Normally, a rush by schools to implement a government initiative would be greeted with glee in Whitehall. But that was not quite the case when Education Secretary Michael Gove launched the English Baccalaureate. Civil servants, and MPs on the Education Select Committee, sat there in amazement at the "over-response" by schools.
Pupils in their final GCSE year were yanked off their courses by heads – and made to study for a new subject that would count towards the new measure, thus improving the school's showing in league tables.
"I didn't believe that schools and headteachers would do that," says John Coles, director general in charge of school standards at the Department for Education at the time and now chief executive of the country's biggest academy chain, the United Learning Trust. "Children were moved in year 10 (the first year of GCSE study) and sometimes in Year 11 (the final year) from courses they had already started. I think that's quite wrong."
Instead of putting pupils' learning needs first, they were giving priority to their position in the league table. One can see his point but it is tempting to speculate how he would have broached this subject with the minister.
"How have schools taken to the English Baccalaureate?" the Minister would ask.
I think Sir Humphrey would not have said: "Minister, I am afraid they have all over-responded."
"But surely that's a good thing, Humphrey?"
* Nice to see the exam blunders continue unabated despite the threat of fines for the first time from Ofqual, the exams regulator.
An A-level maths paper set by the Edexcel board due to be sat by thousands of pupils today had to be withdrawn and a replacement hurriedly sent out to schools.
To be fair, it hardly seems the exam board's fault – the British Council erroneously sent it to schools in Egypt who had asked for past papers to help them prepare for this year's exams. As a result, there was a risk that it could be passed on to potential candidates.
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