Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Make GCSEs easier, to boost pupils' self-esteem

Despite an abundance of evidence suggesting that school exams have got substantially easier over the past twenty years, the Joint Council for Qualifications yesterday called for a significant increase in the number of "low-demand questions", in GCSE science papers. According to the JCQ, which represents Britain's examining boards, fully 70% of questions in foundation level exams, and 50% at advanced level, should be "low-demand".

So why does the JCQ want to make such changes? Well, according to its director, Jim Sinclair, it would be good for pupils' self-esteem to have lots of easy questions, although he inexplicably denied that having a greater number of easy questions would make exams easier. As he put it:
Part of the desire is that the student can come out of the exam with a feeling of success that they have actually tackled a significant proportion of the questions and achieved the best grade expected. The vast majority of candidates taking this exam are going to achieve grades D to G, and they deserve a positive experience of science.
So, if there are more easy questions then even weak pupils will be able to answer most of them, and will feel good about themselves, and about science in general. How nice!

Except, that the primary purpose of education is not to make children feel good about themselves. Still less is boosting their self-esteem the purpose behind exams. The purpose of education is to educate - to assist children in learning about the subjects that they are studying. And the purpose of exams is to assess the extent to which children have learnt about their chosen subjects. Nothing more, nothing less. In the highly unlikely event that it is suspected that a child will suffer severe psychological harm as a result of poor examination performance, then that child should probably not be entered for that exam.

There seems to be an increasing belief that children have a positive right to get good grades in their school exams, regardless of such irrelevancies as ability or effort. Their self-esteem demands it, apparently. This view, which has manifested itself most recently in the proposals of the JCQ, is not only wrong, but harmful. Not only will it not benefit those whom it is intended to benefit - having a C rather than an E at GCSE will not make them any more intelligent, any more skilled, or, since the devaluing of GCSEs is well-known, any more attractive to an employer. However, what a system that is designed to ensure that everyone does well will do is devalue the achievements of the genuinely able pupils, as well as the exams themselves. And, ultimately, lowering standards to raise pass rates will harm the entire country, by turning out a generation of young people with appreciably fewer skills, not only than previous generations, but also than their economic competitors in other nations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently heard a debat on 5 live between a teacher who claimed that you could get a c grade on just 25% pass mark in maths and the head of one of the exam boards.

Needless to say was correct.

The head of the exam board spent 10 minutes explaining why this was a good thing and only succeded in making himself look a prat.

God for a country that ran half the world to end up like this.


I dispair at what is happening AND ...the response from my wife and kid is ....Since you cannnot do anything why get upset !!!

And thay are right !!!

BUT I fight through radio ( I am ray from brixton on TALK SPORT with jon Gaunt, RADIO LONDON with vanessa phelps and kath and eddie in the evening and FIVE LIVE with whichever leftie thay can find !! ) for common sense and the vast majority who like me cannot understand what has and is happening.

With continued sadness