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Column: Going back to two-tier exams is a bad idea
ASK any of the thousands of young people across East Lancashire who have just taken their GCSE exams whether they’ve had an easy time, and they’ll look at you as though you’re mad.
Yet these days, these youngsters have to cope not only with working at least as hard as my generation did, but then seeing the examinations themselves trashed in some of our newspapers, for their alleged declining quality.
Is there truth in these claims? Are there ways in which we could improve the system?
The evidence on school standards is mixed, but there is no conclusive evidence that internationally our standards have slipped.
But it is also true that other countries have moved above us in some of the league tables.
Fifteen years ago, just one in three pupils were getting five, or more, good GCSEs; now for the borough it’s slightly more than three in four.
While this is slightly below the mean, our overall rate of improvement over the period has been faster than average.
Most of the change represents a real improvement in educational attainment by young people in the borough.
More broadly, the latest assessment by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement has found, for instance, that results for pupils from England in maths and sciences were significantly above standard at both fourth and eighth grade – ranking in the top ten countries.
It found no evidence of a decline in achievement in these subjects, indeed, it found significant improvements in mean maths scores for both age groups between 1995 and 2007.
GCSEs were introduced in the late 1980s to replace the old two-tier system, of O-Levels for “academic” pupils, and “CSEs” (Certificate of Secondary Education) for the rest.
Education Secretary Michael Gove appeared to be proposing last week that we should go back to that. A bad idea.
Instead, we should take steps to improve the GCSE system. I am, for example, very uncomfortable about the examination boards which have become money-making businesses.
There is a regulator above them to check on standards – and I am sure that the boards themselves will claim that quality comes first.
But these stories about varying standards will only end if, and when, the exam boards are no longer driven by profits, and are single-minded about standards.