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 that “The 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.