The value of A levels

Some time ago after giving a talk I was asked by a student at one of our top universities if I thought the A levels I had were of the same value and difficulty as the ones he had most recently obtained. I was both pleased to have a question out of the ordinary, and worried about how to answer it.

I decided to answer it factually. I said that every year A level marking is moderated and assessed by the Examiners, with a view to being fair between the years. In theory if a paper has been more difficult than past papers the required marks are lower, and vice versa. I had no evidence or analysis to question that thesis that standards have been approximated year by year.

Duty done, I then asked him a question. I asked if if he was implying that standards had risen and my A level was inferior. He laughed and told me he thought his A level had not been to the same high standard or difficulty as mine. I thought it sad that a clever and probably hard working student felt like that about his recent qualifications. He of course had the luxury of knowing he was going on to get a more prestigious qualification, a degree from a great university. To those leaving education at A level similar thoughts would be more upsetting.

Mr Gove decided that creating advanced qualifications with a high proportion of course work rather than exams might lead to less rigour. Whilst most people would work hard and make an honest account of themselves, and most teachers will lead, teach and mark professionally, there is more danger of abuse in course work. You could cheat by getting others to help you too much with the course work or even dictate it to you. You could benefit from favouritism in marking – or suffer from bad relations with your teacher assessors for reasons unconnected with the standard of your coursework. You could benefit from being asked to do the work again before formally submitting, if it was not good enough the first time. Mr Gove therefore decided to move A levels back to reliance on final exams.

I remember the A levels I took well. They depended entirely on the final exam performance. It meant you needed to both understand and remember the course material.It was also a flexible exam based system in the subjects I took. If you had reached a higher level than that required you could be awarded a high mark even if you had not answered covering the basics in the way the marking system was designed to capture. There were no single right answers, as the examiners recognised the complexity of the questions and the range of answers that could be interesting.

The two years of the sixth form to pass those exams were the best and and most formative of all my years in formal education. I just hope today’s A levels are a similar challenge and spur to students. I still use the techniques of economic analysis I first studied then, and still can place what I am currently doing in an historical context from the History course. I remember the material because I needed to learn and understand to pass the exam. A few years ago I took an A level equivalent professional exam. That was reliant on rote learning with the doctrine of the right answer. Where the problem was mathematical requiring you to memorise a formula and apply it to data that made sense. Where it was multiple choice between arguable answers it was more hazardous and less sensible. It was not nearly such a worthwhile educational experience.

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  1. Lifelogic
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    The easiest way to compare is to look at subjects like maths and physics. Certainly the questions were harder on papers from the seventies than now. The questions now are easier but then they are rather too fussy about exactly how you answer them.

    Perhaps losing a mark or two for not doing it in particular or contrived ways. The best thing to do would be not to have grades but say say what percentile (or perhaps five percentile) you were in. Then we could not get grade inflation would we in the top 5% or perhaps the bottom 5% of the year.

    Good maths questions should not generally just requiring you to memorise a formula and apply it to the data. They should require you to think and that is largely what has been lost.

    • Dame Rita Webb
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      The percentile method works in Korea and a prospective employer then knows exactly where you stand in the pecking order. No mention yesterday however of the fifth of this year’s school leavers who are functionally illiterate.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Well if they can be taught to count and measure then perhaps they can usefully lay bricks, do carpentry, become roofers, tree surgeons or drive a digger truck. Far more productive than many lawyers are anyway.

        • Hope
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

          Grammar schools needed and required. Dithering May unable to keep her word or manifesto but happy to implementncontentious issuesbwe do not want by the back door i.e. gay marriage and now self declaration gender.

          She was absolutely useless speaking about the atrocities in Barcelona. Stand shoulder to shoulder nonsense, empty predictable words. People are being murdered and maimed yet she will still not say it is an Islamic problem/issue! Same for the young vulnerable girls in care who were abused, tortured by Pakistani and Bangladeshi men around the country. Amina Lone Labour MP had the courage to say there is a problem using her heritage to support her claim. What is May and Rudd actually doing? They are failing us, all citizens, in the primary role too keep us safe. May was beyond pathetic on TV today.

          • Chris
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            I think you are right, Hope.

          • Hope
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

            JR, what is the position of other companies untried if they demand the same terms as EU citizens? Visas, education, their laws and courts above ours etc. how could the govt deny them this when we want to trade with them. Also any transitional period by definition causes uncertainty to all countries who want to trade with us. Why is it being entertained?

          • Lifelogic
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

            Shoulder to shoulder perhaps but can they do anything to stop these attacks, other than pick up the dead and wounded and clear up?

            Mays is however in favour of even religion and religous schools. Thus surely incubating yet more future religious cleavages in society. Has she learned nothing from the years of troubles in Ireland and indeed all around the World. Why does anyone think more people indoctrinated into irrational belief systems would help?

          • hefner
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

            100% behind Lifelogic (on this one).

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        Do you believe that a fifth of school leavers are functionally illiterate?

        People have been saying similar things for many years, so one might expect that by now a substantial proportion of the adult population would be unable to read or write, and yet I can’t remember the last time I encountered one of these supposedly numerous functional illiterates.

        • Liam Hillman
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

          I saw an A Level physics paper a few years ago that would have been a walkover for a 1970s O Level student. I know this because I was one.

          • Hope
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

            Gove is right A levels should be exam based. Course will is open to abuse and it is abused. Many companies have their own tests not trusting education standards. The same applies to degrees. The Labour govt introduced this to keep the young in education to help its mass immigration policy while keeping unemployment low. Sadly the Tories as usual build on the lefty Labour ideas.

          • Lifelogic
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

            This is alas quite true, you can just google the past papers and it is rather clear cut, especially in maths & physics.

