Editor's comment

It's that time of year again, the moment when fatuous comment takes the place of considered judgment. We can always rely on the Daily Mail to lead the charge of "dumbing down" when the exam results appear, and we were not disappointed this week. And endless radio discussions ensue about whether increased pass rates mean "exams are getting easier or pupils are becoming more intelligent" - prompted by a glacial shift which saw the Higher pass rate increase by 1.7 per cent. Let's not ignore the 100 per cent pass rate in Higher Classical Greek and Russian. Crivvens! Help ma boab!

All of this, as one contributor to a radio phone-in described it, amounts to an "annual put-down for young people who are doing well". Every generation believes that "exams were harder when we were at school", that magical golden age. Try telling that to those pupils among the 4,500 Higher entries which resulted in a D or no award. And put some of the critics in an exam hall to find out how "easy" they find the papers.

The performance of pupils in exams should not be confused with the regular complaints from employers and universities that they have to spend time on remedial skills, as proof that standards are falling. With well-nigh half of under-21s in higher education, universities are now dealing with a much broader range of students than they were 20 years ago - leaving a smaller pool for employers to draw on.

But there is always work to be done, and there can hardly be a school in the land which is not signed up to an improvement agenda in all its guises, whether it be in the form of early exam presentation, developing critical skills or focussing on skills for work. Perhaps when commentators start pointing to the effectiveness of teaching as at least part of the explanation for good exam grades, we can start having a grown-up discussion.

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