Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lake Wobegon of England

"Are ever-rising A-level results evidence of better teaching and harder-working pupils, as Labour education secretaries claim each August? Or are they proof of spoon-feeding syllabuses and easier exams, as the opposition Conservatives say? ... The pass rate rose for the 27th year running, and is now 97.5%, up from 68.2% in 1982. The share of A-grades went up too, by 0.8 percentage points compared with last year, and now stands at 26.7%. The end result of this 27-year bull run is that an eighth of all candidates now get three A grades, more than used to get a single A back then. ... But probe the figures and they start to look flakier. School league tables, and the less selective universities, count grades regardless of subject, so an A in photography equals one in physics. ... The idea is that an educational 'Gresham's Law' is at work, with bad qualifications driving out good as schools push pupils towards easier subjects in the hope of rising in the league tables, and pupils scramble after any old As to present to undiscriminating universities. ... The Durham team used aptitude tests to show that pupils of a given ability get far higher A-level grades now than they used to 20 years ago", Economist, 20 August 2009, link:

Shades of HISD, "we are all gifted now". 97.5%, wow! Vance Packard proposed an "educational Gresham's Law" would take hold 50 years ago, my 23 August 2008 post:


OldSouth said...

Cambridge University is 'pushing back' a bit by developing and marketing their own qualifications system, much less watered-down.

Good, insightful, and accurate account of the situation, by the way.

t g macamhloaibh said...

I've been watching the exams results over the years in the UK (where I did my A levels many, many moons ago) with a mixture of bemusement and amusement. The results are obviously the triumph of marketing over objective examination results. The UK's exercise in exam manipulation is a metaphor for what is happening in society on a more general scale. It serves no purpose beyond generating some additional revenues while making no effort to actually improve the educational system or the abilities of those exposed to the system.

Schooling was a funny old business anyway. The cream always rises to the top. The average, well, remain average (meself included). Far better to create a system where 100% of students learn reading, writing and maths at their own pace and under teacher guideance. After that, let the mechanically minded go their own way. The business minded go their own way. Etc. Modern education should be refocused on lifetime learning, but the emphasis should be on learning skills, including recognition of those learned in the working world, and not on a few store bought initials that go after one's name.

[I too did an MBA at NYU. Whata a waste of time and money. The skill sets taught were not what the real world needs. However, not all was a loss as I did learn that what I learned wasn't of much use. Thankfully, I found the likes of Mandlebrot and Taleb which have allowed me to use the skills I did learn for my MBA in a more utilitarian manner.]

Good and informative site.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but... I'll take that result over the US result that 1/3 of our kids never finish high school.

Independent Accountant said...



Independent Accountant said...


I disagree. One of our problems is our dropout rate is too low!