Harry

Especially For Young Women

 
   

18/8/00

UK EXAMS GET EASIER AND EASIER

 

Note: This piece was written over ten years ago, but it is still largely applicable today, as western governments continue to hoodwink the people into thinking that their educational services are succeeding. By and large, however, they are not. Furthermore, the situation for boys across the western world is worsening by the year thanks to educational policies that have been purposely designed to discriminate against boys; e.g. see Well Done the Girls?)

Despite the continuing denials from certain teaching unions, Examining Boards and government, that exams have not been getting any easier, take it from someone who has been in the education business for 20 years, THEY HAVE, and they have been getting easier for at least the past 15 years.

In primary schools, performance standards kept plummeting until the Tories introduced the school 'league tables' in the 1990's. This had the effect of alerting teachers to the necessity of achieving higher academic standards or face the music from any adverse publicity generated by doing poorly in the league tables compared to other schools. The result was that standards were stopped from dropping further, but there was no really significant improvement.

Standards did rise, however, with the introduction of the SATS and with the enforcement of the literacy and numeracy hours. Nevertheless, they haven't risen much.

With regard to the GCSE exams for 16 year olds and the A'levels for 18 year olds, EVERY experienced teacher whom I have spoken to admits that these exams have become easier in the last 10 years, and this explains the rising number of passes and the higher grades now being obtained both at GCSE and at A'level. These same teachers, however, also state that they would never openly admit to these facts in public.

The lower exam standards certainly make it much easier for the teaching profession to claim that it is achieving its aims - though this is somewhat offset by the extra difficulties involved in trying to teach ever-more disruptive, increasingly uninterested pupils - with matters made even worse by the paucity of sanctions that are available with which to deal with them, and by the inability and/or unwillingness of so many parents to bring up their children properly.

The schools and teaching unions always deny publicly that exams are easier because they do not want to be seen to be producing an inferior 'product'. They would prefer us to believe that teachers are actually achieving more rather than admit to the fact that the exams are easier.

Examining Boards also deny that they have made their exams easier, but they also have an incentive for covering up the truth. They have to compete with each other! They sell their syllabuses and marking services to the schools just as any other business sells its wares. And schools are bound to choose those Examining Boards which give their pupils the best results. Who wouldn't? The net effect, however, is to drive down the standards as each Examining Board wants to maximise the number of pupils who take their exams. By lowering the standards and making life easier for the pupils and their teachers, the more the schools choose their services.

Governments of all colours, of course, would never want to be seen to have presided over falling standards. They would all prefer to boast about the increasing numbers of students achieving more during their period of office. Allowing exams to become easier is one very cheap way of accomplishing this. But, of course, this is nothing more than a confidence trick.

In short, everyone in the education business has a vested interest in lying about the declining standards. And they would much prefer to be seen as having produced a better product by using as evidence the fact that more pupils are passing the exams, and with higher grades.

But it really is a sham, and the country does not benefit at all from this. The exams are simply getting easier.

If the younger generations are to support themselves and the ageing population in an adequate manner, then they need to be trained and educated to the best standards possible. This is important for all of us. And no-one benefits by ignoring the decline in our educational standards - except those in the education business.

Here's Judith O'Reilly in The Sunday Times (6/8/00) ...

Evidence that examination grades are being devalued and made easier to achieve has been uncovered in one of Britain's biggest studies into standards. The research, which showed that candidates of similar ability are getting A-level results as much as a grade better than they would have done three years ago, casts doubt on the government's claim to be improving standards. 

The study, based on independent tests of pupils' ability, questionnaires from 900 schools and a vast database of exam results, has been conducted by Carol Fitz-Gibbon, of Durham University, who advises the government's curriculum watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).

Fitz-Gibbon, Professor of Education at Durham, claims standards in A-levels and GCSEs have been "adjusted downwards" and raises concerns that standards in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds may have been "lowered". 

"It seems clear in the external examinations at age 16 and 18 that there has been a tendency to easier grades being available, particularly in mathematics and the sciences," she said. 

In her study, Fitz-Gibbon compared the A-level performance of two sets of pupils who sat independent tests in 1996 and 1999 to assess their intellectual ability. She found that pupils who scored 60% in the test in 1996 got, on average, between a C and a D in A-level applied mechanics, but in 1999 those with the same score got on average between a B and a C.

