16 August 2007

On The A-level Results

This is my take on the A-level results, cross-posted on The ThunderDragon.

The A-level results are again the Best Year Ever (Until Next Year), with more than 25% of the grades given being As. There is no doubt that those who got As worked hard for them, but when the number of top grades is at 25.3%, there is no doubt that something is wrong somewhere. When this is broken down into subject, there is a surprising development - 43.7% of maths A-levels given an A grade, compared with 14% of those in media studies. So media studies isn't the nice easy Mickey Mouse course - instead, maths is, it would appear. However, that 96.9% got a passing grade isn't a bad thing at all. The only issue I have is with the number of top grades.

To say that the exams were easier is a bit of a cop out. I doubt that the level of the questions in the exams have changed all that much, but what is far more likely to have changed is the marking schemes. Unlike the "back in my day" brigade [who used to have have to walk five miles to school each day, rain or shine, and it was up-hill both ways] who claim that A-levels are easier because they had "proper exams" rather than modules and coursework. But all those co-called "proper exams" ever did was mean that you crammed to pass them and then soon forgot everything again. Modules and coursework are more work but stretched out over a longer period of time, so you actually have to learn the subject, not just cram for the exam - the exam on which the last two years of your life, and your future, hung. The different system, in itself, does not and cannot account for the huge grade increases.

A-level grades have been increasing for the last 25 years. This does not mean that the youth of today are more intelligent than yesteryears, but neither does it rule that out. Even so, to claim that increased intelligence of youths is the prime or only reason for this is patently absurd. Certainly part of the increases can be put down to an improvement in teaching methods, and part of it could be explained away by an estimated increase in intelligence - but that more than a quarter of all grades is an A can mean nothing other than something is wrong with the system.

The students that have taken the exams have tried their best, like generations have before them, and they should be commended for it. It is the government and the examination boards who have let them down by quite obviously fiddling with the figures somewhere along the line. Either they mark them easier or they have lowered the grade thresholds. None of this can be blamed on the students who have simply done their best to get their qualifications.

What can or should be done about it? First of all, instead of giving universities just the grades, they should be given the full score sheet - this will allow them to actively select the best. The idea of adding an A* grade to the A-levels is necessary - to shift the grades in any other way would do nothing more than hurt the students who are yet to come.

The problem with the issue over A-levels is that people see high levels of As and think "oh, they must be easy if so many are getting As!" - but they're wrong. They're not easy. I would doubt that they are any easier than they ever were. The results may appear high to us, but that is not because the exams themselves are necessarily easier, but because the government has moved the goal posts.

The ThunderDragon

13 August 2007

Some mistake, surely?

It appears the government needs to show a little more consistency about the ages at which young people are to be regarded as having sufficient maturity to make important decisions.

On the one hand, those aged 17 are considered by our education ministry (the newly-styled "Department for Children, Schools and Families") as being too young to decide whether or not to continue in full-time education.

On the other hand, 16-year-olds are apparently considered old enough to act as police officers, since two of them have just been appointed to this role by Thames Valley Police. (Source: Daily Mail)

9 August 2007

More Common Sense

Somewhat less surprised to see an excellent article on Conservative Home (hat-tip to Tony), from one of the Tory Party's more appealing Parliamentary Candidates, Louise Bagshawe. As before, a snippet to encourage you to read the whole thing:

Let’s review, then, as we used to do at the end of my German lessons.

a) Examination grades have been inflated
b) Basic subjects required for an all-round education, such as history and languages, are being dropped
c) The syllabus that remains has been dumbed down

And, worst of all,

d) even with these easier standards, 4 out of 10 11 year olds do not have the basics of literacy and numeracy.

Is this an accident? Or is it due to Labour pushing a stale ideology that puts (discredited) theories ahead of children and their needs?

And they still want to force our children to spend another 2 years suffering this nonsense?

Letter on way to Mr Willetts.


Common Sense in the Indy?

To my utter astonishment, the employers of the ridiculous Johann Hari yesterday published a spectacularly sensible piece on the current state of British education. Deborah Orr's article can be found here.

