Conservative Home

« Local government must look to the past | Main | Council by-election results from Thursday »

John Bald: This year, as ever, Labour has failed on exams

Screen shot 2013-08-22 at 21.22.25After a mixed result with last week's A levels, which showed a rise in entries for maths, physics and chemistry (up around 20 per cent overall since 2010), but a serious fall in languages, with German down to just over 4000 entries, there is much better news in yesterday's GCSE results. Single science entries are up, only by a few percentage points, but to their highest level in 16 years, media studies down by about the same proportion, and language entries up by 50,000 in response to Michael Gove's excellent idea of the EBacc. Clearly, Labour's mess has to be sorted out from the bottom up.

The overall GCSE A* to C pass rate is down a little - 1.3 per cent - mirroring the slight fall in the highest grade passes at A level. This is nothing like enough to counter Labour's systematic grade inflation but at least, as David Willetts put it, the automatic escalator has been stopped, and can now be put into reverse. At A level, this means tighter specifications for grades C and above, and for Grade E, which currently only has 6.2 per cent of passes, compared with over 25 per cent at A and A*.

At GCSE, it means moving away from Labour's mantra of 5 A* to C, which let it promote its dumbing down agenda by associating a C grade with an A*, with which it has nothing in common, and then bumping up the number of C grades. The distortions this has caused in the school system are now widely recognised, and the move towards EBacc, and the wider benchmark of grade scores on the best 8 subjects make a better combination. Apart from anything else, Grade D is not, or should not be, a failing grade. I know several people with responsible jobs who have D in English, though I suspect this would be a C if English had not been turned by the Left into a second literature examination. 

Labour is, alas, stuck in its rut. Stephen Twigg has announced that Labour would restore Baroness Blackstone's disastrous AS examination, which turns life for sixth formers into one long test and leaves them no scope to think - or to make mistakes, which are a consequence of thinking for oneself.  Once again, David Laws has shown that members of the coalition are sometimes on the same side, with an analysis that shows that GCSE is a better predictor than AS of a 2:1 or better degree:

"Here then is the nub of the issue. GCSEs and AS grades both record essentially the same information about the student: their general academic intelligence and willingness to work hard. In the technical language of those who study the roles of exams, these two sets of exams are "unidimensional". Once you know a student's exam results in one set of these exams, you learn little by knowing the results in the other set of exams."

And this is indeed the nub. AS adds nothing but stress. But it is Labour's idea and Labour will cling to it. Getting rid of AS will free an extra term for teaching in the sixth form, and is a thoroughly good idea. The government must stick with it.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.