Exam success makes children happy, argues Michael Gove

Michael Gove Michael Gove will back rigorous testing in schools as humans are hard wired to seek out challenges

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Exam success boosts children's happiness and encourages them to learn, according to the education secretary Michael Gove.

In a speech to the Independent Academies Association conference on Wednesday Mr Gove is expected to back rigorous testing in England's schools.

He will say that easy exams are worse than no exams at all.

"Exams matter because motivation matters. Humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges," he will argue.

"Our self-belief grows as we clear challenges we once thought beyond us. If we know tests are rigorous and they require application to pass, then the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavours and deeper learning."

'Pleasurable rush'

In the speech, the minister is expected to refer to the work of the American cognitive scientist Daniel T Willingham whom he cites as one of his biggest influences.

Quoting from Mr Willingham's book Why Students Don't Like School Mr Gove says he agrees that students are motivated to learn if they enjoy "the pleasurable rush that comes from successful thought".

Mr Gove is set to say this is what exam success provides: "There is no feeling of satisfaction as deep or sustained as knowing we have succeeded through hard work at a task which is the upper end, or just beyond, our normal or expected level of competence.

"Exams show those who have not mastered certain skills or absorbed specific knowledge what more they need to practise and which areas they need to work on," Mr Gove will say.

Start Quote

The education secretary needs to stop his obsession with engineering an education system which only the few will navigate”

End Quote Christine Blowe NUT

"For all these reasons, exams pitched at a level which all can easily pass are worse than no exams at all. Unless there is stretch in the specification, and application is required to succeed, there will be no motivation, no satisfaction and no support for those who need it."

He is due to argue that it is vital for children to learn facts and commit them to memory: "Memorising scales or times tables or verse, so that we can play, recall or recite automatically gives us this mental equipment to perform more advanced functions and display greater creativity."

Mr Gove is also set to tell the London conference that "examinations are a key weapon of progressives everywhere", claiming that external tests are fairer than teacher assessment: "I am, as it happens, a huge fan of teacher assessment, properly designed and administered but teacher assessment alone cannot bring the benefits proper external testing can secure."

Mr Gove is also expected to argue that school league tables have helped to overcome prejudice against schools in disadvantaged areas.

"In the past, before the clarifying honesty of league tables, schools were judged on hearsay and prejudice. Schools with challenging intakes in disadvantaged communities were written off as sink schools - but many of them were performing well, better than other schools with more privileged intakes which were coasting."

Commenting on the speech the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers Christine Blower said: "Michael Gove appears to have little grasp of what is already in the curriculum.

"Learning times tables and facts is obviously a part of the school day. The assertion that GCSEs are far too easy will certainly not be recognised by either parents or pupils.

"The education secretary needs to stop his obsession with engineering an education system which only the few will navigate and look at recognising all achievement not just that of his schooldays."

Labour's Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, said: "Michael Gove's exams fiasco mean GCSE students are angry, not happy, because their ambitions have been held back. His old fashioned approach to exams means that students will be unprepared for the rigours of the modern economy."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    'For all these reasons, exams pitched at a level which all can easily pass are worse than no exams at all.' Yep. Everyone passes the current exams and everybody gets top grades. Nice one Gove you clown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    As an apolitical retired teacher of 'the old school'.....(education starts with discipline; either self or imposed) with over 40 yrs in the classroom (not a pen-pushing 'senior manager') and therefore with some experience of what education is about (outstanding according to Ofsted!) what is really needed in this country is for education to be taken out of the political sphere completely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    when you live in a service sector society like we have become putting vast ammounts of money into education is pointless.
    university graduates flipping burgers/ stacking shelves etc makes you wonder on the investment.
    get real we are no longer competetive with the BRICS hence cuts must be made, painfull but true

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    Exams should be designed to challenge everyone, and that includes the brightest. A levels have become so easy that it has become very difficult for academically strong pupils to demonstrate their strengths in a concrete manner. This hits state school students, who won't have as much support in interviews and personal statements, worse. I think the Cambridge Pre-U has the right idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    2 Minutes ago
    The happiest people i know are the least inteligent

    No wonder Mr Gove, Mr Osbourne and Mr Cameron are happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    418.muff Completely fed up with the stupid unfounded comments about teachers. How many schools have you actually been in?
    99.9% of teachers give their lives and time supporting children and parents. That is why we went into teaching in the first place.
    Not to be government puppets getting children through hoops to pass useless exams.
    Yes, exam euphoria lasts minutes. Gove is in charge? HELP!

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    England is ruined 413; how right you are Sir! oh for those days to return!

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    Let us hope that Gove himself might lose his job at the proposed cull and the DFE as he clearly knows nothing at all about education. This is a subject that is far too important to be left to posturing ideologues like Gove.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    414.Herr Kartoffelkopf

    No, we don't like Gove because he is trying to mould the state education system that belongs to all of us, not just the Tories, into something that he thinks used to be successful, based on facile 'analysis' and no evidence whatsoever. As a parent, I completely detest his values and the damage being done to our children by Gove and his ignorant followers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    trouble is, not everyone will pass the exams. I went to a Grammar school, and 25% of us ended up in 5 Sump, the form that wasn't going toi have the exam sucess, and didn't.
    We actually need the rest of us to run the country, sweep the streets, cut hair, etc etc, even if it isn't the jobs the posh boys get.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    I finished my A-levels this year and passing exams was a good feeling, as long as you got the grade you wanted/what was expected of you. Anything less and you would be branded a failure by yourself or in some cases by disappointed teachers or peers. I would say the stress and anxiety leading up to and sitting the exams, along with the wait for results far outweighed any 'happiness' from a grade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    Mr Gave is a clown. There are hundreds of thousands with degree's and good A levels desperate to find work who daily wonder if passing exams has any value or was worth the effort. I would think the frustration of studying and getting a good degree but not being able to put all the knowledge to use probably increases unhappiness and frustration. Government minister? Not a clue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    The happiest people i know are the least inteligent

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    Suprise, suprise, yet another government minister talking through his anal sphincter! the whole system needs a damn good shake-up! proper teachers employed by proper authorities with results marked by proper professional experts in the relative subjects being marked! no more jokers who can barely write their own name & dress like hippies setting the wrong impression!

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    Gove is out of touch with teachers and pupils, he is harking back to outdated ideas, he is dangerous and harmful to the education of our children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    Yes, if kids are too lazy to get themselves rich parents why should they be able to go to university and have a successful career?

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    it's like saying gambling or boxing makes you happy. It doesn't make you too happy if you lose, or fail your exams. Lots of people are better suited to a non penpushing role/career/job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    So the main reasons the 'progressive intellegencia' who haunt these HYS pages have for being against Gove's plans for exams seem to be that he's a baby-eating, granny-murdering Tory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    Grammar Schools are classless. The numbers should be increased and existing ones expanded.

    We should bring back Technical Schools for those that are good with their hands and would excel in the engineering and construction industries.

    OldLabour destroyed a good education system in the 60's and 70's and it has been downhill ever since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    Someday we'll look back on Michael Gove and laugh. Right?

    No, but seriously, this maniac should be stopped.


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