In just a couple days the nation's sixteen year olds will be receiving news of how they have done in their GCSEs and the following week it will be the turn of A-level students. It is traditional, therefore, this time of year to tell all the kids it was much harder in my day and they are, effectively, a bunch of numpties who have been given straight As on a plate. But is that fair? In part, I'm afraid, it seems it is. The numpties part is unfair, granted, but the dumbing down, easy to get an A grade bit is not. From the criticism that flies about, you would get the impression children are getting more stupid, but of course the real problem is the government are dumbing down not the kids.
Wat Tyler at Burning Our Money highlights a study to prove that exams have got steadily easier and easier over the years. The study was done for the Office of National Statistics by Durham University’s curriculum, evaluation and management centre. The study shows that since 1988 grades have got on average two grades less difficult. That is to say, on average, an A grade today is of the equivalent standard a C grade was back in 1988. The study concludes:
"A level grades achieved in 2006 certainly do correspond to a lower level of general academic ability than the same grades would have done in previous years. Whether or not they are better taught makes no difference to this interpretation; the same grade corresponds to a lower level of general ability."
There are clear and obvious signs that the syllabus has been made easier over the years with the convenient outcome being that government can claim to be improving schools standards. The problem being they aren't and in fact are doing great damage. An A in Maths today would only have been of the standard to receive a C or even a D twenty years ago. Other research shows that students of average ability in 1988 gained E grades in geography and biology and Ds in English literature, history and French. In 2005 teenagers of similar ability were awarded C grades in all subjects. I simply do not believe that children are less intelligent today, they are just not been taught as rigorously as they were in the past. This can not be good for anyone other than the Education Secretary.
As if to prove the point, Ed Balls - the Schools Secretary of State - sees the incredible year on year improvements as a result of increased investment in schools. "With sustained improvements in the quality of teaching and increased investment in schools, we should expect exam results to get better," he said. The most blatantly ill founded spin I have heard for a long time. (Not that Labour do spin anymore, of course).