Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool


1:26 am - November 20th 2009

by Chris Barnyard    


      Share on Tumblr

[via Septicisle]

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Chris is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is an aspiring journalist and reports stories for LC.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: News

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


Unfortunately this says more about the poor state of science knowledge in parliament than about the state of exams. Taking individual questions (easy or hard) does not give a realistic picture of what is happening.

Micheal Gove did not know the answers that is not good, but being proud that you don’t know basic science, as Ed Balls seems to be, is disturbing.

The problem with our education system, as I always say, is that too many people are leaving with good grades and it’s impossible for future employers, universities etc to tell who the brightest are.

Whether they are all getting good grades because of hard work or dumbing down doesn’t matter. The fact is that too many are bunched together at the top end and we need to find a system that adequately allows us to compare year-on-year pupil ability (to ensure education standards are not slipping) as well as comparing pupils in the same year to each other.

Besides, if every student is getting straight-A’s because they are all brilliant, as Mr Balls claims, then why does his exam system limit the students. They could clearly perform to an even higher level if only his exams allowed. Again, whether that’s because the ability of students has gone up or the difficulty of the exams has come down doesn’t matter. The Ed Balls education system currently puts a cap on the difficulty of exams and our children are reaching that cap.

“The problem with our education system, as I always say, is that too many people are leaving with good grades and it’s impossible for future employers, universities etc to tell who the brightest are.”

So what – always providing the exams haven’t been dumbed down?

If universities or employers are really worried about selecting among the top graded students, they can always set their own tests, which Oxford used to, or draw lots among the candidates. At those top grades, why does it matter who is “the best” of all?

What we really need to worry about is this:

“Overall less than half of pupils (47.6%) achieved five or more grades A*-C, including English and maths.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7829774.stm

And this:

“This page shows the 470 schools in England which in 2008 fell below the government’s ‘floor target’ of 30% of pupils achieving the equivalent of five GCSEs at grade C or above including English and maths.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7827214.stm

Or why some local education authorities in the league table based on GCSE results stay at or near the bottom year after year:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7827275.stm

IMO it’s not too difficult to make Michael Gove look dumb – recall his silly proposal to require all schools to add a highly selective collection of British history topics to a curriculum which is already widely regarded as overcrowded?

It doesn’t make Gove look a fool at all – it makes Balls & co. look childish. What a waste of Parliamentary time.

Do you really think it makes Gove look like a fool? Most people would say it makes Balls look like the fool he so obviously is.

Does anbody who hasn’t done science since GCSE know the answers to those questions off of the top of their heads?

“It doesn’t make Gove look a fool at all – it makes Balls & co. look childish. What a waste of Parliamentary time.”

C’mon. Gove makes a point of claiming time and again that the GCSE exams have been dumbed down. Isn’t that repetition a gross waste of Parliamentary time when the real concern is that less than half GCSE candidates achieve five or more grades A*-C, including English and maths.?

Some 20,000+ school leavers at 16 are leaving school without any qualifications.

This report dated August 2009 on the NEETs (not in education, employment or training) under 24 is especially worrying in the current economic climate:
http://education.icnetwork.co.uk/national-student-news/2009/08/18/record-numbers-of-18-24-year-olds-not-in-education-or-work-111036-24468899/

“The statistics also show a surge in the numbers of 16-18-year-olds considered Neet. There are now 233,000 Neets in this age group, 13,000 more than the first quarter of 2009, when the figure stood at 220,000. In the second quarter of 2008, 209,000 16-18-year-olds were Neet, 24,000 fewer than the same quarter this year.”

And this:

“LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s world ranking as one of the highest producers of university graduates has tumbled as other countries invest more heavily in education, an international study reported on Tuesday.

“Despite labelling the British higher education sector ‘very strong’, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said it was no longer at the world class level it once enjoyed.”
http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKL1764485620070918

Btw I note that no one here is defending Gove’s silly proposals requiring all schools to add a highly selected collection of British history topics to an overcrowded curriculum. FWIW I certainly regard Gove as a twit.

Bob B @7, I agree those are among the issues Parliament should discuss instead of engaging in childish point scoring.

Balls looked the fool, particularly when he couldn’t even READ out one of the questions correctly FFS! Beyond possibly poor literacy skills that showed he didn’t even understand the question. We’ll be calling him Ed ‘atom’ Balls for a while I’m sure.

Nice to see the CCO stooges out in force. Seriously, if you saw that clip and your primary thought wasn’t “Gove gets 0wned”, then you’re delusional.

@8, what the hell d’you think Gove was trying to do? (clue: it was childish point-scoring)

Agree with john b, there are some folk here who’ll go to ANY length to tow the line, I mean you have an MP who said the exams are easy so why not ask him some of the questions?

