Rejection of the Opportunity Matthew Effect

Alex Quigley’s (@HuntingEnglish) recent post “The Ofsted Matthew Effect” got me thinking. His premise is fairly uncontroversial, I think: that ‘poor’ intakes result in poor student performance, which results in Required Improvement from Ofsted, which makes things much, much worse (because of the short-termism required to attempt to address Ofsted concerns). And eventually this leads to academisation. He makes the additional point that being under the Ofsted improvement cosh doesn’t encourage staff retention or help staff recruitment, either.

A teacher working in such a school is unlikely to be seen as being as effective as they would doing exactly the same in a school not under such pressures. So, teachers (and possibly Head Teachers) find themselves plunged into a downward spiral of pain because the intake is poor (something that they have no control over). So, how have we got here?

I think we may be here because Government (and Society) doesn’t accept the inevitability of the Matthew Effect when applied to Opportunity. This is clearly wider than just education, having a strong element of social justice. But there is also a wide spread view that education can be used to bring about long term changes in society, and is more directly under Government’s control. Education is an area where Government can make sure it is seen to be doing something. 

The main problem is that no-one has arrived at a way (or series of ways) of doing education that will definitely lead to equality of opportunity. From assessment to curriculum, the jury is not so much still out, but hasn’t even been assembled yet, because understanding of these things is still inadequate. And without a credible method to measure attainment and progress how can a school’s performance be evaluated?

Society, Government and Ofsted want quick fixes. There are no quick fixes. We need to understand what is really going on, and what the solutions really are, before we can implement meaningful changes for which schools and staff can rightly be held accountable for. Otherwise we are only applying short-termism Disney sticking plasters. As Alex says, we definitely “need to recognise the obvious inequality that is the “Ofsted Matthew Effect” and start working on a better solution.”

4 thoughts on “Rejection of the Opportunity Matthew Effect

  1. julietgreen

    We need a credible method of measuring attainment – yes. That would be the ‘how’. The ‘what’ also needs to be agreed and it isn’t. I don’t just mean the content of the curriculum – I mean the understanding of what schools should be doing for pupils, students and society. For some, it’s all about the potential for economic ‘success’, but that’s contentious, given the rich, richer, poor, poorer model. To what extent can the poor engage with the economic success envisioned by the rich – is it to contribute to it or to benefit from it? Do the rich really have any incentive to see the poor get richer? I think that government and society DO tacitly and sometimes openly, accept the Matthew Effect with regards to opportunity, whilst giving no more than lip service to social justice. We do, after all, have a disproportionate number of Old Etonians in high positions. We could measure education in other ways, though. I was instilled with the idea that it was something about having the tools to make considered choices based on a broad knowledge base and an understanding of situations and evidence. I’m not sure schools are currently involved in that process. I’m fairly certain it doesn’t form part of any accountability measure.

    1. chemistrypoet Post author

      Yes. You’ve moved the discussion on to what is education really for? Without agreeing that how is it possible to assess schools?

      I also agree that sometimes the Government only pays lip service to equality of opportunity. My reading of this recently is that Gove really did want to address opportunity. But I could be wrong. I also suspect that education can’t fix this….opportunity tends to be determined by social context…hence, the elite have huge advantages that are difficult to overcome, even through education. However, I would like to see education reformed to the point that it can do the most it possibly can do to address equality of education (whatever that might look like).

  2. julietgreen

    It makes me think of discrete cycles, each only feeding back into itself what it produces. I’m not sure, from what I’ve heard and read, that the English are ready to dismantle those and mix it up. Was this attempted in the ‘comprehensives’? These now seem much maligned. Perhaps Gove’s tweaking of the system was genuinely motivated, but as you point out, the social context remains the same, or worse, becomes increasingly segregated. It’s ironic, because we have access to information at an unprecedented level but this seems not to impact on the disparity or on general levels of education. I share your vision of reform.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s