[personal profile] pauln1964
I've thought an awful lot about both the fiasco over GCSE English grades this summer (in sum, it was idiocy to shift the grades) and the announcement this week about replacing GCSE with a new exam.

I'm a product of the old O level and hated it, even though I did fairly well. It's very clear to me, as it doesn't seem to be to Michael Gove, that a three hour memory test at the end of two years' study is not the best way to test pupils' understanding of the concepts they have learnt. It's certainly a very poor way of showing how they are prepared for the demands of work. A lot of my thinking on the matter has been elegantly summed up for me in a letter to the press (I found it in the Guardian) by the former head of the Joint Matriculation Board, who was also the first head of Ofqual, Kathleen Tattersall:

As the former chief executive of the Joint Matriculation Board (GCE O- and A-levels), the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board and AQA (GCSEs and A-levels), and the first chair of Ofqual, I am appalled that we have a secretary of state for education who chooses to turn the clock back to a time when the success of the few was valued against the failure of the many ('Ebacc' to replace GCSE exams, 18 September). No one who is responsible for the education of young people should be proud to introduce a system which will result in a greater number of students leaving school with no qualifications. Education is about encouraging success and the raising of aspirations, not the writing off of a generation, which is what this new, untried, untested policy, based on prejudice and untruths, will bring about.

Mr Gove claims that GCSE has lowered standards. Why? Because more students succeed than was ever the case in O-level, an examination intended for 20% of the population? The real question is why so many students in the past did not succeed. Were they incapable of attaining a qualification, or was the qualification designed in such a way that most students failed? All examination systems are artificial constructs which reflect the values and aspirations of society. In the mid-1980s a thoughtful Conservative secretary of state, Keith Joseph, chose, after long deliberation and consideration of many feasibility studies, to remove the artificial limitations of O-level and introduce a single system of examination at 16+ designed to encourage all students to make the most of their abilities and to examine what the students "know, understand and can do" (DfE 1988). For the first time this country had a qualification which gave credit to students' achievements rather than defining most students as failures. We should be welcoming, not be alarmed by, the rise in the percentage of students gaining grade C (equivalent to the former O-level pass standard) and above.

We are now faced with a situation where Mr Gove is intent on dismantling the system with little evidence of the fall in standards he claims and no consideration of the impact on education generally and more specifically on the students for whom he holds responsibility. Those of us with knowledge and long experience of examination systems here and elsewhere fear that these changes will harm a generation of students and be detrimental to this country.

Date: 2012-09-19 02:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mr-malk.livejournal.com
First of all, let me just say that I agree with you, both that Gove is a snivelling, supercilious pillock (not your exact words, but I'm reading between the lines here), and with the thrust of the article you quote.

That said, it leads me to ponder something:

To what extent should exams be to prove that a person has reached a requisite level of knowledge, ability and understanding in a particular thing, and to what extent should they be for differentiating between different levels of achievement?

You will always get people in whatever field, who are, whether because of intelligence, aptitude, motivation or opportunity, better than others. An employer (or University, etc...) who wants the best and brightest in whatever field matters to them, will want to be able to see who has truly excelled, and who is merely capable.

Exams as differentiators tend to encourage practises like floating pass marks, making it hard to compare the achievements of one year with the next, and mean that x% of people are destined to fail, regardless of how hard everyone works. Conversely, exams as markers of attainment make it harder to differentiate between the best and the rest if standards continue to rise.

So if standards do continue to rise across the board, and we assume that this is a good and desirable thing, it presumably becomes more important for them to act as differentiators, particularly at the top levels. Or would you disagree?

Date: 2012-09-20 07:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] undyingking.livejournal.com
to what extent should they be for differentiating between different levels of achievement?

To what extent do exams actually differentiate between different levels of achievement? Other than the achievement of 'being able to get good marks in exams', which it's not clear to me necessarily maps well onto any other kind of excellence.

Although evidently exam results are often used to differentiate between candidates, it might be that they are essentially a pretty arbitrary way of doing so.