Seems fair to me and quite clever from the Balls Lord.

12. Allen Esterson

It was Ed Balls who looked like a fool, in that he said that those simple questions were “really hard”. The first question requested the name given to a biological process about which presumably the students must have been told during their two year GCSE course. The second was dead easy, and was answered by Gove when he replied to Balls’ speech:

“We all know that atoms, whether fluoride or otherwise, are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. And the way you transform an atom into an ion is either by adding or taking away an electron.”

And the third was a simple mixed fraction subtraction of the sort school students used to be able to do when they were twelve years old:
(3 and ¾) – (1 and 2/5)

That the Secretary of State in charge of education actually thinks that this, and the others, are “really hard” questions is absolutely astonishing – and a disgrace.

One reason for special concern about less than half GCSE candidates meeting the benchmark of five or more grades A*-C, including English and maths, is this:

An accessible piece in The Economist for 26 August 2006 showed that Britain is unusually well-endowed with low-skilled young people compared with other European countries:
http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displaystory.cfm?story_id=7843638

“Government figures show only 15% of white working class boys in England got five good GCSEs including maths and English last year. . . Poorer pupils from Indian and Chinese backgrounds fared much better – with 36% and 52% making that grade respectively.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7220683.stm

“Though white children in general do better than most minorities at school, poor ones come bottom of the league (see chart). Even black Caribbean boys, the subject of any number of initiatives, do better at GCSEs”
http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14700670

Hmmm, actually I think it was reversed, Mr Balls made Mr Balls look a fool! After all he didn’t know the answers and had to ask someone else. You should never ask someone to do something that you cannot do yourself! What a horrible man he is…

Cor blimey, it is snowed under with Tories here…

I hate the Tories, and I hate Michael Gove.

But things like this remind me that I hate Ed Balls too.

What a cheap stunt.

Pathetic.

3 – Bob B “If universities or employers are really worried about selecting among the top graded students, they can always set their own tests”

Then what’s the point in the government tests at all? Presumably the idea of GCSE’s and A-Levels is to rank the students in some way – otherwise we would just have ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ grades.

With that in mind, if the government’s own ranking system proves not to be fit for purpose and employers and universities are forced to produce to their own tests, then why bother with the government testing.

18. Allen Esterson

DHG: “Cor blimey, it is snowed under with Tories here…”

Obviously someone who cannot conceptualise the notion of a disinterested consideration of whether the three questions were actually “really hard” as Ed Balls claimed.

“Allen Esterson”

Obviously someone who cannot conceptualise the notion of the Tories not getting everything right all of the time.

20. Allen Esterson

DHG writes: “Allen Esterson: Obviously someone who cannot conceptualise the notion of the Tories not getting everything right all of the time.”

I have no desire to continue this further, other than to say I am not a Labour or Tory supporter, just a retired teacher who knows that Ed Balls’ performance, far from being impressive as the blurb above implies, demonstrated his ignorance about the supposed difficulty of the questions he posed. I wouldn’t care if he was a Labour or Tory minister, such ignorance on the part of the Secretary of State in charge of education policy is a matter of concern.

Fair enough but it does look like you missed the point though, I mean, the Tory MP in question doubted the quality of the exams so Ed Balls asked him some questions from the exams, which he was unable to answer.

Seems pretty straightforward to me.

@17: “Then what’s the point in the government tests at all? ”

C’mon. For many years, Oxford colleges set entrance exams and made place offers on the strength of the results and interviews by tutors but contingent on attaining specific A-level results.

My son went through all that in the early 1990s so I’m tolerably familiar with the process. As I recall, Oxford subsequently dropped the separate entrance exams but then – I think – reintroduced the exams, perhaps because A-levels were insufficiently discriminating.

We really do need to stop allowing university entrance requirements to dictate our system of schooling and give rather more priority to the education of the majority at school who have no academic ambitions or inclinations. Our leading universities show up well in world rankings but we have a large endowment of low-skilled youth compared with peer-group countries and we have a legacy of a seriously under-educated adult population – according to the HoC Public Accounts Committee:

“Up to 12 million working UK adults have the literacy skills expected of a primary school child, the Public Accounts Committee says. . . The report says there are up 12 million people holding down jobs with literacy skills and up to 16 million with numeracy skills at the level expected of children leaving primary school.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4642396.stm

“A £2bn scheme to improve basic skills among adults has been called a ‘depressing failure’ by education inspectors.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4506410.stm

Employers need exam results to assess the competence of non-academic job applicants but I doubt GCSE grades within the A-C range matter more than assessments of practical skills and inter-personal skills for team working and customer relations.