I will give you her final paragraph as a taster but, really, read the whole thing:

It is difficult to over-stress just what a corrosive effect this long-running stand-off has had, chiefly on children's own feelings about education. It is widely acknowledged that the most terrifying malaise in our school is a pervasive anti-education attitude among pupils. Being a "nerd" is every bit as suspect as being "special needs". Average is what pupils aim for, and no wonder. It is what they are taught is expected of them. It is the benchmark against which they are measured and tested, from the start, at every level.
And they want to force our kids to spend another 2 years suffering this nonsense?


3 August 2007

The problem with schooling

OK, your humble Devil is finally writing something for this fine site; by why has he failed to do so before? Well, it's relatively simple really: being privately educated at a well-known British public school, it was taken for granted that I would stay at school until 18 and, really, I didn't fret about it.

As it happens, I am not suited to structured learning, becoming swiftly bored with learning things that I have no interest in. I have learnt more of history, economics, politics and sociology since I started blogging than I ever did at school. To be sure, my science grounding is far superior to that of most people, and I have found both French to be a boon (although Latin has been far more useful over a wider scope).

As for maths, well, I can obviously add, subtract, multiply and do basic division (I have nothing close to my brother's almost terrifying facility for nunmbers), but most people should be able to pick up these skills by osmosis. What else has been useful? Well, in my political warblings, it has been useful to understand the difference between mean and median. Bizarrely, the only things that I have used are quadratic equations (in estimating box-office returns for the forty or show amateur theatre shows that I have produced) and trigonometry (Desktop Publishing programmes aren't very well set up for dealing with triangular shapes).

However, what has always set me in good stead was the fact that I was always taught the underlying principles that governed the facts that we were taught. This is particularly important as it allows one to continue learning in later life; without being taught the underpinnings of the ideas, theories and facts that one learns, one can never extrapolate into unknown areas.

This is what is so very dangerous about the trend in recent years of teaching to the test: not only are the products of our education system pig-ignorant, able only to answer the woolly questions asked in our increasingly debased exams, but they are then unable to understand the principles that form the basis of the world around them. This means that the bar to further learning is set exceptionally, and sometimes unconquerably, high.

The politicians, of course, do not care; they have deliberately skewed the quality of the education system to be judged solely on exam grades, simply because these are easily manipulated. The increasing cries of protests about the educational standards of those reaching university has been easily quelled by changing the system of university funding; the complaints from the business leaders about the low educational standards of those with degrees is easily swept under the carpet as the whining of greedy men desperate for the state to subsidise their businesses.

But the end result is a nation of sorely under-educated people being taught, in the main, by equally under-educated teachers. It would be, for instance, almost impossible to return to teaching English grammar in schools because the vast majority of teachers (in the state sector at least) do not understand the principles themselves.

The corruption of our education system has already had severe repercussions and more will follow.

What has this to do with the so-called "educational conscription"? Why on earth shouldn't people be forced to be in education until the age of 18 if we decree that they must already be so until 16?

Well, for a start, it is a massive waste of time. Last year, about 147,000 pupils failed to get any GCSEs higher than a grade D. This included 28,000—almost one in 20—who failed to gain a qualification of any kind. It is quite obvious to anyone who has taken the ridiculously easy GCSEs that attempting to force these people into an A Level qualification, debased though they also are, is totally pointless; they may as well go to work.

However, it also means that those slower developers, who may be uninterested in learning whilst young, find it very difficult to return to any kind of education. Further, because all education is now geared merely to passing an exam rather than actually gaining knowledge, the qualifications that may be gained are in themselves utterly pointless. Not to mention, of course, that by the time that any 16 year old drop-out may wish to return, the financial bar may well be too high.

Quite apart from the massive overhaul that is required, what we should allow is a flexibility in education. For sure, teach people up to 18: we do this anyway. However, we should allow people who drop out at 16 to rejoin the education system if they desire to do so (something that UKIP has proposed in its Education Policy).

But we should not force people to cut their earnings by compelling them to remain in an education system that does not benefit them. The earning of knowledge is both important and personally gratifying, but making people stay within a system wherein this does not happen is not only pointless but wrong: what our system should be doing is to teach people the underpinnings of the world around them, so that they may continue to live and learn at their own pace.

Anything else is failure.