FJ Murphy's picture
Another report has been published showing how British children are falling behind those of other countries.
With 25 years of experience, I am convinced that the poor quality of the GCSE system is to blame. Exams are too easy, do not stretch children and are based on flimsy syllabuses that are becoming a joke in many subjects, such as in Science, my own area of expertise. The problem has spread to A-levels as well and much greater rigour must be introduced into the system. The level of knowledge and understanding required is pitiful and I find my self embarrassed at the triviality of much of what I have to teach.
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Nigel Ford's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 14:39

There will be several with more wisdom than me who will disagree.

I know when I took my Common Entance exam at prep school back in 1972 aged 13 it seemed harder than my kids' GCSE in that subject.

It does make you wonder why parents spend so much money on school fees or move into grammar school areas when top grades in GCSE and A'level grades are becoming more commonplace and are not the preserve of these selective schools.

The pupils would also benefit from a broader social mix at comprehensive schools.

Nigel Ford's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 14:40

PS I meant to say my CE in French.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 15:05

Which report is it that's just been published? Could you provide a link please?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 15:18

As far as grade inflation is concerned, the BBC Radio 4 programme, More or Less, investigated the matter on 21 August 2009 (downloadable from link below, about 20 minutes into the programme). It found that there had been grade inflation at A level of two grades. In 2010, investigated the matter and concluded it was too early to tell. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said* that the apparent rise in GCSE grades in England was not matched by a similar rise in PISA scores which had remained static.

*OECD Economic Surveys 2011, not available freely on the internet, but details of how to obtain a copy are here:,3746,en_2649_34569_47283558_1_1_1_1,00...

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 15:30

Mr Gove agrees there has been grade inflation (interview with Andrew Neil, linked below, from about 4 minutes in). He blamed it on previous Labour ministers acting like Soviets praising the last tractor production figures. This would be quite funny if Mr Gove wasn't so keen on praising the GCSE results of academies. Mr Gove said he wanted exams to be more rigorous. This prompted Neil to ask him if this would result in fewer children getting top grades and would Mr Gove be prepared to accept that. Mr Gove said he would.

If fewer children gain top grades then it follows that the number gaining grade C should also fall - that's if the exams really are made more rigorous. Yet Mr Gove wants the benchmark number of pupils gaining 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English to rise to 50% in the next few years. He can't have more rigorous exams and at the same time have more people passing them.

When GCSE was first introduced in 1987, GCSE grade C was supposed to be the equivalent of the GCE Ordinary Level pass. A GCE Ordinary Level pass and its CSE Grade 1 equivalent were supposed to show above-average ability. Only about one-third of pupils were expected to gain GCSE C or above. There was no A* because a Grade A was viewed as being exceptional. GCSE grade E was the grade expected by the average pupil.

If Mr Gove is serious about restoring the rigour of GCSE exams he should recalibrate GCSEs to the 1987 level while abolishing all the English exam boards and replacing them with just one. There would then be no temptation for exam boards to compete against each other on offering exams which are easier to pass.

If he does not do this, then the only GCSE grades which show above average ability will be grades A and A*. Universities, sixth-forms and employers would complain that these grades did not show exceptional ability so further starred ratings would have to be implemented: A double-star, A platinum, A gold and so on.

FJ Murphy's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 16:35

To have one board would make a lot of sense. The whole system has been corrupted, with boards owned by publishers, who then publish recommended text books. the syllabuses change every five years, so out come the new books.
I am sorry to say that the record of the teachers' unions is far from glorious in exposing the inadequacy of public exams.
As you have indicated above, the data are from PISA reports.
Perhaps a return to norm referencing of grades should be considered.
Alas, quite a few subjects lack rigour, and so we should see a return to single sciences, languages, history and geography, rather than travel & tourism and other such oddities.
Many church schools have a more traditional curriculum in this respect, not to mention grammar schools and the independent sec tor, and that is what many parents prefer, not to mention employers and universities.