In today’s The Economist:

“a male graduate can expect to earn $82,000 (£48,800) more over his working life than a man who had the qualifications to go to university but did not do so. (The benefit for female graduates is lower because women in general work and earn less than men.)”
http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14927238

Of course, some degree subjects are more equal than others.

23. Allen Esterson

DHG: You presume that because Gove failed to take the bait, but instead bided his time until making his speech in response to Balls, that he couldn’t answer the questions. In fact, as I quoted above, he gave the answer to the question about the process of a change from a molecule to an ion, and I have no doubt he could have answered the elementary mixed fractions question. As to the first one, I’m happy to acknowledge I don’t know the name of the biological process described. Since I haven’t just taken a two-year course in biology, why should I (or Gove) be expected to know something we have not specialised in earlier in our lives? That doesn’t mean it is not an easy question for those who have just taken the course.

On exam grades, try Warren Buffett on selecting applicants for a job:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApjnM0fIjXg&feature=related

Allen, you’re making excuses that reflect your partizan beliefs, which is fine but don’t pretend it is something else.

Funny that isn’t it, when a Tory looks like a fool that these random Tories turn up defending them to the hilt without actually watching the video presumably.

Shameful politicking and cheap points.

You would never catch Gove giving examples of “easy” questions to “prove” standards are being dumbed down would you?

For example, the following was not said by Gove at the Tory Conference in October this year, and if it was the reaction of Tories would have been to call Gove “childish” and made to look “foolish”.

“Nothing matters more to our future economic prosperity than a flourishing science base.

But in no area has the curriculum been more debased by the bureaucrats than in science.

Over the last few years there has been a remorseless retreat from rigour in the exams we set our children.

Let me read you some of the questions we ask our sixteen year olds.

In GCSE science we ask students if nurses leave the room during X-ray sessions in hospital for health reasons

or because their mobile phone might melt

 or they might get a tan.

We ask students which is a better argument for nuclear power – creating jobs or creating toxic waste.

We ask students which is healthier – a battered sausage or grilled fish.

These aren’t rigorous tests of scientific knowledge – they’re terrifying evidence of how our educational establishment has presided over a comprehensive decline in examination standards.

What should we do with people who think that this country can become a scientific leader by asking about sausages in batter? They’ve just got to go.”

http://page.politicshome.com/uk/michael_goves_speech_to_conservative_conference.html?page_num=4

Oh.

But I’m sure one of our Tory friends can explain why Gove’s speech was spot on using this tactic, but Balls is bringing shame on Parliament by using such a stupid anecdote based argument to demonstrate the flaws in…erm..a stupid anecdote based argument.

“These aren’t rigorous tests of scientific knowledge”

No, they are not but then those aren’t the only questions on the exam paper, are they?

Rightly or wrong, the GCSE exams are set to test virtually the whole ability range in schools so there have to be tough questions as well as questions most candidates can answer – and remember that the all-ability GCSE exams were introduced by a Conservative government.

At present, less that half the candidates for GCSE are able to achieve 5 subjects at A*-C grades, including English and maths. If the exams are made tougher, the reasonable expectation is that fewer candidates will be able to meet that benchmark.

Academically able pupils will go on to A-levels and then to university but we have to worry more about the majority of pupils who don’t make the 5 subjects benchmark.

Wow…

I’m starting to wonder if Tory-ism is less a political outlook and more an ongoing parlour game in which one finds ever more elaborate ways in which to swear black is white.

30. Allen Esterson

For those who think a jibe constitutes an argument, please answer this question: Do you think the mixed fraction subtraction (3 and 3/4) – (1 and 2/5) is a “hard question” for a sixteen year old GCSE maths candidate? And please don’t say that Michael Gove couldn’t answer it. The fact that when he got up to respond to Balls he gave an accurate statement for the answer to Balls’ second question (that a transfer of electrons occurs when an atom becomes an ion) shows that his silence in the face of Balls’ jibes was not because he couldn’t answer. I have no doubt that with a pencil and the back of an envelope he could have obtained the answer to that elementary calculation in less than two minutes. As for the first question, why should he know what enzyme is used for removing fatty stains? I don’t, but someone who had been taught what is a simply one word answer in the biology course (though it’s actually a chemistry question) would have done. If I asked any of you responding on this blog the most elementary of questions on Latin grammar, you wouldn’t know the answer unless you had studied Latin. Would that mean the question was “hard”. Of course not – and for the same reason the question asking the name of the enzyme that can remove fatty stains was not hard either. What is being evaded on this blog is the disgraceful fact that the Secretary of State of education thinks that an elementary subtraction of simple mixed fractions is a hard question for sixteen year olds, and the same goes about the other basic questions.