(So, this change is evident over a recent period of just three years. If she had looked at the change over the past 15 years my belief is that the public would be genuinely very shocked.) 

In French and geography, students of the same general ability did better by about a grade in 1998 compared with 10 years earlier. In none of the 83 A-level subjects the researchers investigated was there any evidence that the grades became more difficult to attain. 

Fitz-Gibbon, whose research will be published next month in a book, rejects suggestions that the improvement in A-level performance can be attributed entirely to extra effort by candidates. Confidential questionnaires sent out to "hundreds of thousands" of pupils suggested they were not working harder. In fact, A-level students were being set less homework. 

The conclusions, she says, are supported by university lecturers who claim students do not know as much as predecessors did about subjects such a maths and chemistry. 

... The study is also critical of standards in 11-year-old tests. In 1995, in English, 48% of children reached the pass mark but by last year, 70% had reached the required level. In 1995, in maths, only 44% reached the required level compared with 69% last year. This year, one report has already predicted the results will go up to 77% in English and 76% in maths. 

The research attributed some of the increase to "test technique" as well as improving academic performance by preparing children for the tests. However, there was also evidence that markers might be being encouraged to be generous.

And here's Amelia Hill in The Observer (13/8/00)

Children taught at home significantly outperform their contemporaries who go to school, the first comparative study has found. It discovered that home-educated children of working-class parents achieved considerably higher marks in tests than the children of professional, middle-class parents and that gender differences in exam results disappear among home-taught children. 

The study, to be published by the University of Durham in the autumn, will support a call for the Government to introduce legislation to help the growing army of parents who are choosing to remove their children from schools. 

The numbers of home-educated children in Britain has grown from practically none 20 years ago to about 150,000 today - around 1 per cent of the school age population. By the end of the decade, the figure is expected to have tripled. 

... 'Home-educated children do better in conventional terms and in every other way too,' said Paula Rothermel, a lecturer in learning in early childhood at the University of Durham, who spent three years conducting the survey. 

She said: 'This study is the first evidence we have proving that home education is a huge benefit to large numbers of children. Society just assumes that school is best but because there have never been any comparative studies before this one, the assumption is baseless.' 

Rothermel questioned 100 home-educating families chosen randomly across the UK, conducting face-to-face interviews and detailed appraisals of their children's academic progress, in line with recognised Government tests. She found that 65 per cent of home-educated children scored more than 75 per cent in a general mathematics and literacy test, compared to a national figure of only 51 per cent. 

The average national score for school-educated pupils in the same test was 45 per cent, while that of the home-educated children was 81 per cent. 

... Rothermel found that the children of working-class, poorly-educated parents significantly outperformed their middle-class contemporaries. 

(This is truly astonishing and a serious indictment of our schools.)

While the five- to six-year old children of professional parents scored only 55.2 per cent in the test, children far lower down the social scale scored 71 per cent.

And here's John Clare in The Daily Telegraph (15/6/00)

Half the adults in Britain have such poor levels of literacy and numeracy that they cannot cope with the demands of everyday life and work in a complex, advanced society, according to a study published yesterday. 

Only four of the 29 countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that took part in the survey had a lower average literacy score than Britain. They were Ireland, Hungary, Poland and Portugal. 

The most literate countries were Denmark, Finland, Germany, Holland, Norway and Sweden. 

In basic numeracy, only Ireland, Poland and Portugal scored lower than Britain. 

The survey put Sweden top and Chile at the bottom in three literacy categories - prose, document and quantitative. Britain was ranked in the bottom half in each category. 

Based on tests administered to representative samples of adults aged 16 to 65 in each country, it divided literacy and numeracy skills into five levels. Those scoring below level three could not say which of four film reviews was the least favourable; work out from a bicycle owner's manual how to ensure the seat was in the proper position; or convert a recipe for four servings into one for six. They were considered incapable of coping with the demands of everyday life and work. 51% of Britons were at this level.

Britain had the largest number of adults who watched television more than two hours a day - 60 per cent - of the 20 countries included in that part of the survey. The report said: "Literacy scores are negatively related to the amount of television people watch."

The poor spelling and grammar of highly-qualified undergraduates has been exposed at a leading university which has compared their command of English with that of its overseas students. Mar 2006

Also see

Well Done the Girls?

 

 



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