        • Lifelogic
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          Making English spellings less absurd might help some of them!

        • AnomalousCowshed
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          Functional illiteracy is not the same as being unable to read or write, it is defined as those skills being inadequate “to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level” (from wikipedia).

          One possible (though it could get a bit tricky) test for the effects of functional illiteracy (or innumeracy) in the UK, would be to compare the relative wage levels of each educational cohort through time.

          FWIW, in the last twenty years, I’ve met only two people who were basically unable to read or write. I have my doubts about only two or three more. On the other hand, the number of people basically freeze when presented with written communication is probably an order of magnitude higher.

          • Denis Cooper
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

            So “functional illiteracy” does not mean what people might take it to mean, that the degree of illiteracy is such that it impairs the ability of the person to function in our society.

            I have occasionally found myself in that position recently, not through a genuine inability to read but because my eyesight has begun to fail and I sometimes forget to take my reading glasses with me. Then it’s embarrassing when you have to ask a lunch companion to read the menu for you …

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      The Maths Challenge questions (for different ages) and the Cambridge STEP questions are rather better at making people think that A levels and GCSE exams. Past papers are available free on line. Similar things for chemistry and physics I think.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        Chemistry Olympiad and Physics Olympiad

    • eeyore
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Googling “are exams easier now” produces much anecdotal evidence (mostly agreeing they are) but no serious academic study. Why not? Don’t teachers and universities want to know? Shouldn’t HMG commission one?

      I once saw an examination paper, dated about 1900, for entry to the Indian Civil Service under the Raj. It covered Greek, Latin, Hindi, quadratics, law, economic geography, chemistry and much else, and to no low standard either. I doubt any modern education would equip a candidate for it.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        It is in no ones interest to show that standards have declined. The exam boards want easier exams and higher grades as they more entrants choose the easy board and they get more fees. So grade inflation there is. A similar thing happened with the credit reference agencies (who were often paid by the people being referenced) and the banking crash.

        The exam boards should not be setting standards you do not want someone with a vested interest in dumbing down or in the case of the reference agencies a vested interest in making nearly everything triple A regardless of merit.

        • Anonymous
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          Your comments have been excellent this morning, Lifelogic.

          • Lifelogic
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

            Most kind.

        • Dame Rita Webb
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

          It’s not the exams that are the problem but what the kids are actually being taught. I had a read through an A level German textbook the other day. Translating it into English I might have as well read a description of modern German society as written by some lefty poly sociology lecturer

    • Dr Stephen Lovatt
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      LifeLogic is spot on. Modern education is all about huge work-loads and ticking boxes and regurgitating facts. It is NOT about developing understanding.

      The standard of entry for A-levels in Maths and Physics (my speciality and experience) is at LEAST one year behind what it was when I went through the system in the 1970s.

      Not to long ago, I was confidenty told by quite a few A-level Physics students that “four divided by zero equals zero” and that they had been specifically taught this by GCSE teachers. I have subsequently met the ame story a number of times when tutoring privately.

      When teachers LIE to students in order to stop them asking awkward questions any hope of the students trusting authority of believing that there is such a thing as “truth” dies.

      When I did my PGCE, the ONLY thing I learned was how to lie effectively, as it was necessary to parrot back to the (well-meaning) teachers various controvercial (and in my view erroneous) educational theories and to present myself as supporting various inhumane teaching practices.

      Stephen Lovatt PhD PGCE MA(Cantab)

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        I recall one primary school teacher telling me that it was colder at the north and south poles becauses they were further from the Sun. This seemed “unlikely” as the rays had already come 93 million miles. I remember, aged 10 thinking this was complete drivel and working out, in the playground, why they were actually colder due to the angle of the Sun’s rays. I tried to tell her later but she did not seem to understand.

        I have been rather sceptical of teachers ever since.

        • hefner
          Posted August 19, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          Your primary teacher was right. Take the Earth at equinox (22/03 or 22/09) . At noon for points at equator the Sun is vertical, whereas at the poles, it is tangential tending to zero. That’s the first simple geometrical effect. Second effect, at the equator, the Sun’s rays cross the slice of the atmosphere with the minimum path, at the poles with the maximum possible path. Once the seasonal and daily cycles are added to these two basic effects they combine to give the maximum solar radiation in the eu atorial regions, and the minimum one in the polar regions.

          • Lifelogic
            Posted August 19, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

            No she was not at all right. It is not “distance” at all. 93 million miles or 93,000,000 million miles plus just 4000 more to the pole! The sun moves more than that distance in and out by circa 3.5 million miles as it orbits. But the equator does not plunge to minus 50 or anything like it.

            The main effect (by a long way) is the angle of the sun so that the heat is spread over far more land. True the amount and nature of the atmosphere make a difference too (both in heat arriving and heat leaving but no way is it the “distance” that is remotely significant!

          • hefner
            Posted August 24, 2017 at 6:41 am | Permalink

            BTW, it is the Earth going round the Sun, not “the sun moves more than that distance in and out by 3.5 million miles as it orbits”. As for equator “plunging”, there is no such thing, simply the Earth keeping the same inclination of about 23.5 degrees going around the Sun in an elliptic orbit.

    • Scottspeig
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      The problem with percentile, is how do you compare one year to another? Perhaps you were in a particular bright year and so were lower down even though you were actually better than the previous year’s group.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

        Not really the ability of the years are fairly consistent from year to year. The top 5% one year are fairly comparable with the top 5% the year after and so on.

  2. Lifelogic
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    The BBC seemed very excited yesterday by the fact this year men had slighty more high grades than women for a change.