So, for those of you who thought Balls’ was making a good case, do you think that the calculation (3 and 3/4) – (1 and 2/5) is a hard question for a sixteen year old?

@30 Allen

“For those who think a jibe constitutes an argument”

You mean Gove, right?

Balls was taking the piss out of Gove’s fondness for anecdote-based “isn’t this question easy” arguments.

You (deliberately?) miss the point.

32. Allen Esterson

Sevillista: I note that, in common with the others who have responded to my postings, you have not actually addressed what I wrote. Leaving aside my other points, I ask again:

Is, as Ed Balls asserted, the calculation (3 and ¾) – (1 and 2/5) a “hard question” for sixteen-year-olds?

It was clearly a hard question for a 42-year-old.

34. Allen Esterson

Neil: You have just confirmed that not one person responding to my postings has addressed what I actual wrote. How do you know that it was a hard question for Gove, just because he didn’t respond to Balls’ tauntings? As I’ve already pointed out twice, when he got up to reply, Gove correctly answered the question about atoms and ions, and there is no reason to suppose he couldn’t have done that simple mathematical calculation on the back of an envelope.

Are none of you concerned that the Secretary of State in charge of education actually thinks that the simple calculation (3 and ¾) – (1 and 2/5) is a “hard question”?

You’re clinging to a scrap there, Allen, but if it’ll shut you up: It’s an easy question when you know how to do it, but hard if you don’t.

Is that the argument???
That (3 and ¾) – (1 and 2/5) is a “hard question”????
2 and 7/20 – can be done in the head in a few seconds.
(I do hope that’s right!!!)
Does anyone seriously doubt that exams have become easier?
One thing’s sure and certain, there isn’t much dumbing down in India and China…

PS I assume that is a question for a 12 year old, not a 15/16 year old?

@Allen

Your point is irrelevant for the reasons I state above (the
point was the intellectual bankruptcy of Gove’s usual tactic of using anecdotes to “prove” something).

But, to humour you and stop the whining:

Allen@9 “The first question requested the name given to a biological process about which presumably the students must have been told during their two year GCSE course.”

So GCSE exams should examine students on whether they have learnt things that they have not been taught on their course?

Any exam is easy your definition of easy is “something that has been covered on the course”.

Allen@rest

“And the third was a simple mixed fraction subtraction of the sort school students used to be able to do when they were twelve years old:”

So GCSE students should not be examined on whether they can do mixed fraction sums without a calculator, and the fact that they are asked to do so is evidence of “dumbing down”? Because O levels would never have asked such “easy” questions? And every adult over the age of 28 who took GCSEs before Labour’s “dumbing down” would be able to answer this question with no trouble?

Is, for example, the following an easy question or a tough one that 12 year old used to do in their sleep in say 1985 before Labour dumbed exams down?

“1 Calculate the exact value of i) 4 – 1.67; ii) 0.4 x 3.5”

Seems fairly tough for a 16 year old? Or an easy exam given by a Government determined to dumb down standards?

I’ll be back with answers later.

“can be done in the head in a few seconds”

Not by your man, though.

Am I the only adult to admit that the first two questions were a bit beyond me?

i) Name the type of enzyme that digest fats

ii) Explain how a flouride atom can change into a fluoride ion.

Dunno.

Maybe the latter is by losing an electron, but I’d take a bit of a rain check on that..

Kids, don’t ya love them?

Ok,

fluoride. And we love kids for knowing stuff we have forgotten, or never knew, just in case the brain police are around….

john b @ 10,

@8, what the hell d’you think Gove was trying to do? (clue: it was childish point-scoring)

Clue: I don’t care for Gove, either.

The fundamental issues – which everyone here has so far evaded – are whether to continue with exams set for the whole ability range at 16 and whether to continue with mostly comprehensive schooling for virtually the whole ability range?

Correct me if I’m getting it wrong but the Conservatives are already committed to retaining an all-ability examine at 16 – however named – and to continue with comprehensive schooling: an option of reintroducing selective grammar schools was explicitly dismissed by Cameron.

That last is hardly surprising when quite a few of the remaining 164 maintained grammar schools are achieving better or as good average A-level results than highly prestigious and very costly fee-paying schools. I mean, who wants to pay annual school fees of £15,000 (day school) to £25,000+ (boarding) when the maintained grammar schools can achieve better results at much lower cost and despite worse teacher-pupil ratios?

Remember this call by the OFT three years ago?

