Divorce may not be such dumb move

28th September 2007 at 01:00
So the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is to get a divorce. Not between its twin functions of the exam system and the curriculum that feeds it, but between its regulatory function and overseeing what is taught and examined in schools.

With the old couple split, the idea is that we can get rid of the annual debate about grade inflation or "dumbing down", as some of the more dumbed down members of our society describe it when grades go up.

As Ed Balls put it this week: "I want parents, universities, employers and young people themselves to be confident that exam standards are being maintained."

Some hope. The better teachers get at getting their students to jump through hoops including encouraging them to do re-sits to get the A grades they deserve the more the exam and test system will stand accused of getting easier. No amount of evidence, statistical or anecdotal, will change the minds of those convinced A-levels were tougher in their day or that GCSEs aren't worth the paper they are printed on.

The fact that nine out of 10 of the country's top independent schools have abandoned GCSEs in at least one subject in favour of an O-level style, international version of the exam, as we report exclusively this week, will be grist to the mill of those who feel we no longer have an exam system fit for purpose.

After all, these are the schools that dominate entry to Oxbridge and the Russell group universities and, as we also report this week, these are the schools predicted to get a third of all the new A-star grades at A-level.

The only way to check whether standards are being maintained over time is to set the same exams every year much as the international Pisa tests do. That does not allow for the dynamic change necessary in the curriculum and exams and necessary for a society not to be stuck in aspic.

Alternatively, you can believe in the integrity of the statisticians who do their best to measure that which is actually unmeasurable over time.

All of that said, if the new independent body makes it easier for the Government to insist that improving results are down to hard work and talent of students and teachers all well and good. We will be waiting with bated breath.

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