    They never ever seem to discuss the hugely different subject the genders choose to study with Further Maths, Physics and Computer Studies being circa 80% male and Performing arts, languages circa 80% female. Perhaps the BBC staff feel they might get fired just like the Google employee for actually telling the truth.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Since you mention that chap at google, the BBC has been running a series of short interviews with “inspirational businesswomen” and I casually watched part of one some time last week. She said that when she had joined the board of some power company the male directors were used to seeing the customers as just meters on the wall, things, and one of the advantages of gender diversity on boards was that women tended to be more interested in people rather than in things … the words were not exactly the same as those that got the google chap summarily dismissed, but they were pretty damn close and yet the BBC interviewer made no comment.

      • Javelin
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        Indeed. If women are different then it’s safe to say women will bring benefits. If you can’t say women are different then you can’t say they bring benefits and you can only say men are oppressing women.

        So decide – do women bring benefits or are men opresssing women.

        Hopefully within a decade we’ll find out the answer to both questions.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        Indeed Women’s Hour is endlessly telling us that women are better at multi-taxing, more cooperative, less motivated by money, more intuitive, better at communicating …..

        Perhaps they are right, but what is clear is that they, on average, choose different A levels, different degrees, different jobs and different work like balances.

  3. Nerwmania
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    I spent that period almost entirely concerned with women sport parties clothes and various emotional swoops and ascents; going on to bumble through a degere in an arts subject without any direction revealing itself .
    I don`t regret it, and John Redwood`s description of his swotting at the time only confirms my suspicion that most people who are politicians are wierd and if they learn to look normal they only more dangerous .
    This may have more to do with the obsessions of the political class than we commonly think

    Reply What a pity you did not get anything worthwhile out of your academic work. Mine did not stop me going to parties and dances, but these are not relevant to this topic so I have spared you them.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      I am happy you bumbled through your degree in an arts subject, enjoyed it and did not regret it – but should other tax payers have to fund this?

    • acorn
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      “I still use the techniques of economic analysis I first studied then, and still can place what I am currently doing in an historical context from the History course.” JR says.

      Hence, it becomes obvious why the UK economy is in the state it currently is; still using 19th century theory. And; the little people, may have insult added to current economic injury, 17th century style, with Jacob Rees-Mogg as prime minister! Trump and Rees-Mogg, can you imagine!!!

      Reply I was educated in the later part of the C20, not the C19! I have of course kept up to date with the subject since. Why make such petty and silly comments?

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        Jacob Rees-Mogg would certainly be far better than May and almost anyone would be better than Corbyn.

        A letter in the Telegraph (or Times?) the other day said we did not want another Eton Toff (or something similar) like Cameron. The difference is that Cameron was essentially a lefty, greencrap pushing, tax increasing, cast iron, EU loving, remainer toff. Whereas Rees-Mogg is a toff who is spot on with most topics, and is honest, principled and a proper low tax in action Conservative.

        Cameron was a good presenter in the car salesman way but had a totally duff compass on nearly all issues.

        Get a job for the excellent Kemi Badenoch MP please too.

        • Lifelogic
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

          Kwasi Kwarteng seems sound too.

          • Richard1
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

            Yes it’s odd that Kwarteng is not in a prominent position, he is highly articulate and a proper thinker, comes over as a calm and decent chap and of course ticks a needed diversity box. Perhaps he has offended in some way we don’t know about. It is difficult to escape from the conclusion that many of the Conservative Party’s most articulate advocates, our host being a prominent example, are on the back benches.

            Reply Kwasi is a PPS in the Treasury

      • Mark
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back JMK

        From what I can see, most of the “modern” economics of recent years is in fact trying to re-cast Marxist principles and give them a glossy veneer that his inadequate maths failed to provide.

        • Mitchel
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          I think if Marx/Engels/Trotsky came back today they would be quite pleased with what they saw-most of the socio-cultural agenda has been implemented and where that goes the economic agenda will surely follow.

          “One last heave,comrades!”

      • Scottspeig
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        JRM as PM and JR as Chancellor is my idea of the ultimate fantasy cabinet!

      • acorn
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

        So JR, tell me again what happens to the Gilts swapped back to cash by QE when they get to the BoE.

        Reply Today when a gilt repays the Bank reinvests the money in another second hand gilt from the market. The Fed is planning simply to cancel both the bond and the money when it starts its wind back.

        • acorn
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

          I had a number of my Gilts redeemed this year, I have the cash in a current account at my high street bank. In-order for my bank’s balance sheet to remain balanced, the BoE will transfer an identical “reserve” amount, from its Treasury owned “securities” account, to my banks “reserve” account at the BoE.

          Now I am stuck in a “liquidity trap”. Everything I could invest in at this time, is likely to suffer a capital loss (interest yield increase) between now and the next general election.

          BTW. None of the above has caused any change in the “net fiscal assets” in the UK currency area. Apart that is, I have lost the interest payments from the Gilts and the Treasury has kept them.

    • Bob
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      “I spent that period almost entirely concerned with women sport parties clothes and various emotional swoops and ascents; going on to bumble through a degere in an arts subject”

      That explains a lot.

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Clearly the degere (sic) didn’t extend to punctuation.

  4. James Neill
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    It’s too late for me now- but i finished second level education way back in the 60’s and it was nearly all by rote learning then. My further education came about from the career I followed and of course the school of hard knocks. So lucky those who can afford to go on to third level and complete to higher levels etc. However I can’t help but feel some are not terribly suited to university life and the world of academia and by that I mean a lot of younger people might be missing out by not following apprenticeship schemes- a bit like the models favoured in Germany today. I believe we have lost our way a little here and that the country and economy is probably losing out as well. we could be turning out surplus ‘square pegs in round holes’- Just my thoughts.

