This site is going to make a prediction about data. It is predicated that on 20th August 2009 there will be a reported increase in intelligence of UK students.
A-Level Students around the UK will be celebrating as their A-Level results are better than they hoped for. This is an amazing thing, as all of the A-Level results have gone up on all subjects across the country, not just for one person, one subject, one school or one area. But across the entire country.
Students will be praised, politicians will come out say how good it is that the system works and teachers will be nod sagely stating that their pupils are much brighter than last year. ‘we worked so hard for this’, ‘standards are better than ever’ ‘this is because of the governments investment in education’
Why is this a problem and why is it on this site? Its on this site because its about data and statistics, and if the articles on How NOT to interview Part 1 and Part 2 are anything to go by, this is a real problem for the quality of graduates being produced.
The A-Level results go up every year, its not just that 2009 will be a “good crop”, it’s that 2008 was, as was 2007, and 2006, and 2005 was a good year. And its not just A levels, its GCSEs as well. It is not that children who can’t read, can suddenly read because they have access to books and teachers. That is understandable, and a good thing.
It is that the demographic group of students that come from a stable home, are well tutored, well feed, and go to a good school, their grades that have gone up, this year and last year, that is odd. The fact their grades have consistently gone up over the past 20 years is very odd. There are no outside variables like poverty or lack of access to books coming into play for this demographic.
If you put S through a formula with the same variables T and X and then you should keep getting E. In this case S =Students, T=Teachers E=Exams Results and X=unknown variables. If you alter S, T or X then E changes.
S, the children in the UK are not getting born smarter, so that should not change.
T, the teachers that teach S are not getting smarter, as they come from S. But E keeps increasing, every year the exams are getting so much better across the country. This means that the variable X must be changing.
There are two possibilities to account for this. The first possibility is that government has managed to create an education system that surpasses any other in the world, that the education of our children, at all levels, of all ages, of all subjects has managed, year on year to produce improved results.
This is possible, though highly implausible. The government can’t even clear the M25 of roadworks, what chance do they have creating the world’s finest educational system?
The second, and more plausible option, is that the exams are getting easier or marked more leniently.
Is there even a problem?
How can you test either of these options? First we need to see if this statement is actually true, are students, across the country getting better results?
Yes, and its not just anecdotal. A study at Durham University found that on average students grades have increased by 2 marks for A-Levels in the past 20 years. That’s an A for what was a C.
In subjects like mathematics, which is a very cut and dry subject the average was grade was 3.5 marks higher over the 20 years
If you would have got a U (unclassified) in Maths in 1988 you would now be looking at a B. For those who failed back in 1988, you may want to take the exam again and update your CV.
These results, by a good University are not some pie in the sky study either. They look at over 250,000 results, and also compared IQ scores as well, to see if people were really smarter.
The results were very clear. IQ stays flat over 20 years. A-Levels have increased.
This study alone appears to be a very convincing argument that there has been grade inflation (this and the staggeringly obvious fact that they now have to provide an A* as well as an A as so many people are getting “high marks”).
But, we should not take this study alone. We should take a control group. We should take high flying students through the O-Level maths exam and see how they do. After all maths has not changed substantially in the past 50 years (at this level). The probability of getting a head on a single coin toss has not changed, the square root of -1 one is still i, and nobody has challenged Pythagoras and his theorem for a couple of thousand years, so maths is maths.
While this site doesn’t have the resource, or the will, to test this it has been done (albeit for a newspaper and probably not in a controlled environment). But the results were very clear. People getting ten A* in GCSE could not even finish an O Level maths paper (O level for the younger readers are the old GCSE papers).
Lets just put that into perspective. A person who looks like they should be heading towards Oxford, one of the best universities in the world in 2008 may not be not smart enough to go to any UK university in 1988. Is it any wonder that Oxford and Cambridge have such strict entrance criteria and don’t just look A-level and GCSE results.
So, what do we know? We know that students with the same IQ are getting better marks in A-Levels (and GCSE’s) we know that students who are amazing at the current GCSE system are not good enough to pass the old GCSE system (O levels).
Is there any more evidence? Is it still possible the UK education system is the best in the world?
How does the UK compare to the rest of the word?
If you look at our education system compared to others in the world, well, it’s not good.
The OECD shows that the actual percentage of our population getting an education is not that high (comparatively). Another report shows that the UK higher education is now more expensive than the US system, and is ranked 14th in the world, out of a survey of just 16 countries!
A word bank report observes that “In the UK primary class size had fallen continuously for 20 years to a low of 20:1 by 1985 – this has since risen to 24:1 by 2000”. People may think that a 20:1 ratio is a good, but the same report states that it the ratio is 12:1 in Denmark. i.e. the UK is way off the mark compared to other countries.
The spending on tertiary education in the UK is no where near the best either. In fact is around the “Mexico” mark
What about the end result?
We can show that grades have been inflated over the past 20 years, that students who get high marks in GCSEs cannot even scrape an O level maths pass. We also know that the UK education system is not the best in the world on any metric.
But what about the end result? Are we somehow, despite the odds, producing better quality graduates and students that go out the work force who are able to demonstrate they are better than previous years?
No. Not even slightly.
The Institute of Directors who are, in essence, a representative body of eventual employers of the every student in the country has “called for radical reform of Britain’s education system”. The organization called for a greater emphasis on vocational training and a halt to the “proliferation of soft subjects” such as media studies.”
An IoD report also also warned that university admissions tutors have seen no rise in the quality of new undergraduates, despite steadily improving A-level results in the past decade.
- Seven in 10 tutors believe standards either stayed the same or deteriorated in recent years.
Employer after employer has problems recruiting good graduates.
How do the teachers respond to this?
Jean Gemmell, general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers stated that “Every year at exam/results time, we see a small, but vociferous, number of people seeking publicity for their view that ‘standards have fallen’. Why can’t the ‘things were better in my day’ brigade stop denigrating pupils’ achievements and accept that standards can – and have – risen, and that pupils and teachers are working harder than ever to achieve good results?” Perhaps because there is no evidence to support the standards have risen statement
But perhaps the last word from teachers should go to a the English teacher who marked the old O level papers versus the GCSEs
She was also surprised that at O-level no marks could be given if pupils did not get the right answer. “At GCSE you get marks for trying to do the question and showing your working out even if you don’t get the right answer,” she said. “You can even get marks for writing ‘F*** off’. You get marks for expressing yourself, for creativity, rather than for precision. I think the O-levels are harder than GCSEs on the basis of these papers.”
If you get marks for “trying”. and you get marks for writing “F*** off”. No wonder the UK students are getting better results.
Nothing in this article takes away from an individual student’s achievement; it merely states that statistically, across all measures, and every variable, exams are getting easier to pass and there are higher marks, with no positive outcome or correlating increase in IQ.