I’ve watched the stories emerging around Bradley Wiggins’ use of TUEs with interest. It might be within the rules, but it feels like gaming. It might be right according to the rules, but it feels wrong. I was reminded of that feeling on reading Richard Adams’ tweet.
The totally rigorous European Computer Driving Licence GCSE-equivalent had a 346% increase in passes this year https://t.co/SZeqhH4IAp
— Richard Adams (@RichardA) October 7, 2016
Passes in the European Computer Driving Licence qualification increased by 346% last year. The European Computer Driving Licence counts as a subject in Bucket 3 of Attainment and Progress 8, giving it the same weight as a French GCSE or History AS level. The qualification covers content like “Sending an email” and “Printing a Word document”. Proponents will no doubt argue it gets trickier than this. They’re right: some of the content, like Mail Merge, might require a cursory Google, or using Microsoft’s Office Wizards. Both of those skills are evident in abundance in teenagers across the ability range as far as I’ve seen; it doesn’t seem worthy of teaching time.
Proponents will argue the ECDL covers skills that are crucial in today’s working world. Let’s be clear here: we’re not talking the coding skills that’d get you a job at Facebook here. We’re talking the basic use of a computer. Programmes are designed to be easy to pick up, learn, and use. We are, on the other hand, not able to redesign the history of the UK, or geographical processes, or English literature, so that they are user friendly. If we want a pupil to be able to navigate and understand the world, they’ll need expert help in building up schemas for this stuff. They need our help in untying the knotty, complex, accumulation of stuff that’s happened so far. Let’s not waste our time on telling them all the menu functions in Excel.
Still, proponents will say that for some pupils, the ECDL is appropriate. Instinctively, I bristle at this: it’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of low expectations. Very few pupils genuinely need something other than a solid academic curriculum. Still, there are some. If the ECDL is truly the best qualification for them, why weren’t schools using it at the same rate in 2015, 2014, 2001? “What’s best for the pupils” seems suspiciously well aligned with “what counts on progress measures”. It reminds me of 2013, when Gove announced in the Sunday Times that a pupils’ first result would count in the league tables. Schools pulled children out of early entry overnight. The rhetoric also changed overnight, from “early entry gives our students the best chance” to “waiting until summer gives our students the best chance”. We’re at war with Eurasia. We’ve always been at war with Eurasia. The ECDL is what’s best for our pupils. It’s always been what’s best for our pupils.
Like Bradley Wiggins, the ECDL might be within the rules, but it feels like gaming. It feels wrong. It feels wrong to send pupils out into the world with the ECDL instead of more of the subjects like History, Geography and languages – subjects which need to be studied hard, for an extended period, with expert guidance, so pupils can develop schemas that help them understand the world. It feels wrong pupils will be pushed to do fewer of the subjects that can open doors at A level and university. You’re not just gaming the league table, you’re gaming kids’ lives.
More than that, though, it feels wrong because of what it does to leadership in schools. It feels wrong that schools pay thousands to organisations that disseminate this information and are rewarded for doing so in the progress measures. It feels wrong that you can send two Deputy Heads to a conference to learn this stuff, when they should be on the corridors and on the phone to parents. It feels wrong that Senior Leadership Teams can get a bigger uplift in accountability measures by sifting through paperwork to look for loopholes, than by getting out there and doing the hard work of improving learning in their school.