Thursday, August 30, 2012

At last, common sense prevails. (My annual educational rant.)

August is the month of GSCE and A Level results in the UK.  This year, for the first time since GSCEs were introduced in 1988, there has been a fall in the amount of A*- C grades awarded. It is only an overall decline of 0.4%, however, in English the corresponding pass marks have dropped from 78.4% to 76.3%.

As a consequence, there has been an outcry from many teachers, parents and governors. Some parents have been incensed that their children's papers might have been marked too harshly. Presumably, some have been appalled that their children might even have been deducted points for bad spelling and punctuation. This almost seems fair as we've all been subliminally indoctrinated that grammar is no longer important and what really matters is the effort, the thought behind the writing. You see, it's now all about the content. Yes, on occasions it might be easier to read kid's school work in Braille but what does it matter! So long as everyone hugs, kisses and celebrates the achievement of having written something without dying on the school premises and accidentally instigating an OFSTED inspection we can all be happy. Hurrah! 

Anyway, in response to all the outrage and gasps of horror, AQA, a leading exam board,  has made the following statement:

 "This summer, all the exam boards raised their grade boundaries for GCSE English in order to maintain standards. In AQA's case, this was by between 0 and 3 marks."

So that's 2 marks then? 

Yeah, yeah okay don't be pedantic - it could be 1 mark. (I'm guessing the 0 mark wouldn't have made a lot of difference and to lower a result by 3 marks would be just far too revolutionary....)

According to Brian Lightman, secretary to the Association of School and College Leaders, the boundaries for the C/D pass mark were particularly affected and children who were told they would get C grades were more likely to get D grades. In this article at the BBC he goes on to say;

"It is morally wrong to manipulate exam grades in this way - you are playing with young people's futures."

Yes indeed it is morally wrong, Mr Lightman, to "manipulate" grades. But...

 (Waves red flag, raises megaphone to mouth, screams in high pitched agony like a wolf listening to Barry Manilow in concert)

Is that not what the exam bodies have been doing for the last twenty four years? 

Yep, I know I have visited this subject before (so yes you can all moan, groan and make general tut-tutting noises) but it is one, which as a parent, writer and (non-practising) adult literary teacher, concerns me greatly. I cannot let it rest. I'm just not good at keeping my mouth shut. (Just be grateful I'm not going on about politics. Or sex.)

So, I have had three children in state education continuously for the last fifteen years and during that time I have witnessed a shocking and outrageous decline in educational standards. I have been dismayed at the attitude of schools and a number of teachers in their compliance in perpetuating this scandal which so deeply affects the literacy of our children. ( I love all these gimmicks by the way but don't let them distract you from the content.) I have ranted, raved and yes when my patience has finally snapped I have even been thoroughly unpleasant to some teachers. On one occasion, after a telephone conversation with a teacher, I was so angry I threw the phone across the room and dented the wall. (Fortunately, it missed my statue of Mrs Thatcher.) At times, I have not been proud of my behaviour or my words as I'm generally a good natured, sweet, fluffy, bunny-rabbit type of person and acting against my normal nature has made me very unhappy with myself. 

However, at last, with these new directives I feel vindicated that the authorities have finally seen the truth. Somewhere, in the long, dusty corridors of power, overcrowded with administrative zealots, a little light bulb has finally switched on. 

Of course, I am truly sorry that some children might miss out on their place at sixth form or college this year. However, if they have to resit their GSCEs or perhaps work for a year whilst doing a resit to obtain a better standard of English then so be it. If they have patience, in the long run what they will learn will serve them well and they may come to understand that what has happened to them is part of a much bigger picture.

I have absolutely no doubt my own children have been severely affected by the lowering of standards in our schools. I have looked at their books and it is not difficult to work out what has been going wrong. I also know the harsher marking system will now work against Jacob, who has just started his GSCE courses, as I doubt whether his English teacher can repair the damage that has been done in the last nine years in time for his national exams.

I have spent a lot of time, money and personal effort supplementing the state curriculum in an attempt to keep Jacob and Ben on track with their literacy. Yet I know I have not done well enough. Simply, I ran out of energy to fight and always, always, always, I was met with apathy and excuses at school. With the exception of this last year, when Benedict's school have tried to repair the damage they did the previous year when he fell two grades, I can put my hand on my heart and say that despite all the cooing, all the political correct mumbo jumbo nobody has given a shit whether Sam, Jacob or Ben have achieved their true potential.  For Jacob, his future exam results will now probably come down to how dedicated his English teacher is and whether she supports the current changes or is yet another teacher that has been sucked into the softly softly approach. I will do my best to help but the truth is I am worn out with the fight. 

But whatever the outcome for Jacob in two years time, I strongly support the current changes. I sincerely hope that these changes remain and indeed increase in vigour over the coming years.

It is time to redress the balance and give our children the education they deserve.


  1. Hear, hear, Mrs T! I think you should stand for Parliament. I hear that Louise Mensch's seat will shortly be vacant ...

    I absolutely concur with everything you say. If (most) teachers now have to change their attitude and appreciate that they are NOT there to act as childminders and 'socialise' children, maybe things really will improve. The UK has been dropping down international scales of student standards for years. Some action to try and remedy this is long overdue in my humble opinion!

  2. And this surprises you how?

    We've been going through this kind of crap for years over here and it has no sign of abating.

    I'm afraid that whatever true education my daughter will get, will be things that aren't taught in school.

  3. There's a rumour going round on the internet, Mrs B, that Andrew Strauss who has just quit cricket may stand as an MP. I am fine with this as I think it is good people come to parliament having had a successful career elsewhere. Although a few years interim working elsewhere would have been more appropriate - Who knows it may all be pure speculation! I don't know about you but I feel slightly disappointed with Louise Mensch's decision. The feminists have been arguing that it's her right to make other life choices and prioritise her family since her marriage but I cannot help but feel disappointed - everyone knows what hard work being an MP (if you take it seriously ) can be and I think she should not have put herself forward for election if she was not prepared to see it through. She made a commitment to the electorate and she has let them down - I don't think her excuses stand up bearing in mind what one hears of the concessions that DC had made towards her circumstances. Sometimes one must put the greater good before the individual - I'm probably old fashioned in saying that! Still, I suppose one has the please of awaiting her forthcoming chick lit novel set in parliament...

    Ah yes so education - at last Mrs B a ray of hope. I fear it has come too late for our children but maybe not all is lost now for future generations. All this time that Average is God so many kids have not fulfilled their potential. How very sad.

  4. G,

    I am not surprised, G. It probably crept on me slower than for some as until 1998 I worked in private businesses where the pc effect took longer to infiltrate. My first child went to school in 1996 - the particular school which he attended until May 1999 was excellent in every way. It was only when we moved to another location in 1999 that I truly began to see what had happened at grass roots level - first at my son's new school, then later at my other children's schools and on the other side as I started to retrain myself as an adult literacy teacher. It has been one long disappointment - which snowballed during New Labour. I am pleased at the small changes starting to seep through since the coalition came into power but the coalition will fall as people have very short term memories and already seem to have forgotten how we ended up in this mess.

    I know how frustrated you get at your work place (especially being a government agency where it must be PC hell) you have my deepest sympathy - it would drive me to utter madness!


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