    • Dan H.
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Too much learning now is simply rote learning. Modern A-levels, for instance, have next to no predictive utility when one is trying to assess how well a prospective student will do at university (and this is not for want of trying on the part of the university people).

      As far as I can see, it is quite possible to browbeat even a fairly dim student into gaining a high grade at A-level, simply by rote-teaching the curriculum and forcing the unfortunate child to learn by heart pretty much everything they are likely to be examined on.

      It is not possible to do this at degree level, since although a fair amount of rote learning is also involved there, an ability to think for one’s self is needed and A-levels don’t test this very much at all.

  5. Lifelogic
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Nick Timothy seems rather confused yesterday in the telegraph. Just as one might expect of someone who thinks that a “vote for me and we will tax you even more and cut your pension manifesto” was such a great plan.

    Certainly there are far too many daft and worthless degrees that the government are encouraging people to get into large debts for. With modern online technology and videoed lectures there is no reason why education & degrees (in most subjects) should cost very much at all to run.

    Should the government really be giving cheap loans and subsidies at all to study divinity, performing arts, languages, english, history, gender studies, geography, PPE, music, climate alarmism, media studies, Latin and Greek and the likes? Can people not do this in their own time and at their own cost?

    I would restrict the cheap loans and subsidies to areas such as engineering, building, physics, maths, solid science, medicine, sound economics (not the lefty drivel type), acounting, architecture and some other practical skills (mechanics & construction and the likes). Perhaps not law as we clearly have far too many lawyers already. Let people get a job and fund their own hobby subjects if they want to in their own time.

    We even fund degrees in quack medicine I note, doubless Prince Charles and the other climate alarmists dopes would approve! I also understand that Media Studies graduates earn less than people with no degree at all.

    Generally people are bright or they are less bright and having a degree does not really change this much. They might earn a bit more if they get into an over protected profession such as law perhaps. Also not a profession that actually generates anything of much value quite the reverse in general.

    • Sir Joe Soap
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      The economic problem with the current system is that people who bumble through arts degrees then struggle to earn £20k will never pay their loans back. People who study engineering, science etc. and get good jobs pay 6.1% compound for their own loan, then get stung at 40% + to pay again for the bumblers’ loans.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Indeed and perhaps also for their children, their housing, their old age, their medical care, their glasses, their presciptions, their council tax, their pensions, their bus pass …..

    • Stuart K
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      How can you possibly categorise core subjects such as English, History, and Geography along with Media Studies and Gender Studies? Is it because you think anyone who studies the Arts and Humanities is left-wing?

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 19, 2017 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

        I do find that the less knowledge of Maths, Physics and Engineering people have the more likely they are to be left wing, believers in climate alarmism, “renewables” (and other daft religions), are anti GM and some even think the NHS is efficient. Some are even often pro homeopathy and fall for Corbynomics and the magic money tree.

        Clearly not all of them by any means (other than at the BBC and 99% of actors of course).

        A sort of Prince Charles position of thinking with ones gut feelings and beliefs.

        • Stuart K
          Posted August 20, 2017 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          You’re probably right about those with good knowledge of Maths, etc. I think that if History, Geography were always taught properly and objectively, the student would be less inclined to believe in left-wing shibboleths and more likely to take a balanced view of the world.

          I was lucky to be taught history at school by a gentleman (in the early 1980s) who nowadays would probably never hold down his job because he would have had no time for the beliefs of today’s teaching establishment.

  6. alan jutson
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    I cannot help feeling that modern teaching is all about teaching students to pass examinations, rather than them learning a wider knowledge of the subject.
    The fear of a School being low on the National results table has probably encouraged this form of teaching.
    I will not go into the fit for work/practical life skills argument which could apply to many subjects, mathematics in particular.

    • Narrow Shoulders
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      My children have passed through primary school and are now in secondary education. I do not recognise your teaching to pass the test scenario.

      My children’s teachers encourage them to be inquisitive and try to make their subjects interesting. Sport and outside interests are encouraged.

      If I were to be critical of the system I would suggest there is too much emphasis and academia and not enough on practical skills and common sense. Michael Gove’s efforts have not been wasted.

  7. Richard1
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Michael Gove was absolutely right to make the change he did towards more rigour. This year’s exams eg in maths and physics have been made materially harder. There was far too much cheating and gaming the system in the past with all the course work in some subjects. Even so the BBC managed to fill the airwaves yesterday with moaners from the educational blob complaining about this. I do think Michael Gove would be much better employed back at the dept of education, and also put in charge of universities, than he is at the environment dept where he appears, depressingly, to have been cowed by the green blob.

    Much more rigorous scrutiny is needed now by govt on the courses universities can get funding for. Simon Heffer the distinguished journalist came across one on ‘waste management with dance’ and I have just heard of one on ‘basket weaving’. No problem with any of those activities but do they merit public subsidy for an academic degree?

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      Michael Gove used to be sound but he has clearly gone totally round the twist. First he knived Boris (lumping us all with socialist, remainer dope May), then he had said he would put VAT on private school fees (just like Corbyn it would clearly raise a negative sum, kill some private schools dead and damage standards hugely). Now he even has fallen for all the climate alarmism and expensive energy drivel.

      These English graduates, with zero grasp of numbers, logic, engineering or science!

      • Michael
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

        Michael Gove is a chancer, he will go along with whatever way the wind is blowing, he cares little for what damage he does or to whom. He cares nothing for the small people he is hurting along the way including the british public so long as he can promote himself- Gove for PM..just like Boris for PM?
        Gove like all calculating politicians has the perfect answer to everything including the brexit problem- he says it will all work out ok so long as we make the right decisions- this said at the time before he was invited back into cabinet.. this an observation from the west of ireland.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      Waste management with dance does not sound too bad, someone certainly has to manage waste and a bit of dancing can entertain and does no harm. Nothing really wrong with football management or golf course management either if it is taught well. There are at least some jobs in these areas. But in general the student should fund themselves and make their own “investment” in their education.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        With perhaps some assistance from the employer where they can.