“The Office of Fair Trading has found that, during the period from 1 March 2001 to June 2003, 50 fee-paying independent schools (each a Participant school, together the Participant schools) infringed the prohibition (the Chapter I prohibition) imposed by section 2(1) of the Competition Act 1998 (the Act) by participating in an agreement and/or concerted practice having as its object the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition in the relevant markets for the provision of educational services.”
http://www.oft.gov.uk/advice_and_resources/resource_base/ca98/decisions/schools

Ouch.

44. Allen Esterson

Neil: “It’s an easy question when you know how to do it, but hard if you don’t.”

No, Neil, the issue in question is, is that a “hard question” in an examination for 16-year-olds who have just completed five years of mathematics in secondary school.

Sevillista: You wrote:
“So GCSE exams should examine students on whether they have learnt things that they have not been taught on their course?”

Eh? What on earth are you talking about? The point at issue is whether the questions read out by Balls were “really hard” for sixteen-year olds who had just completed courses in the relevant subjects, nothing else.

“Any exam is easy [if] your definition of easy is ‘something that has been covered on the course’.”

Again, what on earth are you talking about? What has this to do with a consideration of whether the three specific questions (which of course would have been dealt with on the respective courses) were “really hard” for school students who had just been studying the subjects for several years.

“Is, for example, the following an easy question or a tough one that 12 year old used to do in their sleep in say 1985 before Labour dumbed exams down?

““1. Calculate the exact value of i) 4 – 1.67; ii) 0.4 x 3.5?

“Seems fairly tough for a 16 year old? Or an easy exam given by a Government determined to dumb down standards?<

You don't say where the question comes from, but I'll presume it is pre-1985.

Of course those are easy calculations. Assuming that they come from a pre-1985 paper, they would be one of the early questions in the paper that enabled even poor students to pick up some marks. Of course questions in the old papers were graduated so that the easy ones were first, and the harder ones came later. So those are easy questions, and no one at the time would have said otherwise. All this is evading the issue here, namely that Ed Balls said that the simple mixed fractions question he quoted was a "hard question", which is nonsense.

"Your point is irrelevant for the reasons I state above (the point was the intellectual bankruptcy of Gove’s usual tactic of using anecdotes to “prove” something)."

Are you really saying that Balls revealed Gove's intellectual bankruptcy by posing elementary exam questions to him while making the absurd assertion that they were "really hard"? Sounds more like an own goal to me.

Strange no-one has pointed out that there’s no such thing as a ‘fluoride atom’. Fluorine is the atom, fluoride is an anion of fluorine (with an extra electron). And the answer to number 1 is lipase, but then we all knew that.

Balls saying that the ‘3 3/4 minus 1 2/5’ was hard was astonishing to me. Sure, it’s a little awkward if you try to do it in your head, but GCSE students have a pen and paper. It has just taken me 20 seconds to get to the answer, showing my working and with a dodgy pen.

I’ll let Ed off for his fail on fluorine/fluoride because he probably misread his sheet (hell, he struggled so much with his last joke it fell on its face) but thinking that a question is hard when it that takes less than 30 seconds to do with pen and paper, well, it’s no wonder he thinks the exams haven’t been dumbed down, he’d probably still be on the front page struggling with his name after an hour.

46. Allen Esterson

I’ve tried several time some 10 hours ago to get messages posted, but with no luck. Now another one has gone up, I’ll try again.

Mark M.: An article in the Daily Mail did point out the error.

47. Allen Esterson

Neil: >It’s an easy question when you know how to do it, but hard if you don’t.So GCSE exams should examine students on whether they have learnt things that they have not been taught on their course? Is, for example, the following an easy question or a tough one that 12 year old used to do in their sleep in say 1985 before Labour dumbed exams down?

>“1. Calculate the exact value of i) 4 – 1.67; ii) 0.4 x 3.5?

>Seems fairly tough for a 16 year old? Or an easy exam given by a Government determined to dumb down standards?Your point is irrelevant for the reasons I state above (the point was the intellectual bankruptcy of Gove’s usual tactic of using anecdotes to “prove” something).<

Are you really saying that Balls revealed Gove's intellectual bankruptcy by posing elementary exam questions to him while making the absurd assertion that they were "really hard"? Sounds more like an own goal to me.

Bob@3:

“The problem with our education system, as I always say, is that too many people are leaving with good grades and it’s impossible for future employers, universities etc to tell who the brightest are.”

So what – always providing the exams haven’t been dumbed down?

If universities or employers are really worried about selecting among the top graded students, they can always set their own tests, which Oxford used to, or draw lots among the candidates. At those top grades, why does it matter who is “the best” of all?

What we really need to worry about is this:

“Overall less than half of pupils (47.6%) achieved five or more grades A*-C, including English and maths.”

You seem to be making the assumption that it’s a choice between solving underachievement or stretching the brightest pupils. If so, that’s rather unambitious.

