GCSE results came out recently, and many people shared their results. But the grades admittedly confused me slightly. Whereas I understood perfectly the ABC etc. system, English and Maths grades were listed numerically, as 1-9. This seemingly meaningless change to the system is a result of the reforms to GCSEs put in place by the government.
These changes, it would appear, stem from a rose in opinion, usually among older, individuals, that GCSEs are vastly easier than the O-levels that they themselves were subjected to. This has always irritated me mildly considering I myself sat GCSEs. And, after my A-levels and degree, I still consider them the hardest exams I’ve ever had to take. But I am open-minded and willing to research these claims that exams are getting easier. What my research seems to show is that GCSEs and O-levels are different and, therefore, not really comparable in terms of ease. However, let’s be fair and analyse the ways in which they differentiate. Research shows that far more people are passing GCSEs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean because they are simply “easier” on the whole. Upon analysis of an Ofqual report, Daniel Hemmens has stated that GCSEs merely make more effort in ‘differentiating between D and E grade candidates just as much as A and B grade candidates.’ Like exams should. Because they are for everyone, not just to divide people into ‘clever’ and ‘thick.’ One might point out that O-levels existed alongside CSEs which were aimed at less academically-minded, but these two types of examinations are results of the grammar school system, whereby grammar school students would sit O-levels and secondary modern students CSEs. Now, whatever you may think of the grammar school system, it was abolished long before these exams associated with it were themselves abolished. The way I see it, GCSEs and the differences that they have with the older forms of examinations, exist merely to provide a suitable replacement for fair assessment of all pupils so that everybody has an equal opportunity.
But it would appear most of the people who complain about GCSEs getting “easier” are not willing to make the effort to analyse them in any other way other than face value. Many of them give off a detestable odour of superiority whenever they speak on the subject. As Hemmen’s puts it, ‘complaining that exams are getting easier is just a socially acceptable way of complaining that we’re no longer restricting education to a privileged elite.’ It’s not only a incredibly patronising point of view, it’s incredibly ignorant. I remember when I was doing my GCSEs, I came across an article by Max Davidson in the Daily Telegraph where he derided the use of one of his own articles in a GCSE English Language examination. He wittered on about how “back in his day” students studied the likes of Dickens and Shakespeare. As I tossed away the newspaper to return to my (Shakespeare) coursework, I tried to quell my despair at Mr Davidson’s inability to recognise the difference between English language and English literature.
And, (apologies for attacking stereotypes – but they do exist for a reason), this attitude of superiority and ignorance is something I find typical of the breed of politicians that is responsible for the recent efforts to address the problem of these ridiculously easy GCSEs that the youth of today breeze through. However, no real effort has been made to analyse the reasons behind the differences or implement a new system responsibly. The solutions this government have forwarded is decidedly cack-handed in its approach. Pupils who have been educated in a world that suits the GCSE system are suddenly being subject to very different examinations and procedures, which, in my eyes, just results in confusion with one aim, to make sure that results are lower on the whole. Things like numerical grading systems only seem to add to this effort. This is the same government that has started forcing everybody to remain in education until the age of 18, causing overcrowding in sixth-forms and overall lower A-level results. Whereas the policy may seem to have a concerned and benevolent aim, the way it has been implemented suggests that is merely means to the same end as the GCSE reforms. To lower overall grades. And I hope they’re happy as this year has shown that in both A-levels and GCSEs.
I’m all for reforms in the education system. Believe it or not, I see many benefits to the grammar school system. But the reforms I am seeing now seem to exist merely to make grumpy old men feel smug and superior that they can now really say that things were better in their day, whilst being completely ignorant to the realities of why these changes have happened or what the figures show. The millions of innocent, intelligent and hardworking children who have had to endure these ridiculous reforms are the ones who suffer for this pathetic cause.