It’s that time of year again. When exam results come flooding in around the country the media focus frequently (and generally unfairly) points to such questions “Are exams getting easier?”
This year however, it seems to be different. The number of A*-C grades have fallen for the first time raising questions about why this is so. Michael Gove has claimed that no pressure has been aimed at Examination boards and AQA chief executive Andrew Hall stating, “I can certainly say I felt no pressure to do anything different to what we have always done.”
I find this massively unlikely. There are plenty of underhand techniques of applying pressure and the Exam boards and OFQUAL are not likely to speak out against the government for fear of not knowing what bills, acts and initiatives they will introduce next (although I reckon the government do not know this either).
It is highly likely however that grade boundaries have been changed again in an upwardly direction. Therefore it is possible for a student to complete an exam to a particular standard and it is the date of which they sat the exam that dictates what grade they get. If the goalposts have been shifted in the space of 6 months, how can teachers and students monitor progress? How can the expectations of a particular grade be changed and not communicated to the schools? Students will stumble blindly into their exams knowing their predicted grades and mock exams no longer provide a fair reflection of their academic attainment.
Simon Jenkins wrote a fascinating article on Pussy Riot recently and in it he described how during the London riots in 2011, politicians raced home to tell Judges to send the perpetrators “a message”. As a result, many sentences were passed and they felt the full force of the law. Why had they done this? The media demanded it so.
It can quite clearly be seen, that a similar situation has occurred over the last few years in the Education sector. The media constantly poses the questions about exam result improvements year on year and the government has responded by creating a culture of ‘desiring tougher standards’. Notice that I use the word ‘desiring’. This culture has filtered down to the exam boards who are now under pressure to toe the line in this environment of wanting something better, but not actually doing anything about it.
The trouble is, the government and exam boards have created a breathtaking lack of consistency in making top grades harder to get without changing the qualification; without changing the syllabus nor the overall difficulty of the content and exam questions. You can’t change the grade boundaries in a qualification without changing the qualification itself.
Gove’s proposals for education reform are immensely unpopular therefore the government need a short term solution so they can show how things are ‘changing’. Who suffers? The students. Who gets the blame? The Teachers. Some things you never change.