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HomeNewsExam grades have lost all credibility (just like woeful Williamson)

Exam grades have lost all credibility (just like woeful Williamson)


SO, ‘examination results’ this summer are going to be based on teacher predictions, after all. For a while, the Government seemed to believe that it had a choice in the matter. The pretence that pupils took A-Levels and GCSEs this year, however, is not quite over.

The grades being awarded may not be based on that useless algorithm, but they are still make-believe grades and should be classified as such.

For the purpose of retaining a vestige of honesty and integrity, 2020 examination certificates will need to carry a validity warning. They should be clearly marked: ‘Teacher Predictions’.

It would also be honest to publish on the certificates reliability guidance for the grades. This would need to incorporate the 16 per cent accuracy factor of teacher predictions reported by London University. 
In addition, future employers need to know that 12 per cent grade inflation was built into this year’s A -Level grades and nine per cent for GCSE. 

The Government needs to get over its fear of telling the truth. It appears, however, to be suffering from mental paralysis; almost incapable of doing the right thing.

Gavin Williamson is taking most of the flak, but few of his predecessors as Education Secretary showed much capability for independent and intelligent thinking. David Blunkett and Michael Gove were possible exceptions. For displaying some integrity, the former was once trapped in a room by chanting teacher militants. The latter proved so toxic he was kicked into touch by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Ken Baker, Education Secretary 1986-1989, was the architect of today’s under-performing education system. He has joined the chorus of disapproval for Williamson without ever recognising his own much greater role in bringing the system to its knees by his introduction of the dumbed-down GCSE exam in the first place, and by his version of a knowledge-lite National Curriculum.

In her memoirs The Downing Street Years, Margaret Thatcher wrote that in her view ‘the purpose of testing was not to measure merit, but knowledge and the capacity to apply it. Unfortunately, my philosophy turned out to be different from that of those to whom Ken Baker entrusted the drawing-up of the National Curriculum …’

Gavin Williamson has been little different from other Education Secretaries in placing far too much trust in ‘expert’ advice; in his case from the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). 

Who knows, perhaps Lucy Worsley will preen herself for a new television series. Instead of History’s Biggest Fibs, it will be entitled Education’s Biggest Fibs.

What a long-running series that will be! Grade inflation for decades – across both schools and universities – will make for at least one compelling episode. Cross-dressing as Gavin Williamson, she will be able to re-enact what has amounted to a government signing of surrender terms to The Blob (the education establishment). The humiliation of politicians can, sometimes, make for great television. 

In the end, though, Williamson had no choice. However, few of his predecessors would have done any better. For too long ‘experts’ have been on top rather than where Churchill said they should be – on tap. 

Having to underwrite grade inflation on a new scale this year will have damaging long-term consequences for more than the class of 2020. The only way forward is to drop the terms ‘A-Level’ and ‘GCSE’ from this year’s certificates. 

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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