I advance this just as a thought, because I'm sure a great deal of research must have been done to demonstrate the efficacy or otherwise of exams in indicating excellent candidates. And presumably studied in depth by the govt and other supporters of the exam system. The alternative would be that they're advancing this plan out of blind faith and prejudice, which is surely too awful to contemplate.
Edited Date: 2012-09-20 07:56 am (UTC)

Date: 2012-09-20 08:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] maleghast.livejournal.com
*applause* (both for you, and for Ms. Tattersall)


While I am completely on-board with the idea that junking the GCSE is dumb, and replacing it with eBacc is (potentially) even dumber, I want to ask just one little question;

What would be wrong with using both? Or none at all? What is wrong with accepting that the quality of education our society is providing is not accurately or adequately measured by the methods we use to rank the participants in the system at the end of their tenure?

Okay I realise that that is three questions... ;-)

Despite the risk of being seen as an elitist, intellectual snob, there are young people who are intellectually powerful and accomplished enough to sail through GCSE with almost no trouble whatsoever. I'm not particularly proud of the fact that I achieved seven A-Grades at GCSE without any great effort. I made it look like I was making an effort, but deep down I know the truth; I barely broke a sweat. I slept for the last thirty minutes of one of my Chemistry papers - A. I left Maths paper 4 half an hour before time - A. I could go on, but the sugar on top would be that I barely revised - I made a plan, pushed paper around in my room or on the family dining room table for a few hours a day in the hope that people would think that I was revising, but I didn't.

Now I'm not saying that I am a genius - I am proud to know a reasonably large number of people that I consider (by far) my superior both in terms of raw intelligence and erudition - and I think that I should point out that I found A-Levels HARD, and I struggled to get the grades that I got (A C C), but there is no escaping the fact that my experience of GCSE was one of pretending to be a diligent student and laughing behind the backs of adults everywhere at how bloody easy it was. I did maths (admittedly at my privileged, middle-class, private primary school) at age eleven that was considered "too advanced" for students on the A-grade track in GCSE maths - there is something wrong with that.

I realise that it's all too easy to say "it was harder in my day", and espouse the hopelessly myopic rhetoric coming out of the Gove-Beast and the government, so I want to make it clear that I am not doing that - it was EASIER in my day.

What I want to say is this:

1. Education should empower and liberate young people, offering them broadened horizons and the opportunity to evolve their own strengths and passions, in order to become thoughtful, fulfilled adults who have something to offer themselves and our society through the exercise of their natural talents.

2. Examination, however, has only one purpose; to measure knowledge, understanding and intelligence through the expression of that knowledge and understanding under controlled conditions.

While I completely and utterly believe that we fail a terrifying number of young people with regard to their education, in terms of quality and scope, GCSE as a meaningful yard-stick of the result of education has failed students, teachers, employers and ultimately society, as it not only removed the opportunity to showcase the exceptional, but it also proffered the illusion of an uplift in the quality of education, broadly at the expense of our society as a whole. Perhaps what we should look for is a standardised measure of competence based on on-going performance at school, day-in, day-out (the US Grading model?), and use examination only as a filter for further education entry, rather than as a measure of job-suitability. Surely if someone "graduated" from school and their grade average was very high, one could reasonably extrapolate that they were either of average intelligence and hard-working, or just super-bright, and filter them further at interview?


What I do agree with is that Gove's plans are bollocks; I just don't agree that GCSEs are / were any use to anyone, and more to the point I feel that the debate should be about the journey not the destination - that is where the battle for inclusion, opportunity and "gardening" of young minds is going to won and lost, not on what bits of paper they have afterwards.

Date: 2012-09-20 07:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] firin.livejournal.com
I took O'levels in the last year of the examinations and then took a GCSE alongside my A'levels in the subsequent two years. Frankly, the GCSE was so ridiculously easy that it went beyond laughable and into the realms of the farcical. I achieved 98% in the mock: this might be unsurprising in a science based or maths exam, but certainly not in a humanities subject. I found the whole thing depressing, as did those of my peers who were in a similar situation and able to compare the two systems from first hand experience. I also remember the lamentations of the professors at my Oxford college in later years, who were bewailing the fact that they now had to spend half of the first year at university teaching students concepts and facts that they had previously become familiar with at A'level. It was very much the consensus of opinion that GCSEs were a 'dumbing down', the effects of which were far reaching. As it stands, I'm glad that there will be an overhaul of the system. I just wish I had faith in the government to do it properly and not come up with yet another half-baked system which will be proven faulty in mere decades.



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