Sally Collier, chief regulator of the examinations’ watchdog, Ofqual, has told The Sunday Times “All our kids are brilliant.” To make certain that this brilliance is recognised, she has ordered exam boards to lower the grade thresholds this year to ensure parity with last year’s pass rate of 98.1 per cent. Collier has made her intentions clear: “I want the message to be that students have done fantastically well.”
She has been overseeing the marking of the first tranche of a new generation of ‘tougher’ A-levels. The results are out later this week. Subjects covered include English, history, physics and chemistry but a more rigorous maths A-Level is not due until 2019.
Collier’s defence of Ofqual’s manipulation of the grade boundaries is logical, clear and in line with longstanding ‘best practice’ in the examination industry. “If we are not using the approach we are taking…we would see a fall in results this year and possibly a significant one,” she explained.
Expect tears, all the same! Some pupils will still not get the results they have been told to expect and, quite possibly, deserve. The marking process, after all, has shown itself to be far from reliable.
Not that any of this will matter too much for those wishing to go on to university. Data acquired by the Telegraph have revealed that, even for Russell Group universities, exam results are less and less relevant when it comes to recruiting students.
It is the fees that applicants pay that matter most. Indeed, exam results will scarcely figure in much of the post-results ‘clearing’ that is just around the corner. Prospective students are regarded as ‘cash cows’. Small wonder, then, that the number of non-EU students has risen dramatically. They can be charged considerably more.
Although results may now matter less in terms of university entry than was once the case, the corruption of our exam system is a matter of public concern and should be a concern of politicians, too.
It has been apparent for some time. In the late 1980s the ban on O-Levels – the grammar school exam – started the rot. The new all-ability GCSE exam had to be protected from competition. The price to be paid for the subsequent grade inflation has been a collapse in academic standards.
The truth is that, regardless of an exam’s rigour or lack of it, Ofqual can have any pass rate it wants. Under the system known as ‘criterion referencing’ that came with GCSE the grade boundaries are fully flexible. The previous system, ‘norm referencing’, allocated a specific and permanent year-on-year percentage to a particular grade, regardless of the difficulty of the paper. It was not a perfect system, none is, but it prevented grade inflation and provided easily understood and reliable information to institutes of higher education, to employers and to the candidates themselves.
After 30 years of educational reform what have we achieved? Dumbed-down degrees, based on fraudulent A-Level results, built on GCSEs that are a counterfeit currency version of the GCE O-Level we still produce for Singapore, the world’s top performing education system, but ban here.
On this foundation Ofqual, an organisation of nearly 200 permanent employees, is proclaiming, “All our kids are brilliant.”
Its board members, its executive directors and its standards advisory group, should be hanging their heads in shame and resign. Our education system deserves better than an examination watchdog that does not bark.