A fiasco, yes, but we must curb ‘inflation’

Warr Zone with Simon Warr.

THERE are many pupils disappointed that their anticipated C grade in this summer’s English GCSE examination came out as a D. This has arisen because the exam boards (why on earth do we have more than one?) have made efforts to halt the annual rise in results, which has gone on for the past 24 years, i.e. since the GCSE exam replaced the O-level in 1988. As a result of this tweaking of the grade boundaries, pupils who took a similar English exam in January secured a C grade for scoring the same mark as those who, this summer, were awarded only a D.

There has been an outcry. Typical of the emotional reaction was a deputy head from Surrey who wrote to a newspaper, claiming the powers-that-be have “not moved the goalposts but demolished them and sold off the playing fields and left the dreams of these youngsters in tatters”. (I would suggest a rather exaggerated summarisation of the situation).

Not to miss an opportunity to attack Michael Gove and the “heartless, brutal” Conservative Party he represents, Stephen Twigg, Shadow Education spokesman, stated: “There needs to be an inquiry in order to restore confidence in the system.”

He’s right about the lack of confidence, at least. Confidence was lost years ago because, as GCSE grades have risen inexorably year on year during the past quarter of a century, according to the Programme for International Assessment, literacy in the UK has fallen from a position of 7th in the late 1990s to 25th now. In maths we have dropped from 8th to 28th and science has seen a fall from 4th to 16th. This seems to paint a completely different picture from the one our ever-improving exam results suggest.

Every teacher who taught the former “Ordinary Level” course will tell you that the number of pupils attaining the top three grades rose sharply with the inception of the GCSE exam and this rise has continued.

I don’t remember a fuss being created by pupils who worked their proverbial socks off in an attempt to secure a pass grade at O-level, only to end up with a D – and then watch their successors picking up pass grades for, arguably, work of an inferior standard.

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Indeed, in order to achieve an A grade in the former system you not only had to work very hard, you also had to have been blessed with a lot of innate talent in that particular subject. Shouldn’t these be the criteria for anyone achieving a top grade? Isn’t this the information prospective employers need?

Nobody wants any child who has been given the firm impression they are going to secure a pass to be ultimately disappointed, and I hope the present fiasco is sorted out, but, on the wider issue of preposterous year on year “improvement”, it is the bounden duty of those in charge to do all in their power to restore common sense and inject confidence back into our public examinations system by putting an end to automatic grade inflation.