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Matthew Taylor has blogged an open letter to Michael Gove, which has given rise to some really interesting discussion of the notion of what we mean by raising or lowering the bar in education.

Matthew Taylor has blogged an open letter to Michael Gove, which has given rise to some really interesting discussion of the notion of what we mean by raising or lowering the bar in education.

I think we need to be clear about what we mean by 'bar' when we talk about raising it or lowering it - do we mean bar to participation (or further post-compulsory participation) in education, bar to some kind of educational success during compulsory schooling, or bar to what we consider excellence/high achievement in the traditional sense (academia, the arts, sport)?

The debate on standards gets very murky partly because these definitions of ‘bar’ are confused.

If we are talking about participation in compulsory schooling then the argument that setting the bar high raises standards across the board rests on an assumption that when told they're not good enough, children will simply work harder to be good enough, rather than disengage. I'm not sure that experience of lower achieving children in schools will bear this out (note statistics on the correlation between school exclusions and learning difficulties). Raising the bar to participation in education is by definition exclusionary and supports the notion that only a select few should be allowed access to the benefits of further or higher education – or even GCSEs.

If we are talking about educational success for every child in school then there is a problem that those who think that all children deserve to have their interests served by schools, and to be encouraged and supported to be as good as they can be at whatever it is that they're good at are accused of lowering the 'bar'. The assumption being that valuing the abilities of every child lowers expectations so achievement and excellence and standards are not encouraged.

I don't believe that this is true. I think that excellence and achievement and standards are lower than they could be because the interests and talents of so many children are not being developed to their full because those children are not up to the expected narrowly defined bar in certain areas of learning defined by government as important for the economy and our culture.

Finally, if we are talking about the bar being set at a level where universities, employers and parents can tell who the 'achievers' are, and differentiate them from the rest then do we want this to be *the* bar? Can it not just be *a* bar for *a* route to success and a fulfilled and useful life? Would it being *the* bar not imply (as it has done in the past) that some have 'made it', are a 'success' and some haven't? Should school these days really be about separating the wheat from the chaff as in the old days, or should it be about supporting every child to fulfil their positive potential? I would be very surprised if most of those who advocate having just one bar thus defined would also accept the view of society that emerges as a consequence of doing so: one of winners and losers, elites and masses, powerful and powerless.

There has to be a question about what the bar represents (being good at what?) and whether we need one at all if every child is being encouraged to succeed at the top of their ability to do so. Perhaps what we in fact need is a more differentiated measure and to move away from a linear and universal notion of standards, bars and achievement.

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