Just read the table below and wonder at how this is going to pan out. Everybody will be totally confused from students through to employers and universities. Why can’t the government just admit that terrible mistakes have been made and rectify them. A* always was an idiotic idea – basically an admission that exams are too easy. And exams ARE too easy. Does anyone at the D of E understand what the terms ‘Examination’ and ‘Testing’ literally mean? Go back to A-E grades that everybody understands and make the exams hard. Surprise, surprise, only the top students will get top marks.
“The new approach will also mean:
Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a Grade 7 or above as currently achieve an A and A*
For each examination, the top 20% of those who get Grade 7 or above will get a Grade 9
The bottom of Grade 1 will be aligned with the bottom of Grade G”
We are being left behind by the rest of the world because our compulsory secondary education system is confused, complicated and not testing enough.
Standards have been dropping year upon year for decades, reflected in higher and higher ‘pass’ rates and a greater quantity of ‘top’ marks. Look at the attached Graph. O Level & GCSE Achievement 1953 -2009
(Source: House of Commons Library – Standard Note SN/SG/4252 – Social & General Statistics)
This lowering of standards has fed right through to Higher Education. Top Universities are finding that freshers do not possess the knowledge which their high marks should reflect. Mathematically heavy subjects are particularly badly effected. Engineering Undergraduates at top Universities often have to have extra lessons in Mathematics because their assumed and necessary knowledge of Mathematics is just not there.
This is because we have dumbed down our examinations.
There needs to be a revolution in the examination system and it needs to happen NOW.
Through Kensington & Chelsea Tutors I come across students from all over the world. I have been consistently shocked by how we are being left behind by other nations, particularly in the 11 – 16 age range. The difference is particularly noticable in Mathematics and Science where students abroad are tackling far more testing material than students of the same age in the UK.
Unless this changes the future looks bleak; we need reform to keep the UK competitive.
Surely this is a sensible policy? By reducing standards and allowing almost everybody to ‘pass’ their exams the government has entered into a world where the difference between students is being masked. Not everybody is an academic and that doesn’t matter. Every pupil should be given an equal chance. Gathering people of similar abilities together is surely going to make teaching easier and more efficient. It also introduces (DARE I say it) competition; something that we are surrounded by every day of our lives. Let’s not pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s hard enough taking my 8 year old son to football tournaments where everybody ‘takes part’ but nobody wins. God forbid that somebody should lose!?
Imagine if we had just one body setting examinations for 16 year olds in the UK. The government is constantly looking for ways to save money; printing costs alone would save millions. I don’t think parents and the public in general have any idea of the ludicrous work load put upon Examination Officers these days. At many schools it is a full time job! At many private schools children in the same class will be sitting different exams for the same qualification! Mistakes are often made because of the complexity of so many different papers for the same subjects. Results comparisons are meaningless and standardisation is virtually impossible.
We need ONE body setting the examinations for core subjects at 16 and EVERYBODY should sit identical examinations for each subject. This would save money, raise standards, avoid errors and make statistical comparison of results have some meaning.
Does the government just trawl through statistics in an effort to find a way to lower standards through budget cuts? How can anybody seriously put forward the point of view that larger class sizes will not effect standards? Why can’t the government focus on improvement rather than cost cutting?
It’s a big question with many answers; often conflicting. I have been involved in education professionally for nearly 20 years, I am state educated but have had intimate ties with private education throughout that time.
The answer to the question is enormously affected by demographics. Most privately educated children will aspire (or at least their parents will) to A Levels, University and a career to follow. This will also be the case with many state educated pupils. However, (mainly) within the state sector there will also always be enormous quantities of students for whom school is just compulsory. They have to go and they look forward to leaving; often with few prospects and very little idea of what to do next.
It is these students that the system lets down the most.
If you leave school at 16 what should you know? Most people will agree that a basic knowledge of English and Maths (numeracy and literacy if you prefer) is a given – but what else?
In our heavily politicised system there is far too much emphasis on passing (so that the government can say what a good job they’re doing) and far too little on content.
To take one example it is possible for two students to both get an A* (A* being of course a nonsense concept in its own right) at GCSE without having done a single question in common. How can we possibly compare pier groups in this way? With multiple Examination Boards the statistics are meaningless. With this system there is also no standardisation of content excepting broad National Curriculum guidelines.
We need to sweep away the nonsense of the multiple exam board system, set up panels consisting of a mixture of academics and representatives from industry to decide exactly what people ought to know at 16 for each subject. There should be a single syllabus for each subject and everybody should sit the same examination.
Beyond 16 is the time to academically diversify, compulsory education should give everybody a solid grounding; even if they never read another word in their lives. Telling them they’ve ‘passed’ a meaningless exam helps nobody.
Here’s my take on a BBC education news story concerning an educational charity that says the culture of coaching pupils for 11-plus exams must end so poor bright children are not excluded from grammar schools.
This is cold, hard economics. The Sutton Trust’s opinion on 11+ preparation is absolutely sound; it is unfair. The issue here runs far deeper into society as a whole, right to the roots of our nation. If we are an open, democratic, free market economy should we subsidise tuition for those from poorer backgrounds or should we look deeper and focus on how we can make those families less poor?
There are major issues here. Who do you subsidise? Who will pay for this tuition at the back end of a double dip recession?
According to the BBC, ‘the report suggests giving priority to poor, bright pupils who meet certain entrance requirements and are eligible for the pupil premium because their families have been in receipt of certain benefits in the previous few years.’ Will not people argue that this unfair to families who work very hard to scrape the money together to provide tuition for their children to help them gain grammar school places? Could this not be a disincentive to families on benefits to find work and leave the grasp of the benefits system?
I continue to believe that the only solution to these problems is root and branch reform of the UK Education system as a whole. Qualified teachers only, no Free Schools, abolition of the multiple examination board system, back to challenging examinations at 16 with the same exams sat by all, introduction of vocational qualifications at school in tandem with compulsory education for 14 – 16 year olds, decent and fair pay for teachers, slashing of red tape; the list goes on.
With better education for all the middle class scrum for grammar school places would be reversed.
Grade prediction is actually very difficult to do accurately. It is relatively easy to band a student within a few grades but very difficult to be precise unless they are at the extremes of ability. With the enormous pressure of league tables it is no wonder that there is a tendency for predicting higher grades. Independent Schools, who come off best in this study, often have less to prove. I don’t think we should be too critical – it is an inexact science and there are various factors which can effect the end result, not least examination nerves.
Here’s my thoughts on a recent BBC education news story about the growth of private tuition for 11+ / grammar school entry exams….
This reflects the trend we have seen here at Kensington and Chelsea Tutors. Although in the past eleven years we have consistently provided tutors not only for grammar schools but also for selective private and state schools, in the past five years or so there has been a marked increase. I think this is partly because tutoring has moved from being a secret weapon to a mainstream activity. Tutors are out there and parents are increasingly using them to boost students’ prospects at all levels.
It defeats me why Barry Sindall, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association (GHSA) says that, “The issue for GSHA is not how do you stop coaching but rather how do you stop coaching making an impact.”
Coaching of any kind is always going to have an impact and that surely is a good thing. Don’t sports professionals train hard to make themselves more proficient in their fields? We (thankfully) live an an open democracy and have freedom of choice – if tutors are out there, why not use them?
Tutoring seems to get criticised almost daily and generally the thrust is one of elitism. The increasingly expensive and exclusive private school system in this country, from Eton on down, seems to be conveniently glossed over. At least tutoring allows help to be given to students whose parents’ wildest dreams don’t even feature the cheapest private schools.
If the argument is that this is unfair then it is something the government needs to look at.