      • Robert Christopher
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        Golf Management has been a very useful course to have studied, with a very high rate of acquiring a useful job. It is because it had sound business theory, coupled with sound application which could be transferred to a different business.
        The MSc in brewing at Birmingham used to be, and still might be, another very helpful step towards a very useful occupation – probably due to the demise of the mega-brewery and the creation of many micro-breweries.
        Much of the problem is the large number of graduates produced in subjects that require a lot determination to just get into the related industry, especially when the industry doesn’t really want them. A good example is the Media taking Oxbridge graduates, likely in specific subjects, and not Media Studies graduates.

        • Anonymous
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

          There is an excellent micro brewery in Cyprus run by a young lady with that degree, backed by her father.

          Good tour, good beer, good food and a surreal experience in the Cypriot countryside. Aphrodite’s Rock nr Paphos.

          • Sir Joe Soap
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            Oh good. Can I have my taxes which funded it back then please?

    • Nig l
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      I like the thought of my bin men doing the Hokey Cokey, it would certainly start my day with a big grin.

      • Anonymous
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        Some might *refuse* to do it.

        • Sir Joe Soap
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

          Sounds like a rubbish degree.

    • acorn
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      You can do politics with dance on the BBC. Ed Balls did it.

  8. sm
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I write as a parent and grandparent, and as one who left grammar school after A-levels in 1963.

    Course work has suited girls more than boys, but is very open to fraud – I recall a friend’s daughter at a prestigious University in the early 90’s who paid for many of her essays to be written by others and this cheating was never exposed.

    Examinations (and tests) should be regarded as part of the ‘learning about life’ process, not just as passports. Once you are at work, you will get stressed, you will have to take decisions in a hurry, you will have to face unexpected circumstances and deal with them.

    When my children were young, they once complained about school being boring for some of the time; my response was that this was a good preparation foradult life, where lots of things had to be done that were boring but very necessary – such as preparing meals for families, shopping and cleaning every single day, without which they would be hungry and dirty! They never complained again.

  9. formula57
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    I last took an A level a decade ago, some thirty years after my main endeavours (and in a subject I could not cope with back then) and I was keen to compare and contrast the experiences. My impression was standards were at least broadly comparable, the main contrast was the amount of directed guidance and help provided in the more recent course.

    It is hard to avoid the notion that there has been grade inflation, which phenonenon now extends to universities where the proportion of first class awards has (so I am told) increased materially.

    To a great extent though, the grade inflation may simply reflect the different approach to educating. If close direction is given to show exactly what answers are required, then candidates producing such answers when examined are entitled to abundant marks.

  10. Duncan
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Always remember that the State and its constituent parts (the public sector and other reliant entities) will always and I repeat will always construct their activities to suit their own requirements.

    The education system is a case in point. Exams are deliberately made easier to push up grades. This makes teachers look better and so they demand more pay. It’s a pure scam.

    The public sector is an organised rip-off of the taxpayer. It’s a carefully controlled construct that benefits those who work within it and damages the interests of those who use and pay for it

    More perniciously, the public sector and its respective unions is now also being used as a form of social and political control and re-education.

    The taxpayer and the end-user is being conned, played and taken to the proverbial cleaners

  11. David Murfin
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Are/were they harder? People seem able to do more subjects these days.
    I sat mine in 1960. When I told people I had 5, I was often told it was impossible.
    three 60% was the standard for high demand courses at a good redbrick university.
    (My 5 were a bit unusual – Physics, chemistry, maths and theoretical mechanics [counted 2 – its last year] and general studies [first year there was an A level paper])

  12. Prigger
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    My academic qualifications are as good as zero,roughly equalling my practical skills. I have worked very hard all my life achieving nothing whatsoever. I was nine years old when I read that Frédéric François Chopin played in salons, wrote his own own compositions, and published the Polonaise in G Minor before he reached my age. I decided to give up.

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Life is largely a game of genetic luck.

      It’s all very well people saying ‘you only have to work hard at it.’

      Well that is patently untrue. People who have the genetic bent for something fail to appreciate the fair wind in their sails.

      • Prigger
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        I did not loathe my parents when I received their genetics second-hand. But they were not new when they got them!

  13. Iain Gill
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Course work was and is abused, but then it is at university level too.

    There is also a certain amount of class bias in the exams, as stuff that kids leading a middle class leafy lifestyle know is taken for granted when much of this is news to kids in the old industrial heartlands unless they are explicitly told about it.

    I still believe certificates should show your marks relative to your peers as well as the current grade, if you are in the top ten of a large working class comp with thousands of pupils then that is something to shout about. Even if your marks compared to a public school churning out all A grades don’t on their own look that good.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      I’ve been watching the BBC programmes about the partition of British India, and I’m surprised and rather shocked to find that I seem to know more about it, at least on a basic level, than some of my publicly celebrated British/English compatriots of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent – I describe them thus because they are not actually people I recognise but apparently they have some claims to fame. It is not as if this has all been treated as a secret, there have been books available for them to read and TV programmes for them to watch and there was the acclaimed 1982 film “Ghandi” which tells a lot of the story and is broadcast from time to time and is also available on DVD … and surely the subject must have been touched upon when they were at school? I can understand that their older relations may have preferred not to talk about the experiences of their families, but even so I am genuinely puzzled at the ignorance which is being exposed.

      • Mitchel
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        It’s not really that surprising given that history teaching in this country seems to have been reduced to a few politically correct themes.General knowledge about key events is appalling but,then,history is bunk in the brave new world!