Both sets of pupils matter equally, as do the children in the middle. I had three years of teaching to tell me that those near the C/D borderline matter more than other pupils. It’s not a message I want to hear outside either.

@46: “You seem to be making the assumption that it’s a choice between solving underachievement or stretching the brightest pupils. If so, that’s rather unambitious.”

Public resources are scarce in these times, in case no body here has noticed.

Britain’s education system is fine for children in affluent families, which can afford costly non-maintained schools, and for the academically able headed for good class degrees at Russell Group universities in highly marketable degree subjects. But it is not satisfactory for the majority at school – as should be clear from the links posted above – and that is what we need to worry about IMO, not least because poor achievement at school affects later job prospects and relates to Britain’s relatively poor record in business productivity compared with peer-group countries.

Nothing prevents universities and employers from applying their own assessment methods if too many applicants are presenting with top class GCSE grades. But, as Warren Buffett comments, exam grades shouldn’t be the main, let alone the only, criterion for selection.

Btw all this stuff about dumbing down school exams and degree class inflation is all very flattering for someone who graduated nearly 50 years back with an excellent degree.

50. Allen Esterson

Another try, first attempted 2 p.m. yesterday:

Douglas Clark:
>Am I the only adult to admit that the first two questions were a bit beyond me?<

No, if you look above you'll see I was perfectly happy to acknowledge that I don't know the answer to the first question. Having been a physics teacher, the second posted no problem (except that Balls got it slightly wrong: "fluoride" when it should have been fluorine). In fact I'm rather surprised that Gove was able to answer it when he got up to speak!)

But you have hit the nail on the head. Why should a 42-year-old man be expected to recall something he had studied some 25 years before at school (even assuming he had –he probably hadn't come across the enzyme/fat-stain question before)? The question is, to repeat yet again, were those "really difficult" questions for sixteen-year-olds who have just completed two year course in the respective subjects?

51. Allen Esteron

Success! So here’s another delayed response to an above comment:

Sevillista wrote:
> Is, for example, the following an easy question or a tough one that 12 year old used to do in their sleep in say 1985 before Labour dumbed exams down?

>“1. Calculate the exact value of i) 4 – 1.67; ii) 0.4 x 3.5?

>Seems fairly tough for a 16 year old? Or an easy exam given by a Government determined to dumb down standards?Your point is irrelevant for the reasons I state above (the point was the intellectual bankruptcy of Gove’s usual tactic of using anecdotes to “prove” something).<

Are you really saying that Balls revealed Gove's intellectual bankruptcy by posing elementary exam questions to him while making the absurd assertion that they were "really hard"? Sounds more like an own goal to me.

52. Allen Esterson

Sorry for the repeat of part of the response to Sevillista, but I’ve just seen that earlier submissions have suddenly appeared (out of chronological order). And because I truncated my last one, it was mistakenly addressed to Neil when it should have been Sevillista. Apologies Neil.

However this is a response to Neil:

cjcjc wrote that the fractions calculation “can be done in the head in a few seconds”

Neil responded: “Not by your man, though.”

Neil: It says something about your mindset that you can only apparently think in terms of “your man” and (presumably) “my man”, rather than consider the point made by cjcjc, to whom you are responding, on its merits. cjcjc said nothing in support of Gove, just made a straightforward statement to the effect that the mixed fraction calculation was actually very easy.

Anyway, (i) the question wasn’t designed to be worked on in the head (ii) you have no idea whether Gove could have answered it, given pencil and paper and a couple of minutes. (And please don’t come back with the response that Gove couldn’t answer the three questions. I’ve already disposed of that claim that more than once above.) (iii) even if Gove couldn’t recall the procedure for solving a simply mixed fraction calculation 25 years after doing it at school, so what? What matters is the Secretary of State for eduction thought that that simple calculation was “hard” for school students who had just completed a two-year GCSE course.

Congratulations on obsessing over the ‘your man’ jibe (it’s a running gag round here that there are a lot of self-proclaimed ‘non-tories’ who continually leap into the tory corner), but ignoring my main point: These questions are easy if you know how to answer them.

54. Allen Esterson

Neil: I didn’t ignore your “main point”, I answered it above, no. 44.

@44 Allen

Wading through all that mess was difficult – it seems communication is not your strong point. I can’t believe you are a teacher!

You said the first question was easy -even though you yourself as someone with a degree level education in a science subject did not know the answer – solely because children probably learnt it on their course. The logical conclusion to that is to be “hard” a question must test knowledge children haven’t learnt on their course.

