The race to the bottom in educational standards

October 29, 2008 11:14 AM

Last week the head of AQA - one of the UK's biggest exam boards - broke ranks with his rivals to criticise the incessant dumbing down of school qualifications.


As the Times and Guardian report, Dr Mike Cresswell's comments follow a public spat between AQA and the new exams regulator Ofqual, over where to set its GCSE 'C' grade (officially deemed a 'good pass'). AQA eventually submitted to Ofqual's demands and lowered its mark boundary in line with its rivals, but admitted openly that it did not think this new boundary was sufficient to maintain standards.


A number of things come out of this confrontation.


Firstly, if a profit seeking company such as AQA - who's undoubtedly as guilty as the rest for lowering standards in the fierce competition for clients (pupils taking their exams) - comes out publicly and says that educational standards are getting too low, then something really must wrong.


Secondly, when will Government realise that problems are not solved by creating quangos, particularly when their independence is entirely fictitious. Ofqual, a recent creation supposed to regulate standards in exams and qualifications, is not only an entrenched part of the Government's educational machinery, it is also, quite frankly, an entirely useless part of it. While Gordon Brown claimed Ofqual would end suspicion that Government leans on exam boards to increase pass rates, the actions of Ofqual this summer suggests that it now does the Government's dirty work for it. (As an aside, this is the same summer in which it oversaw the SAT's fiasco).


As Ofqual has no power to force exam boards to raise pass levels, this enormous quango is relegated to watching from the side-lines (at the taxpayers' expense) as qualification bodies and schools conspire to make spelling a thing of the past.   


Finally, how are we in a situation where schools actively seek out the easiest exams, and qualification bodies work to oblige them.


The answer - simple, but none the less true for being so - is that Government now decides what is good and what is bad in education, not parents. League tables, the national curriculum, constant assessment and endless regulation force schools to think more about what Government expects of them than what their pupils deserve. Many parents are of course happy to see their children getting the grades, but for others, who pay their taxes in the hope that their children get a real education, the current arrangement works against them. Indeed the current arrangement works against the whole country, failing generation after generation of talented, bright pupils, and condemning all of us to a Grade A level workforce that can't read. 

Last week the head of AQA - one of the UK's biggest exam boards - broke ranks with his rivals to criticise the incessant dumbing down of school qualifications.


As the Times and Guardian report, Dr Mike Cresswell's comments follow a public spat between AQA and the new exams regulator Ofqual, over where to set its GCSE 'C' grade (officially deemed a 'good pass'). AQA eventually submitted to Ofqual's demands and lowered its mark boundary in line with its rivals, but admitted openly that it did not think this new boundary was sufficient to maintain standards.


A number of things come out of this confrontation.


Firstly, if a profit seeking company such as AQA - who's undoubtedly as guilty as the rest for lowering standards in the fierce competition for clients (pupils taking their exams) - comes out publicly and says that educational standards are getting too low, then something really must wrong.


Secondly, when will Government realise that problems are not solved by creating quangos, particularly when their independence is entirely fictitious. Ofqual, a recent creation supposed to regulate standards in exams and qualifications, is not only an entrenched part of the Government's educational machinery, it is also, quite frankly, an entirely useless part of it. While Gordon Brown claimed Ofqual would end suspicion that Government leans on exam boards to increase pass rates, the actions of Ofqual this summer suggests that it now does the Government's dirty work for it. (As an aside, this is the same summer in which it oversaw the SAT's fiasco).


As Ofqual has no power to force exam boards to raise pass levels, this enormous quango is relegated to watching from the side-lines (at the taxpayers' expense) as qualification bodies and schools conspire to make spelling a thing of the past.   


Finally, how are we in a situation where schools actively seek out the easiest exams, and qualification bodies work to oblige them.


The answer - simple, but none the less true for being so - is that Government now decides what is good and what is bad in education, not parents. League tables, the national curriculum, constant assessment and endless regulation force schools to think more about what Government expects of them than what their pupils deserve. Many parents are of course happy to see their children getting the grades, but for others, who pay their taxes in the hope that their children get a real education, the current arrangement works against them. Indeed the current arrangement works against the whole country, failing generation after generation of talented, bright pupils, and condemning all of us to a Grade A level workforce that can't read. 

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