I expect this post is not going to be popular with young people who have just had their A Level results, but do stay with me for the rest of this blog because I need to say something about the examination system in England, which I have had some past experience of, having worked in the examinations department of a college.
On my BBC News app, it says A Levels in England have been moving away from coursework and instead are graded on final exams. This is how it used to be when I was at school, but wait a minute… I also read that this year A Level students have been awarded the highest proportion of As and A* grades since 2012 (97.6% was the overall pass rate for all grades), and that the exams’ regulator had promised grade boundaries could be lowered once papers were marked if it transpired that the new exams were tougher than expected.
I don’t have an ‘ology’ so correct me if I’ve missed something here, but I assume the students had been studying the proper course content for 2 years, they knew they’d be tested at the end, and they’d had the chance to take a few mock exams beforehand? What is the point of making the exams tougher if the grade boundaries then get lowered because not enough students achieve top grades? Surely it’s how the subjects are taught and the teachers’ control of the class that should be checked? It’s pointless lowering grades, as very soon you’re back to square one where everybody passes and university clearing houses and prospective employers cannot then root out the wheat from the chaff.
I failed my Biology A Level back in 1976, and so did all my classmates. In modern times this doesn’t seem to happen. School league tables nowadays have a lot to answer for. Parents want to send their child to a school that has good exam results, and so surprise, surprise, no school wants to publish low grades. What’s the solution? It’s obvious! Have another look at the end of paragraph 2…
When I worked at a college for 16 – 19 year olds back in 1999, one of my jobs was to give out exam papers to the students and gather up the completed scripts and send them off in the post for marking. I saw questions on some of those papers that a 5 year old could have answered (‘What do you keep in your kitchen cupboards?‘ was one question as I recall – can’t remember what the exam subject was though). I remember mentioning the kitchen cupboard question to the exams manager, who told me in a roundabout way to keep my mouth shut.
No wonder the pass rate was so high and the principal beamed as the press took his photo! When my sons took their GCSE exams back in the late 1990s and came home to tell me about it, even they had to laugh at how easy some of the questions were.
When I left the college I complained to several national newspapers in a whistleblowing letter about education standards. I received replies in the post from a couple of editors saying that they understood my concerns, but they could not print my letter. Others never replied at all. What a bloody joke it all was!
It’s time exams were toughened and grades not lowered to reflect the actual pass rate.