Britain's education disaster
Published in: Daily Mail
It’s no surprise at all to learn that A-level and GCSE grades have indeed got progressively easier over the past decade. The only surprise is that, after more than two decades of denials, the education establishment has finally admitted it.
The exam watchdog Ofqual has found that science and geography papers are ‘softer’ and ‘less demanding’. Teenagers now have more multiple choice questions and papers with less scientific content.
Ofqual warns that this deterioration is leaving pupils ill-prepared for university and there is less opportunity for good students to shine.
Last week Glenys Stacey, the chief executive of Ofqual, said the value of exams had been undermined by more than a decade of ‘persistent grade inflation’ which was ‘impossible to justify’.
You don’t say.
Four years ago, researchers from Durham University concluded that A-levels were now two grades easier than two decades ago. Even then the establishment pretended this wasn’t the case.
For more than two decades, this deterioration has been systematically covered up. When in 1996 I published my book about Britain’s education disaster All Must Have Prizes, the political and education world scoffed and scorned. The reason was that politicians didn’t want to admit that their education policies were failing – and why.
For the reason lay in the doctrine of equality of outcomes upon which the Labour party and the education world was -- and remains -- fixated. This meant they thought every young person should be able to sport a degree after their name.
So they shoe-horned more and more of them into university, renaming less academic institutions ‘universities’ in order that they too could confer degrees in less rigorous subjects. But many young people were just not suited to academic study.
The result was that university standards dropped like a stone. Some of these courses were academically worthless; and even amongst those that were proper degree courses, having to take so many students who couldn’t cope meant that they too had to lower their standards.
There was correspondingly an inevitable knock-on effect right down the system, with A-level standards being lowered. At the same time, the ‘all must have prizes’ mentality meant that from primary school upwards no child could be seen to have failed at anything.
So more and more children arrived at secondary school functionally illiterate and innumerate; and with teaching having been reconceptualised as ‘facilitating’ children to learn about the world by a kind of process of osmosis so that they ended up knowing virtually nothing, and with no child being allowed to fail at anything, GCSEs too became progressively worthless.
Yet the government could not admit to this disaster -- because it could not admit the terrible truth, that the doctrine of equality which defined so-called ‘progressive’ thought was not only miring all children in mediocrity, not only crippling Britain’s future by leaving so many young people unfit for employment, but also actually destroying the life chances of the most disadvantaged of all who depended so much upon school to lift them out of ignorance.
Now the political winds have changed in that the current Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is one of the very few politicians who really does understand what has happened and is determined to reverse this catastrophe. But he is hampered by the fact that his own Conservative party leadership has adopted some of the shibboleths of the left in order to reposition the Tories as being no longer the ‘nasty party’.
Consequently, selection by academic ability – the only route to a true meritocracy, true social mobility and thus true social justice -- is a banned concept around which Gove is having to tiptoe. Worse still, the universities minister David Willetts does not agree that, as far as the disastrous policy of mass university admissions is concerned, more really does mean worse.
Until these and other ideological shibboleths are finally buried, the calamitous decline to which the education establishment has now finally put up its hand will not be reversed.