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Friday 16 August 2013

A-Levels – Toby Young Versus Real Expert

Yes, A-Level results time has come around again, and with it the inevitable argument about whether the exams were more or less difficult in days gone by. Into this debate has waded the loathsome Toby Young, who has declared the reduction in the percentage of students getting the best grades to be A Very Good Thing, because this means the exams are getting harder (no evidence is advanced in support).
Behold, not just one self-proclaimed "expert" ...

And Tobes is not just content to see a top grade reduction from 26.6% to 26.3%: he implies it should go right back to the 15.7% of 1997, because the rotten lefties were indulging in “ideologically-driven reforms”. No evidence is advanced for this assertion either, but then, Tobes is in good company: former Tory MP Louise Mensch, now representing the distant constituency of Manhattan Upmarket, is on the same trip.

While Tobes asserts that “until 2012, the percentage of candidates getting the top grades increased year on year for 20 years” therefore GRADE INFLATION, Ms Mensch takes the allegation as fact without even pitching a single statistic: “Labour’s grade inflation was epic”. In the latter case, she uses this to justify the rejection by Oxford University of an applicant who had achieved seven A* passes.
... but two, and they're both wrong

One can more easily dispense with Ms Mensch’s contention, because, although she truly believes, that is not in itself good enough. But Tobes helped to found the West London Free School, so perhaps he can distinguish one end of the argument from the other. Sadly not: his first citation in support of an argument over A-Levels is to refer readers to a discussion over reforms of GCSEs.

That would be a different kind of examination altogether. And one distinguished headmaster does not share Tobes’ contention of “grade inflation”. Anthony Seldon told thatThe GCSE results which came out yesterday ... following hard on the heels of A-level results the week before, have yet again given the opportunity for pundits to sound off about grade inflation and league tables”. He then dismissed that argument.

Top grades and pass grades have become more common year by year. But I think it is wrong, and ultimately insulting to the students and their teachers, to say that this is because the papers are evidently easier ... So what then explains the improvement in grades? The answer is the same at GCSE as at A-level. It is more targeted teaching on the precise requirements to achieve the better grades”.

And he explained it thus: “There was nothing like this when I started teaching. We did not tell pupils: ‘This is how you need to answer this question to get an A*; this is what you need to achieve an A.’ We just got on with it in a rather vague way, and hoped that we were doing the right things”. So teaching got better – not worse, please note, Gove fans – or perhaps that should be “more effective”.

That, folks, is why Tobes and Louise are talking out of the backs of their necks.


SteveB said...

I'm afraid my views on the education system may differ from those held by Tim - and all the experts.

My standard, which hasn't been changed over the years is one simple test.

What percentage of students achieving 3 A level passes can wire up a 3 pin plug without resorting to the internet for help? I'm afraid the results seem to be getting worse each year!

pete_mw said...

Under Labour, as far as I could tell at the time (I took my A-levels five years ago), the system for awarding scores based on exam marks was essentially competitive. There was a separate assessment which was used to decide whether to award higher or lower grades to the year as a whole -- I don't know the methodology for those assessments, which may have been nothing more than simply asking the government what grades it wanted to see.

I don't think Gove has actually changed this system from how it worked under Labour, which means that you can't really take anything useful away from GCSE and A-level statistics no matter what you hope to prove -- you need to track down and read the studies that were used to inform those grades.

Senua said...

The reason why people nowadays can't wire a plug is because they don't have to. Electrical items come with a plug attached. I know how to wire a plug but haven't done so in years as I don't need to. I remember this was done as a safety measure as too many people were having accidents. It wasn't some golden age back then. Just because someone can't wire a plug doesn't mean they're stupid. I get fed up with this University of Life rubbish. Life skills are important but wiring plugs is very low on the list.

SteveB said...

"this was done as a safety measure as too many people were having accidents" -
proof of my argument, until you can perform this simple task you shouldn't be allowed to leave school.

"Just because someone can't wire a plug doesn't mean they're stupid" - but it does raise questions about their general aptitude for anything vaguely technical and their general employablity.

"Life skills are important but wiring plugs is very low on the list." - well lower than crossing the road on your own, watch the pelican crossing between Crewe fire station and the Tesco garage, because it goes via the centre island even most pensioners can cross without waiting for the green man - so why do so many students from MMU need to wait?

PS Sports Science and Drama are not qualifications, they're hobbies!