For the most part I’m quite accepting of the deficiencies of the English language, or rather the deficiencies of the way that people use it. I have to be, i’d be a hypocrite not to. I’d rather seek the real meaning in the words used and not nit-pick at precise definitions of words to try and infer a meaning that just wasn’t meant.
That self-imposed embargo does not of course include words uttered by those with power or influence, as I assume that they should know better and should be very clear and intentional when it comes to their choice of words.
So this tweet from @educationgovuk irritated me.
Where to start?
“New” – strictly speaking these are not new reforms they are in part a restating of existing policy and an attempt to reimpose others that failed to stick the last time they were tried. The ‘raising of the bar” to grade 5 for example has been widely publicised. They are only new in as much as this particular group of policies has never been announced together.
“ensure” – my dictionary has this as meaning “make certain that (something) shall occur”. Policies can enable, they can facilitate. They can rarely, particularly in the area of social policy, “make certain”.
“every” – the word every means all the individual members of a set without exception. Now, I feel sure that this will be softened in some way. Indeed the accompanying PR recognises recognises “the EBacc will not be appropriate for a small minority of pupils and so we will work to understand this and be clear with schools what we expect for this minority of pupils.” So in the very link they post they make clear that the statement in the Tweet is untrue. So not every child, but a “majority of children”.
‘world-class qualifications” – I hope they are, I truly do. But a qualification that does not yet exist, which no child has sat, for which the three main examining boards can’t even agree on what a suitable set of exemplar questions look like or what standard they should be set to. Can you call such a qualification “world class”?
“qualifications” – whilst I’m at it I’ll have another go at this one. Children are in school for twenty-seven terms before they (generally) start GCSE study. They then study the GCSE content for four to five terms (in some cases less) before they revise then take the exams. Are those first twenty-seven terms to be put to one side? Are they unimportant periods in the accumulation of knowledge? Is the qualification more important than the learning? Is term thirty-two knowledge more crucial to success than term twenty-seven knowledge?
“crucial” – a good definition of crucial is “decisive in the success of something”. What about the EBacc is “decisive for success”? Is it the foreign language? I’ve seen little in the way of evidence that a GCSE in MFL boosts chances of success (however that is measured). Is it Geography, or History. Because it has to be “or” as you are not required to take both. There is nothing worthy of the name evidence that suggests this particular set of subjects, over any other, is the recipe for success. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that I don’t have a set of EBacc qualifications. I have no MFL, no History qual, no Geography qual. But by most peoples measure I’d venture to suggest I’ve been successful. It’s not crucial. It may be desirable. It may even be preferable. But whatever word you use it will be based on a particular bias rather than any objective measure of necessity.
As I said at the outset, I understand the limitations of language. In particular I understand the limitations of one-hundred and forty characters. In conversation I understand that. But this is a government, with all its power and influence, seeking to persuade. When nearly half the words you are using to describe your policies can be so easily questioned I think something is going wrong. The use of half-truth and hyperbole cannot be acceptable.
Government has a duty of care in how it presents its policies to those on whose behalf it is governing. In this case I don’t think it has lived up to it.