Friday, August 28, 2009

Education Education Education

Fool's gold

Every year we blog the latest downward lurch in exam standards (eg see here and here), and every year we listen to the same tired old debates on Newsnight and the Today programme.

Are exams getting easier?

The left, government ministers, and the teaching unions say no. The facts say yes.

The best independent survey - the one conducted by Durham University’s curriculum, evaluation and management centre (see here) - says A Levels are two whole grades easier than 20 years ago. Here's their killer chart:

Have the qualifications been devalued?

The left, government ministers, and the teaching unions say no. The facts say yes.

The top unis increasingly need to find other ways of selecting among "A grade" students, and the top independent schools are abandoning the government's dumbed down GCSEs altogether (in favour of the independently set IGCSE - now used by 700 schools).

Frankly we can't be bothered to trawl though this year's statistical entrails - we've done it too often before. Let's just concentrate on what's to be done.

The single most important reform is to take our politicos out of education. Schools minister Vernon Coaker may once have been a deputy headmaster, but honestly, does this sound like a guy you'd want in charge of your child's education? Right now, state school parents have no choice.

Comrades! Excellent news! Tractor production has reached another record high!

Politicos always interfere in state education factories - they can't help themselves. They tell the teachers what to teach and how to teach it. They set exam grade production targets and demand their fulfilment - on pain of execution. They force customers to accept shoddy goods, and blight whole generations with forced collectivisations.

As we've blogged many times, it is absolutely essential that Gove delivers on his school voucher scheme. State funded pupils must be given the same freedom to choose as private pupils have always enjoyed. Schools must be free to run themselves, just like independent schools already are. Exams must be set independently, and schools must be free to offer the exams they choose (it is outrageous that state schools have been denied permission to offer the IGCSE).

Our politicos have had their chance with our £83bn pa state education sector, and have delivered a dumbed down quagmire. It is time to trust the customers and the producers to sort things out directly, between themselves.

PS As I've mentioned before, I have an unhealthy addiction to BBC R5 phone-ins. Yesterday, callers were naturally exercised about the dumbing down of GCSEs, and recounted no end of outrageous tales: one guy reckoned his niece had walked out of her English Language exam without finishing the paper, yet still ended up with an A grade. Yesterday's other hot topic of course, was the latest population stats. I intend to blog them once I've had a chance to sift through the ONS numbers for myself.

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