        • Mitchel
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          There is a brilliant Christopher Hitchens essay,which is available on the webb,”Why Americans are not taught history”.It applies here now too.

          “For true blissed out and vacant servitude,though,you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught at all.”

          • eeyore
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

            Those who don’t remember their history are proverbially doomed to repeat it. More importantly, the ignorant are often ignorant of their own ignorance, to the extent that not only don’t they know that they don’t know, they also don’t know that others do know.

            Which, in my humble submission, explains why certainty increases in direct proportion to ignorance. Ut ignorantia sic certitudine, as we tell each other in Cornwall.

          • Denis Cooper
            Posted August 19, 2017 at 8:00 am | Permalink

            However ignorantia excusatur, non juris sed facti, as we say here in Berkshire.

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      I agree with you Iain

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink


      But the ascent into the middle classes was rarely, if ever, done in one generational bound.

      My family has only just made it, the first time in our history. Please don’t change the game by holding us back in the name of equality now !

  14. Sir Joe Soap
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    A levels are the beginning of the time when people start studying what they’re interested in, as opposed to anything and everything, so in that sense, yes it is a most interesting period of one’s educational career. It’s important in that time also to know whether you’re really kitted out to be a scientist, engineer, doctor, theologian or whatever in order to apply for University or go into a more practical career. By making thinking a part of the A level exam, and by working towards an exam, the rigours of what should be University education hit early.

  15. ChrisS
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Starting from the premise that teenagers are no more or less intelligent than they were when I was at school ( I am the same age as our host ), it is relatively easy to compare grades achieved.

    Yesterday we saw 25% of all pupils achieve A* or A grades which were again assessed on a single examination and so can be directly compared with results in the 1960s.

    When I was at school (Maidenhead Grammar ) there were no A* grades and an A was an achievement, only seen by the very brightest students. This proves to me that the exams are nothing like as rigorous.

    The difference is even more pronounced because today, a much higher proportion of pupils are in the sixth form in the average Comprehensive than were ever in a Grammar School sixth form in our day.

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      The counter to which – has teaching got better ? Have computers helped ? Are reading materials better ? Has pushing more children towards sixth form improved results ?

      I don’t think so but nor do I have anything to back up my thoughts other than 25% A* should be producing several Einsteins at the end of the process by now.

      Statistically we are moving towards pure genius levels in a large swathe of our population. I know Einstein didn’t go to university but…

      … where are the Einsteins ? I don’t see them.

      • Iain Gill
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink


        Don’t think it’s as dramatic for current A level students

        But I know 7 year olds who have learnt stuff about subjects they are passionate about way beyond anything people could when I was that age. When I was 7 I was limited by what the adults around me including teachers knew, and what was in the local library.

        Now a 7 year old with a passion for a subject has limitless potential to access information on the internet.

        But this will also expose problems with the exam system, as these kids will not be getting measured correctly by existing exam approach.

  16. William Long
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I am conscious that any answers from my generation ( I am a bit older than our host) have to be subject to the ‘It was better in my day’ syndrome but my recollection is that apart from the sciences which had hardly by then been invented at my prep school, and set books for English and Latin, I learnt very little that was new for ‘O’level as it then was. ‘A’ levels were a different matter altogether, and an invigorating challenge. We were told then that British ‘A’ levels were equivalent academically to a university degree in the USA.
    I have no direct experience of modern ‘A’ levels, so find it difficult to comment on any difference, except that reliance on class work rather than an exam has always seemed to me something of a cop out for all the reasons stated above, and in particular the fact that it is totally add odds with everything the student will experience in the world and the workplace: there there is no opportunity ‘To do the work again before formally submitting’. One chance is all you get.
    I am very interested in the comments currently coming out of the Army that there is as much need for character as for academic qualification, particularly if the ‘degrees’ are non-academic. I think that applies in many other walks of life.

  17. Bert Young
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    It is many years since I was involved in education of the young ( 7 of them as Headmaster of a co-educational school that catered for both British and American University entrance ). More recently I had 25 years of ( voluntary ) experience as a Tutor at a University – probably the one John mentions in his text . I think this exposure gave me more than enough reason to believe that gaining a place at a leading University is as difficult today as it was a long time ago . Much weight has always been placed on face to face interviews where questions are put to reveal reasoning and creative thought . This evidence together with the recommendations that are made in support of an applicant is as revealing as A levels .

    Universities are just as keen today to uphold their standards ; what they do and how they do it is constantly exposed ; their results are always published and subjected to public scrutiny . The Universities that use the tutoring system as the basis of their approach to learning and monitoring are continually aware of what progress is being made and whether more rigorous supervision is required from a student ; there is little room for error and it is one of the reasons they obtain a high level of success . The life at these Universities is extremely varied providing a wide social experience as well as an academic one . I can only hope that one day my young daughter will be able enough to attend such a place .

    Reply When I went to Oxford I had to pass an entrance exam which was designed to be more taxing than A/S levels. It meant I only needed to get two E grade A levels to get to Oxford, as that was the minimum requirement to get a local authority grant. Oxford itself did not mind about the A levels.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      One chap I knew at Cambridge also had an offer of two grade E at A level – and that is what he got.

      Reading geography I thing!

    • ChrisS
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      I never knew that the academic entry requirements were so low for Oxbridge.
      We were never told that. Makes me wish I had applied to Oxford with my A, B & a C !!

      Instead I ended up doing HNC Applied Physics which was extremely hard work on very tight 1.5 day-release schedule. I suspect it was at least as demanding as a science subject at a non-Russell Group University.

