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Even the score

At a press conference on the joint Office for Standards in EducationSchool Curriculum and Assessment Authority report, Standards in Public Examinations 1975-1995, these questions were put to Mrs Gillian Shephard and Sir Ron Dearing.

* "Do you expect the public to believe that next year (1997) 80 per cent of young people will achieve the equivalent of five or more GCE O-level passes - without the assistance of grade inflation - when the comparable figure 10 years ago was 25 per cent?

* "Can you appreciate that to reasonable people this will be seen as one of the biggest confidence tricks in post-war education?" Their responses were interesting. Sir Ron declared that the change to GCSE occurred before SCAA was set up, and therefore he did not have to "defend his wicket". Mrs Shephard's own defence was that the figure of 80 per cent (given by Baroness Blatch in 1994) included examinations other than GCSE. The questioner pointed out that his question had not been about O-level but about the examinations the Government itself had insisted were equivalent to O-level.

Your readers should be aware that the boards were unable to provide enough GCE O-level scripts for any comparison to be made. For the 16-plus examination, therefore, the public will have to answer - without the benefit of any evidence - the questions to which Mrs Shephard and Sir Ron gave such unsatisfactory answers.

At 18-plus no A-level scripts were available from 1975; and only a few from 1985. The latter comprised 16 grade A scripts and 16 grade E scripts - in each subject investigated - from all the boards combined. Specialists were told the grades awarded and asked to give their individual judgments on "the characteristics of the candidates' performance" at each grade. There was no "blind" marking and we have no access to what these individual judgments were. Chris Woodhead was surely right to say that this investigation produced no evidence to settle anything.

FRED NAYLOR

2 Kingsdown House

Kingsdown, Corsham, Wiltshire

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