Jake's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 15:36

After 13 years of 'education, education, education' it has take a little over a year for a Tory-led government to shine a light on the dreadful toll those 13 years have taken on our children. It is shocking to learn that in 1 out of every 2 secondary schools less than 10% of pupils receive a grounding in basic academic subjects. No wonder we are plummeting down the PISA league tables while our kids wonder the streets rioting in their low batties and Jafaican innit.

This and other stats released by DfE today (a +400% increase on previous data sets) is a shocking indictment of the education policy propogated by the Luddite Schools Network on this site.

Thank god that Team Gove is on the case to save the nations young children!

Katherine's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 10:47

On the subject of science GCSEs, I was wondering of anyone knew whether Gove's pre-election proposal to introduce the opportunity to take single subject science GCSEs in all schools had got anywhere yet? This was about the only Conservative education proposal that I liked, as I do think taking 3 separate science GCSEs is a better preparation for science A levels. At the moment, it only seems to be independent schools, grammars, and the posher comprehensives that offer this option. Is this something that's been buried in the curriculum review? I haven't heard anything on the news about it for some time. Thanks for any information!

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:05

This is still a choice for individual schools and a quick look at the current performance tables ( and the data sheets underlying them) suggests that there are schools that don't offer triple science - but then the incentives to do this aren't very strong since they are simultaneously being urged to get as many pupils as possible through 5 A*-C GCSEs including English in Maths and there may be easier ways to do this! Some schools appear to be achieving rapid improvements in results by the use of qualifications that may offer limited pathways. I think more digging needs to be done about which schools these are and which groups of pupils are or are not taking particular subjects. On a personal note I would take issue with the idea that only the posher comps do triple science. My local secondaries, all of which have very mixed intakes, all offer triple science.

Katherine's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:18

Thanks for the information, Fiona. Our local comp doesn't offer triple science at the moment and, in fact, the majority of students take BTEC science instead of GCSE, which is something that I worry is done just to push up results (and I'm not sure if it's being stripped out of performance tables along with nail technology!). But it is interesting to hear that a wide range of schools are offering the single science option. I have just emailed our local comp (which I hope my children will attend) to ask of they have any plans to introduce this option. It will be interesting to hear what they say!

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:29

Katherine and Fiona - The rise in popularity of single sciences had begun before the Coalition came to power. The pupils taking GCSEs in 2010 would have started their courses in September 2008. In 2010 GCSE entries for Chemistry were up 32.2%, Physics up 32.1% and Biology up 28.3%.

Mr Gove, of course, likes to take the credit for the uptake of single sciences but it had started while he was in opposition.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:36

Interesting - I don't know enough about BTEC science to know whether it is a truly equivalent qualification but it is certainly the case that some non GCSE qualifications are easier and involve less teaching time. I think the key point is that students should have choice and a broad entitlement until they are 16 so they don't make choices at 13 or 14 that may limit options later on. Parents should check the curriculum offer to 16 when they are choosing a school.

Katherine's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:38

Thanks Janet, it's interesting that triple science is gaining popularity, with or without Gove! However, I seem to remember that one of the Tory election proposals was that all schools would have to offer triple science, as there are quite a number that still don't. While I think general science is probably a pretty good option for students that plan to take A levels in other subjects (probably better than just taking 2 of the 3 science subjects, for example), I'd really like my children to have the option of taking all 3, if that's what they want to do.

Katherine's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 16:59

Following on from our GCSE science discussion, I have heard back from our local school, and in fact they have just introduced the triple science option in KS4, so it looks like it is gaining in popularity. As you said, Fiona, it is important that students have plenty of choice, and this change has made me much more confident about sending the children to our local comprehensive.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 17:38

Great - I am very please to hear it. There are many ways parents can help to shape and improve their local schools and it sounds like the school is responsive and listening to concerns.

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