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Derek McMillan

A level day

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I was delighted with my daughter's results btw :up

Of course the Telegraph and the Mail are saying the exams are getting easier. Certainly their job is getting easier, they just dust off last year's article. It would be nice to see what results the journalists got at A level and what the Telegraph and the Mail, or perhaps the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, was saying about "the exams all being too easy these days" at the time.

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I was delighted with my daughter's results btw :up

Of course the Telegraph and the Mail are saying the exams are getting easier. Certainly their job is getting easier, they just dust off last year's article. It would be nice to see what results the journalists got at A level and what the Telegraph and the Mail, or perhaps the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, was saying about "the exams all being too easy these days" at the time.

I started teaching in 1977. I would say the students that got "E" grades at 'A' level in 1979 would have got a "C" grade by the last year I left reaching (2000). A recent report backed this up saying that we have had grade inflation that equals two grades in 30 years. Any one who has been a chief examiner during this period knows that they have been under great pressure to improve exam results by lowering the grade boundaries. The examination system is a conspiracy that is maintained by the government, teachers, trade unions and most importantly the exam boards. Although it is a rare occurance, the Mail and the Telegraph sometimes get it right. What we should be asking is why teachers go along with this mad system that is more about persuading the working class to accept low status employment than educating our young people. The answer of course is that teachers are middle class and do quite well out of the education system. Is it really surprising that your daughter did so well in her exams?

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It is not that surprising that a student who does a lot of hard work and knows the subject does well in an exam.

If more people pass exams it is possible that they are cheating in some way. The Daily Telegraph has been saying that standards are falling for thirty years. It is also possible that the public education system is doing better.

And teachers are skilled white collar workers. The registrar general demoted them from the professional classes years ago.

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At least the examination boards know they're at the heart of a conspiracy, and are remarkably open on their websites about how the scam works. Both teachers and examiners have sometimes been shocked when they realise how much of the system is public knowledge.

The Observer says you can’t compare: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/leaders/sto...2147098,00.html.

While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that standards are slipping it seems there's no way of proving it. Rather like modern economics it is difficult to understand what exactly the system rests on. However, one thing is for sure - there is no 'Gold Standard'. There are too many variables involved to make accurate comparisons between two years - though that still leaves room for endless speculation. I learned to drive on what were then the quiet streets of Paddington in the late 60's, and was brilliant at hand signals, but I'm inclined to think the modern driving test is more difficult than the old one. And was going through the Matriculation process my father went through more difficult than doing 12 GCSE's today?

Having spent a couple of months threatening my own daughter’s college because they hadn’t awarded her a much deserved diploma I do wonder about how we all invest so much in these bits of paper. But we do.

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I think since The Wizard of Oz there have been queries about whether the pieces of paper are important.

However they are used as a rationing system for Higher Education. Naturally Oxbridge cannot rely entirely on A levels, they also have interviews:

Did you go to the same public school as I did?

Can you row?

How about rugger?

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I think since The Wizard of Oz there have been queries about whether the pieces of paper are important.

However they are used as a rationing system for Higher Education. Naturally Oxbridge cannot rely entirely on A levels, they also have interviews:

Did you go to the same public school as I did?

Can you row?

How about rugger?

Oxbridge and the other high-status universities are dominated by privately educated students. They use the 'A' level results to justify this process. 10% of students got three "A" levels. Nearly all of them came from public schools.

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Personally I've gone off the whole idea of summative examinations this year, particularly GCSE's, and have just laid down my red pen for the last time. I am impressed by the pains my exam board takes to be fair, or at any rate to appear to be fair, but I'm inclined to think the NSPCC should prosecute those concerned for the annual torture we put 16 year olds through. I am somewhat heartened by the appearance of a History GCSE pilot course that is 75% coursework. At least this is going in the right direction.

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Research carried out by Robert Coe of the University of Durham suggests that candidates of similar intellectual ability achieve higher grades today than they would have done in the past. A candidate who gained an A grade today, for example, would have been awarded a B in 1996 and a C in 1988.

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In a paper that can be found at http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/ 'Changes in Examination Grades over Time:

Is the same worth less?' (1999) Dr Coe also admits 'it is not possible to say definitively either that standards have slipped or that they have not.' He then adds: 'An ‘A’ grade in mathematics, for example, is not significant for its demonstration that a person, on a certain day in June, solved a particular equation in a matter of a few minutes, but because it provides evidence of qualities such as a general numerical ability, the potential to learn and the capacity to apply oneself to an extended and difficult project.' My point precisely. Why don't we mentor students in 'extended and difficult projects' rather than playing it at by having Examination Olympics once a year?

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An exam you took when you were 18 always seems harder than the exams 18 year olds are taking now. You could take them easily. Of course your could.

And coursework has made exams easier for people who find coursework easier - and harder for those who don't of course - so if you passed through the exam system it seems unfair that they are allowed to "get away with" coursework which they have slaved months over when you "got away with" a few three hour exams.

More people are passing exams and many of them seem to come from the working classes. Every Daily Telegraph reader knows instinctively they are superior to the working classes so the working classes must be cheating in some way.

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More people are passing exams and many of them seem to come from the working classes. Every Daily Telegraph reader knows instinctively they are superior to the working classes so the working classes must be cheating in some way.

Class mobilty via education has declined rapidly since the 1960s. This is not because they are doing worse in examinations, in fact, they are doing better. The difference is that in the 1960s their was an increase in the number of middle-class jobs. People like me, who left school without qualifications, were encouraged to go to university, paid for the state, in order to fill these new jobs. This allowed a generation of working-class young people to enter the professions. Both my brother and sister followed this route (we were children of unskilled factory workers living on a council estate). We were no more intelligent than our parents. The only difference was the state needed us to fill the jobs that were available.

Today, a larger proportion of the population now go to university. However, large numbers end up doing working-class jobs. My nephew finished his degree two years ago and since then has only worked in Marks & Spencers filling shelves. He has yet to start paying off his student debts and is forced to live with his parents.

I had an interesting talk with a taxi-driver about a year ago. He was taking me to the airport as I had to attend an educational conference in Sweden. He asked me where I was going. He responded by telling me about his attitude towards education. He was Asian and his father ran a shop. His father was very keen that his two sons should go to university. The taxi-driver told me his older brother was the clever one and managed to get to university. He left school, did a variety of jobs before he was old enough to drive a taxi. He proudly told me that he now had his own house and was planning to get married later that year. However, his brother, was forced to live with his parents and could not afford to get married as he still had a student debt of £20,000. I asked him what his brother did, he replied a "taxi-driver". As he said, maybe his older brother was not really the clever one.

In a capitalist system the examination system plays the role of justifying the giving of highly paid, high status jobs to the children of the middle and upper classes. In times of rapid economic growth, the education system allows a section of the working-class to move up the social scale. In doing so, it removes potential leaders of that group in the class struggle. Currently, the middle-classes are having difficulty reproducing themselves. Many of my friends are finding that despite a university education, their children are downward socially mobile. "A" grade inflation will be of little help to them. Once again it is the school that you go to and the contacts of your parents that is important. The gift of a deposit on a flat or house in also useful. Or if your the Blairs, they will even give their children a flat.

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