Thursday, August 14, 2008

A levels: Easier exams and harder-working students

A year ago I wrote about the "annual festival of concern about exam results":

One side says they are examinations are getting easier: the other says that students are working harder than ever before.

I have come to the conclusion that both sides are right.

At the time I wrote this I felt rather daring, but I did say:
My impression is that, while for years liberals and the left have hotly denied that exams have been getting easier, it will soon be widely accepted that they are. (It is remarkably how quickly the unthinkable can become the new conventional wisdom.)
It seems I was right. This morning's Guardian has a question and answer piece on the A level results by Polly Curtis which takes just this line. It begins:

Have A-levels got easier?

Research by Durham University suggests that most subjects have got two grades easier over the past two decades - this means an A is the new C grade. The same research revealed marked differences between subjects.

You would not have found that in the Guardian even a year ago.

The article also quotes Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham. He says:
"From the point of view of pupils the exams are harder because they are more competitive. It's not enough to get a pass or a C. You need an A or three As to get into the top university."
Francis Gilbert's piece on his experience of teaching English is also worth reading:

In my quest for good exam grades I encourage pupils to slap down the material that will enable them to meet the assessment objective rather than painstakingly help them craft essays – like I used to.

Since teachers are now judged solely on results by their students, parents and line managers, and their pay is dependent upon this, they would be foolish to teach like they used to.

The net result is that exam grades have risen, but standards have declined.


Anonymous said...

Yes that's all very well, but where's the photo of comely young ladies getting their results?

Jonathan Calder said...

Follow the link to last year's post!