“You don’t say where the question comes from, but I’ll presume it is pre-1985”

You’re right. That shockingly easy question came from a 1985 O level maths paper. More here http://education.guardian.co.uk/gcses2000/story/0,,358622,00.html.

“they would be one of the early questions in the paper that enabled even poor students to pick up some marks. Of course questions in the old papers were graduated so that the easy ones were first, and the harder ones came later. So those are easy questions, and no one at the time would have said otherwise”

Do you think this could also be the case for the anecdotes of “easy” questions showing evidence of “dumbing down” Gove loves to dig out?

I don’t understand how- other than blind partisanship- you cannot appreciate the point Balls was making which was about the ridiculousness of Gove’s argument rather than that the three examples he chose were fiendishly difficult.

“Are you really saying that Balls revealed Gove’s intellectual bankruptcy by posing elementary exam questions to him while making the absurd assertion that they were “really hard”? Sounds more like an own goal to me”

Gove couldn’t answer them. Point well made.

I’m not sure you answered it; it looks like you merely restated it using slightly different words. An exam contained a question the students should be able to answer using the techniques they have just been taught. What a shocker, eh?

57. Allen Esterson

Sevillista:

What mess? In no. 44 I answered your points one by one. As I’ve already pointed out, the confusing later postings came from the fact that the system was malfunctioning, and not putting up my posts, so I tried several attempts and then they suddenly appeared later. (Sunny has told me that the spam function was malfunctioning.)

“You said the first question was easy – even though you yourself as someone with a degree level education in a science subject did not know the answer – …”

What relevance has the fact that I have a physics degree to my not knowing the one word answer (the name of an enzyme) to a current question in a biology paper? Does a very simple question on Latin grammar in a Latin exam cease to be easy because someone who has not studied the subject is unable to answer it?

You finish by writing, “Gove couldn’t answer them. Point well made”, despite the rebuttals to that point above (see nos. 30 and 50), including the fact that Gove *did* answer the question on atoms and ions when he got up to reply to Balls.

58. Allen Esterson

Neil wrote above: “It’s an easy question when you know how to do it, but hard if you don’t.”

I responded above, no. 44.

Neil again: “I’m not sure you answered it; it looks like you merely restated it using slightly different words.”

Okay, let’s spell it out a different way:

By your statement just quoted, if a question on a GCSE paper asked for the students to multiply 64 by 1.1 using a calculator you couldn’t say whether that was an easy question in principle, and if they were asked to factorise the quadratic expression 6x^2 – 13x – 28 (i.e., six x squared – 13x – 28), you couldn’t say if that is a hard question for a GCSE candidate.

@57 Allen

“What mess”

You made 6 posts to say the same thing and most of them were muddled.

I’m shocked that someone who has a DEGREE IN SCIENCE cannot answer a GCSE level question on biology.

Even more shocking is that you claim to be a physics teacher in a school, and in most schools that would mean you take general science lessons so should have good knowledge across the 3 science subjects.

I knew the answer to that from GCSEs 15 years ago and I am no scientist and my job is not to teach children science.

“the fact that Gove *did* answer the question on atoms and ions when he got up to reply to Balls.”

If only children sitting GCSEs were allowed to confer with their colleagues before answering questions as Gove did…

60. Allen Esterson

Sevillista writes:
“I’m shocked that someone who has a DEGREE IN SCIENCE cannot answer a GCSE level question on biology.
“Even more shocking is that you claim to be a physics teacher in a school, and in most schools that would mean you take general science lessons so should have good knowledge across the 3 science subjects.<
"I knew the answer to that from GCSEs 15 years ago and I am no scientist and my job is not to teach children science."

Sorry to have been the inadvertent cause of your state of shock, but before I retired some years ago I taught A level physics and mathematics at Further Education colleges. I hope that helps.

The lengths some people will go to in order to defend the Tory party…

62. Allen Esterson

DHG: “The lengths some people will go to in order to defend the Tory party…”

Thanks, DHG, you’ve just perfectly illustrated the simplistic basis on which some commenters on this blog assess the situation at issue.

And thanks Allen Esterson, you’ve just perfectly illustrated the simplistic basis on which some commenters on this blog respond to the situation at issue.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    :: Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool http://bit.ly/j1tA9

  2. InfoFeeder

    Liberal Conspiracy » Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool: About the author: Chris is a regular contributor to Li http://url4.eu/nCnU

  3. Jonathan Butterworth

    This is very funny, but the math one is quite easy for GCSE? RT @libcon Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool http://bit.ly/j1tA9 #fb

  4. Ian Hopkinson

    4 people normally willing to shout out answers they were v. quietRT @libcon Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool http://bit.ly/j1tA9

  5. Tom Chance

    RT @libcon Can you answer these "dumbed down" GCSE questions? Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool http://bit.ly/4nCyJa

