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Our education system, to say the least, is in hot water. The most recent GCSE and A-level results have been received amid controversy and criticism. It was announced in the Daily Telegraph, days before A-level results were due, that exam board regulators, Ofqual, had introduced new measures of tougher marking that would ensure ‘grade inflation’ would cease for the first time in 29 years. It did. But, ultimately, their quick-fix scheme was to be about as effective as applying a Band-Aid to the hole that sank the Titanic – unmitigated disaster was always going to be an unavoidable inevitability.
Sure enough, this has, indeed, done more harm than good. Schools across the country have protested against unfair marking arguing that, in the case of both A-levels and GCSEs, grades have been ‘artificially held down’. In one instance, for example, in Nottinghamshire, a GCSE student was denied an A* grade despite sitting the exam in January and achieving it. Why? The new ‘Terminal Rule’ – a confidential new rule unknown to students and schools entirely – which states all exams must be sat in the summer else the candidate shall be withdrawn. No other mark shall count. Unbelievably, OCR have refused to budge on this issue, resulting in the school condemning and dropping them as an exam board.
Such incidents have been common across the country, but the problem is far deeper than held back grades. The new measures are yet another in a series of ‘patch-jobs’ as it were, on the ailing examination system. The introduction of the A* for A-levels in 2010, for example, intended to distinguish those who excelled beyond the A grade, but none of this is enough; the numbers of disappointed students suspended in limbo steadily increases, all of whom resit, improve and reapply. The numbers of students applying for universities swells, places do not, and competition becomes all the more fierce, selection all the more elite. It seems almost inconceivable then that the government has been too timid to properly address the issue: the system, at present, is simply not working.
It is little wonder the Conservatives have recently been toying with the idea of re-introducing the O-level, an idea many warn would lead back to a two-tiered, divided education system. Admittedly this is probably not the answer, but they do at least seem to have the right idea. A-levels and GCSEs must be properly assessed and options considered. Sceptics say that A levels are being ‘dumbed down’, however it is likely these are the same people who are adding the stars and ordering examiners to be more frugal with their marking, in the hope the current exams process can limp on for a few more years.
Frugality for frugality’s sake is, evidently, pointless because it has left many young people unemployed, despairing as to what to do with themselves. It is easy to see figures on paper and tut with disapproval, but that’s what it’s all really about – the education system must be reassessed, properly, for the sake of thousands of young people whose futures are being jeopardised.