      Reply Oxford had its own entrance exam which was more demanding than A levels

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        I did maths with physics at Camb and had top five A levels at top grades (Maths, Physics, Chemisty, Further Maths and General Studies) plus a Physics special. But I was still rather out of my depth at Camb. This as some students were clearly not only brighter but they had zero interests other than maths or theoretical physics!

        I had the misfortune to have girlfriends, sports, brother and sisters and many other interests to balance & distract me – plus a need to earn some dosh on the side to keep my family happy.

        But for some subjects – history of science, social anthropology, divinity, geography, english or similar it was not really that challenging.

        See Rick Stein for example!

      • ChrisS
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure you are correct about the degree of difficulty but if the entry requirements were passes at grade E, anyone with higher grades that that must surely have had a chance of passing ? Otherwise the exercise for most candidates would have been a waste of everyone’s time.

        It would have just been nice to have sat the exam and see if I could have passed it.

        Reply You are missing the point. Oxford did not require 2 Es or any A level grades. It had its own set of more taxing exams – 4 papers I think it was – and relied on its own marking of those papers to award places and scholarships. The 2 E requirement was to get a local authority grant. Teachers thought it only worthwhile to put people in for the Oxford exams who had or were likely to get 3 As at A level.

  18. English Pensioner
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    My sister, who was a teacher for 40 years, distrusted course work marked by teachers. The reason, as she put it was that “exams are as much a test of the teacher as a test of the pupils”. With the best will in the world, there is always a tendency of teachers to inflate their marks, especially if they have any favourites in the class.

  19. Epikouros
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Progressive thinking has lead our society onto an indolent, dependency and entitlement path. Where the great push for social justice punishes merit and rewards mediocrity. Creating institutions that seek excellence for those that they employ at the expense of those they serve. The state education system is one such institution there are may more especially in the public sector that fail to provide quality or value. Instead they are too busy in propagating and/or practising half baked progressive socialist theories and self seeking.

    Dedication and finding reward in improving the lot of those they serve is no longer in vogue. It was short lived and went out of fashion some decades ago when it was realised that in the public sector hard work and dedication was not a prerequisite for good pay and conditions. Soon recognised was that strong labour unions and pushing progressive socialism is far better in that regard.

  20. Seb
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I never understood the reasoning for offering marks in Maths exams for showing how you got to your answer even if you get the answer wrong in the end. In the classroom with your teacher sure but not for formal exams.

    Surely if the answer is wrong; it’s wrong. Your working is worthless if it doesn’t take you to the right answer. It teaches young people that it’s OK to get the answer wrong as long as you can prove that you *almost* got it right.

    What complete nonsense! That has zero use in the real world. In 99% of jobs you don’t get rewarded for *almost* meeting whatever target/goal/aim you are tasked with.

    I don’t know what it was like pre-mid 2000s GCSE level but I always felt unworthy of marks if I got extra for my working on an incorrect answer.

    Reply I disagree. There is a difference between a student who understands the maths, sets out the correct workings but makes an arithmetic slip, and the student who gets the wrong answer because he doesn’t understand any of it.

    • De errore caelibem
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Reply to Reply “Reply I disagree. There is a difference between a student who understands the maths, sets out the correct workings but makes an arithmetic slip”
      I did a similar slip when I worked out I should get married.

    • Monty
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      Mathematics exams are designed to test the ability of the candidate to deduce how to solve the problem and arrive at the answer. They are specifically not tests of arithmetic.

      • Monty
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        Seb, you were indeed unworthy of any marks, because of your signal failure to understand what you were required to demonstrate in the exam.

  21. margaret
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    You have made an interesting point when you say there is no one correct answer to some subjects . The distinction between good answers and bad answers is often therefore perceptual and often left to the markers judgment. There are not many second markers who would go against an original score .I myself have answered questions which were rubbished at the time and now seen as excellent answers.

    Maths is perhaps an exception to this, but maths people must think outside the box sometimes . We need alternative thinking skills rather than have our minds tracked down the same old route. I studied philosophical logic with a few Oxford and Cambridge doctorate graduates . Most has a good understanding of English and maths and I enjoyed being on the same wave length as these academics. It proved to me when you mix with more able then you become more able..

    It is not practical to grade difficulty of past and present ( although I do feel that standards have dropped , yet what I know will be superseded by what another knows ).In other words
    If we haven’t come across it and took an interest in it ,then we will not know. Which information suits us to be regarded as clever is debateable.

    ‘Child genius’ is reaching its climax on the box at present. Some of those children have memories like the’ memory man in 39 steps.’ I don’t know how they do it. They are tested upon what is drummed into them and they take on their parents desire to win.

    I prefer an all round educated person with philosophy and reasoning skills as well as the ‘A’ level memory test . I do not like the stress of exams and children sitting together in a class where emotions interact and results do not reflect ability. However children learn, whether it is with the help of their parents in course work or not; it is still a learning activity and the emotional bond of parents and child often make recall easier.

    Reply When I was a young don at Oxford we blind double marked the entrance papers, so two people marked the papers without reference to the other marker or without knowing who the candidate was, and then compared marks and comments.

    • margaret
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      entrance stipulations are rather different than most .

  22. Denis Cooper
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Off-topic, I’ve just been looking at the new report from the IEA:

    “A Trade Policy for a Brexited Britain”

    and I have to say that I would question their first premise:

    “The primary objective of trade policy should be to promote the interests of UK consumers, not producers. The UK’s best post-Brexit trade policy should therefore be to trade as freely as possible with the rest of the world.”

    Given that so many people are both consumers and producers.

  23. Anonymous
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    The numbers going to university prove grade inflation.

    The reclassification of exam results to * grades prove grade inflation.

    The number of ‘firsts’ walking around my town prove grade inflation.

    Either that or we have to assume that previous generations were thick – which we know they weren’t.

