Education standards have deteriorated – how do we restore them?

This Writer is interested to know the difference between standards in – say – 1980 and 1990, based on these results.

I was a member of the last (if I recall correctly) year group to take GCE ‘O’ Levels, before the Conservative Party’s ‘National Curriculum’ was imposed in the mid-1980s and GCSEs became the norm.

At the time, I considered the change to represent a deliberate drop in standards, imposed by the Tories, and this evidence tends to support my belief.

I recall that exam results improved markedly after the new system was imposed. These findings suggest it was due to a fall in standards, rather than an improvement in education.

So one is led to ask, have people who took their exams before the change – and received lower grades – been wrongly overlooked in later life by employers, who would have been dazzled by higher GCSE grades that in fact represented lower achievement?

If so, is that one reason why standards have fallen so dramatically across the UK since the Conservative Party victory of 1979?

What’s even more discouraging is the fact that, although standards did not deteriorate further after the Labour Party regained office in 1997, they did not improve.

Perhaps this is one occasion on which a return to the old ways – of ‘O’ Levels rather than GCSEs – might represent a step forward (as well as backward)?

Students who score a B grade in A-level maths today would only have secured an E grade 50 years ago, research suggests.

But despite standards dropping in the last half-century, there is no evidence that they have fallen since the 1990s, according to a study by academics at Loughborough University.

Major reforms to exams in England are currently being introduced, with the first new GCSEs and A-levels in subjects including English and maths brought in last autumn. Ministers have previously said that changes to the system are needed to make the qualifications more rigorous.

The study involved A-level maths papers from the 1960s, 1990s and 2010s at grade A, B and E and saw maths experts looking at pairs of papers and deciding which one showed the better mathematician.

The researchers concluded that a grade B in a maths paper from the 2010s (which are now being replaced by the new qualifications) was equivalent to an E in the 1960s, but no different from the 1990s.

Study author Ian Jones said: “The lack of change since the 1990s was something that we did not expect – that’s not the intuition of politicians and the public.”

Source: Today’s B grade student would have got an E in A-level maths 50 years ago, study claims – Yorkshire Post

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10 thoughts on “Education standards have deteriorated – how do we restore them?

  1. wildswimmerpete

    I took my GCEs in 1966 at my red-brick grammar school. The CSE started 1965 (I took one) which most definitely were regarded as inferior – in fact during subsequent job interviews my single CSE was ignored, they only noted my GCEs. Of course shortly afterwards both were combined as GCSEs and after that was history. My year was the last one on the old 1940s curriculum, following years were on a quite different curriculum. It’s difficult to compare standards between now and the 1960s – I know physics has changed so much as to be unrecognisable from my day, the physics curriculum covered electricity and little else. With the introduction of transistors, radio and electronics were making an appearance. Likewise chemistry, “O” level chemistry nowadays is more like my ONC (ie “A” level) course.

  2. David

    I was teaching English Language and Literature when GCSE was phased in. The old GCE ‘O’ levels were not perfect, but the appearance of GCSE made my heart sink. It had a pretentious marking scheme which looked as though it had been drawn up by a team of corporate lawyers and was virtually impossible to to translate into a sensible mode of assessing children’s work. The ugly phrase ‘mark descriptors’ appeared here. To get an A* one would have had to have written like a great Victorian novelist or TS Eliot. Needless to say, because the government wanted GCSE to succeed, marks in A/B range were plentiful. It was a difficult examination to fail.

    My son, who took ‘A’ level maths told me a few years ago that when he did a bit of freelance maths teaching, questions were appearing on the new ‘A’ level exam papers which had appeared on the old ‘O’ level paper. Some progress!

  3. Tim

    Assessment is the problem. The old exams used to consist of two written exams, or one written exam and a practical paper, which tested how much of the syllabus a student had mastered at the end of their course. The new exams award part of the overall result based on course work, which students can write, rewrite and polish in the company of other students or others, e.g., parents, which leads to better quality results.

    In other words the old exams tested students on their own while the new exams test students partly on their own and partly on work they do throughout their course(s) which most likely involved multiple rewrites and included help from others, and, these days, help from the internet: I recently saw a young girl asking for a proof that the square root of three was not a rational number. Typical A level stuff. And someone provided a link to a web page which contained such a proof.

    Assessment is the problem rather than actual teaching or syllabi.

    1. John

      Yep… and you know why? Because that would mean that the general public would be far too aware of exactly what the establishment are up to!

  4. John

    I reckon one of the problems with the education system (and I don’t work in that sector), is that there’s FAR TOO MUCH POLITICS involved. Rather than letting heads and teachers get on with what they do best, you’ve quite often got stupid politicians sticking their noses in and trying to enforce rules and regs, where I don’t think it’s needed or required. Just my take on it ! 🙂

    1. Malcolm MacINTYRE-READ

      And my take too, John. The best comment I have heard re: local authority interference is the observation “it’s amazing how people can become experts in everything overnight… the night they find they have been elected as a Councillor”.

      In addition, as schools now have to employ “Business Managers” to deal with all the admin, financial matters and general bumf, local bureaucrats have to interfere in the methods and systems, albeit having no experience in the specific requirements placed on schools.

      And I hear that schools having increasing problems in finding suitably qualified staff. Funny that.

      1. John

        The more you introduce targets for everything under the sun, the more pressure that that places on staff etc, which can often mean that standards fall, i.e. QUALITY. I’m not saying that there should NEVER be any rules/regs etc, obviously you have to have some basics there, but I think it’s just become far too ‘overcrowded’ and stupid.

      2. Malcolm MacINTYRE-READ

        Absolutely John.

        I learned from my first boss, and then applied the same structure as a manger and running my own business…
        1: you need a KISS framework to which everyone must comply,
        2: provide a regular opportunity for everyone, or, in bigger operations, each team, to be updated, ask questions, seek suggestions for their own concerns, etc. so everyone knows what is going on, where they can get help if needed,
        3: know that the boss is always available if any member of staff needs them,
        4: while the boss trusts the staff to be capable of doing their job… after all, s/he was responsible for employing them.

        But targets, rules, regs, bureaucratic box ticking to cover backs seem to have replaced trust.

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