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not all intelligent people have brilliant exam results or fit for university. My dyslexic son has an IQ (if you trust that) as Exceptionally Gifted yet earns his living as a barber. My eldest sibling, a post-graduate engineering doctorate by 30, sets up mines worldwide from scratch, yet in some areas lacks common sense.
      We can learn something from the tramp, cleaner, lowest paid to highest.

      Liked by 4 people

      • One of my sons is dyslexic with no chance. But he got a two one in Geography entirely by his own efforts. I don’t know about his IQ, but since his Mother is bordering on Genius then I don’t suppose he is far off.
        Me? I never passed an exam in my life, mainly because exams weren’t to be had for Secondary School Children in those days and I had been shovelled around a bit after The War. But I did a mean job Cleaning to support all three of them.
        Sadly, IQ isn’t knowledge, which is what I still lack. But I suspect that I am too old to care now.

        Liked by 4 people

  4. Having had time to think about the exam fiasco.
    Youngsters, none of whom are known to me personally, have had a very hard time of it because of lockdown.
    I know they do not suffer directly from the Covid but their social, educational and possibly psychological lives have been damaged by johnsons recklessness.

    Despite this they have, in general, behaved incredibly well during this so called ‘crisis’. I believe it behoves us to treat the current younger generation with generosity wherever possible, including giving them the benefit of the doubt in their exam grades.

    I never thought that I would ever have posted that second paragraph but there you go.


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