  6. Alex Connor

    Two Cultures rife. Gove doesn't know, and @EdBallsMP seem proud of not knowing basic science http://bit.ly/j1tA9 (via @libcon)

  7. Sam Knight

    This is well worth watching. Balls vs Gove http://bit.ly/2o8dEO

  8. Gwilym Morris

    Very childish but very effective ~ RT @samknight: This is well worth watching. Balls vs Gove http://bit.ly/2o8dEO

  9. Dave Clements

    RT @AlexConnor: Two Cultures rife. Gove doesn't know, and @EdBallsMP doesn't care about basic science http://bit.ly/j1tA9 (via @libcon)

  10. Tweets that mention Liberal Conspiracy » Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liberal Conspiracy, InfoFeeder. InfoFeeder said: Liberal Conspiracy » Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool: About the author: Chris is a regular contributor to Li http://url4.eu/nCnU […]

  11. Andy Burn

    RT @libcon » Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool http://bit.ly/4nCyJa

  12. Steven Gabb

    Dumbing Down? http://bit.ly/Nv7ee

  13. andrew

    Liberal Conspiracy » Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool: This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liberal.. http://bit.ly/145LtN

  14. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by libcon: :: Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool http://bit.ly/j1tA9

  15. Ruth O'Hare

    RT @libcon » Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool http://bit.ly/4nCyJa <- It's Ed 'atom' Balls who looked like a fool Can't he READ?

  16. Liberal Conspiracy

    If you enjoyed @tom_watson laying into Gove, see this from 2009 when @edballsmp made him look foolish too: http://bit.ly/2o8dEO

  17. yorkierosie

    RT @libcon: If you enjoyed @tom_watson laying into Gove, see this from 2009 when @edballsmp made him look foolish too: http://bit.ly/2o8dEO

  18. Political Scrapbook

    RT @libcon: If you enjoyed @tom_watson laying into Gove, see this from 2009 when @edballsmp made him look foolish too: http://bit.ly/2o8dEO

  19. John Wadsworth

    RT @psbook: RT @libcon: If you enjoyed @tom_watson laying into Gove, see this from 2009 when @edballsmp made him look foolish too: http://bit.ly/2o8dEO

  20. Aaron Kiely

    RT @libcon: If you enjoyed @tom_watson laying into Gove, see this from 2009 when @edballsmp made him look foolish too: http://bit.ly/2o8dEO

  21. sunny hundal

    FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garydunion)

  22. ?ø???? ??

    RT @sunny_hundal: FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garyd …

  23. Kayleigh Donaldson

    RT @sunny_hundal: FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garyd …

  24. Natalie Dzerins

    RT @sunny_hundal POW!: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garydunion)

  25. Vic.

    RT @sunny_hundal: FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garyd …

  26. Richard Ackland

    Oh dear Mr Gove…. A nice little flashback. http://t.co/uuS1HpR

  27. Chris Roberts

    RT @sunny_hundal: FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garyd …

  28. Ed Gerstner

    RT @sunny_hundal: FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garyd …

  29. Pelicanhead

    This is why I love Ed Balls. Can't wait for him to do this to Osborne: http://tinyurl.com/6z5374l

  30. DarkestAngel

    RT @sunny_hundal: FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garyd …

  31. Roxanne Ellis

    RT @sunny_hundal: FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garyd …

  32. TeresaMary

    RT @sunny_hundal: FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garyd …

  33. stephen

    RT @sunny_hundal: FLASHBACK: The time @edballsmp made Michael Gove look like a fool over GCSE questions http://bit.ly/fnOidL (via @garyd …

  34. Andrew Steele

    Both Ed Balls and @libcon come out of this looking like fools. http://bit.ly/edAVzI Rote learning and arithmetic are hard now?

  35. Rocky Hamster

    RT @libcon: Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool http://bit.ly/gjgCh0

  36. sunny hundal

    @DigitalPolitico @LouiseMensch you mean the same Michael Gove who didn't know answer to GCSE questions? 😉 http://t.co/EiymIm4f

  37. Chris Horner

    Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/7gbtSkLJ #gove #GCSE #balls

  38. Chris Horner

    Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/7gbtSkLJ #Goveisapratt

  39. Pia Khan

    Watch: Ed Balls makes Gove look like a fool | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/7gbtSkLJ #Goveisapratt

  40. Use Mousse

    Boo-yah! Watch:Ed Balls make Michael Gove look like an absolute fool, again | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/MPnZTpr4 #Goveisanidiot

  41. Matthew Alton

    @JamezWaterhouse not the daily mail then? http://t.co/BXXaWeOa





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.