    This is not to say that the top percentile are not still very clever people.

    • Monty
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

      There was a Times article that cited the proportion of first class honours degrees awarded as 25% of the final year students. That’s crazy, especially now we have 40% of our youngsters going to University. That means a first class honours degree is now conferred upon 10% of our young people. That’s more than the percentage who ever got to university at all in the 70s.
      The people being short-changed from this scam, are the genuinely brightest youngsters in our universities today, because they have been systematically and deliberately deprived of the proof of their exceptional talents.

      Reply Presumably there are still congratulatory Firsts for the top one or two in each subject, and university prizes based on special exams to find the best, so there will still be some ways for the brightest and most hard working to be rewarded

  24. Tom William
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Writing as the father of a schoolmaster and grandfather of someone who has just received outstanding A level results, son and grandson both agree this year’s A level exams were quite a bit harder than last year’s.

  25. mike fowle
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I once came across my father’s matriculation papers. The questions looked incredibly demanding but of course he would have been taught with that in mind, but you did have to pass all the subjects taken in one set of exams.

  26. lojolondon
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Dumbing down continues. Only about 8% of pupils used to get ‘A’ in their Alevel, now it is close to 30%. As a result, universities have introduced their own entrance exams. And the UK continues to slip further down the international school tables. Not fooling anyone except the BBC.

  27. alte fritz
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    My memory of A levels and professional exams is similar to Mr R’s. Having said that, exams are best for born exam passers who are not invariably the best at what they do later in life. Interestingly, when my son did A levels five years ago, they looked just as testing as what I faced forty years earlier.

    On grade inflation, my guess is that the students are the ham in the sandwich between government and the education industry.

  28. AnomalousCowshed
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    “He of course had the luxury of knowing he was going on to get a more prestigious qualification, a degree from a great university. To those leaving education at A level similar thoughts would be more upsetting.”

    Not sure this follows; the student might well have his doubts about the value of the degree, given his belief about his A-level, particularly given the student loan system.

    Anyways; it strikes me that given the Flynn effect and its possible causes, that a fair chunk of the improvement in exam results is due to factors completely outside the control of the educational systems, whether grade inflation exists or not. If the progression in the effect is pausing or even halting, then the education system is going to come under severe examination.

  29. MPC
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    If only we’d voted to remain in the EU we’d have been able to look forward to HES (Harmonised Examination Standards) which would have ensured our future prosperity.

  30. libertarian
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Completely pointless comparison

    All the research ( conducted by a reputable university ) for our business support organisations shows that only 4% of employers value GCSE’s or A levels. Employers prefer a work ethic, a good attitude and ability to communicate above all else and will provide training on anything else. Also its now beyond doubt that most university degrees do not have the same life time value as an apprenticeship

    Times have changed unfortunately our education system is still nestling nicely in 1952

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 19, 2017 at 5:03 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately even apprenticeships have been devalued.

      Any sort of training classifies as an apprenticeship – even a five day course.

      (I would class a trade apprenticeship as something people can’t do for themselves.)

      • libertarian
        Posted August 20, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Permalink


        Perhaps you should ACTUALLY find out what modern apprenticeships are first before posting drivel?

  31. Butties
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Ha Ha, I remember my A levels very well and unlike Mr Redwood I avoided History and Economics quite simply because you could write pages on the topic question and still only get say 40%. Whereas in Maths, Physics and Chemistry one or two pages with the right answer would be 100% with maybe a downmark for presentation. Imaginary Numbers, remember them, wow so clever!

  32. Mike Ferro
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    No doubt whatever that the O level physics paper I took back in 1960 was a great deal more demanding than the 2015 equivalent:

  33. Glenn Vaughan
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard Ken Dodd declare several times that “five out of three people can’t do fractions”.

    He has a point.

  34. Prigger
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Mr Corbyn cannot say the Venezuelan Socialist economy has failed.
    Mrs May cannot say the terrorists arer Islamic
    If you put the two of them together they would only make one dumb Prime Minister

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted August 19, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink


      • Prigger
        Posted August 19, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink


  35. Mark
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Your questioner was right. My observation is that in STEM subjects the curriculum coverage and question difficulty of modern A levels is of a similar standard to O levels of 40 or 50 years ago. Tightening up standards is essential if the more able among our younger generations are to be properly equipped to tackle more challenging degree courses that will allow them to compete internationally.

  36. Eh Level
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    99% of A-Level students passed in all subjects in my locality according to today’s local rag. 100% passed in 21 subjects.
    Further information and analysis is not readily available at present. Tell you what, I am not going to seek further info.

  37. Roy Grainger
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    A related question is whether, in general and on average, teachers were better in the past than they are now.


  38. Simon
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    My observation is that standards aside for a moment that the quality of educational materials from text books, to online videos, access to past papers and the detailed specification, mark schemes and examiner reports has made learning far easier. Even at a poor school with access to those resources good results are clearly easier to achieve than they were in my day – early seventies.

  39. James Neill
    Posted August 19, 2017 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Another thing we forget is that there are people out there who believe man is free, there are also others who think about the devine right of kings. personally i’d rather think for myself, never been to university, good for the irish republic, vive le france and vive le euroope. could i make it any clearer.

  40. Terry
    Posted August 19, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Having to pass Official examinations to receive a better education surely can be described as “Selective”?
    So why is there such a problem with these ‘selective’ Grammar Schools?

  41. John Archer
    Posted August 20, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Politicians talking about education! That’s a good one!

    What follows is NOT directed at Mr Redwood. He is clearly a rare exception. 🙂

    My favourite mathematics-abuse howler, and one I’ve heard on the lips of many politicians, is “lowest common denominator” where it is deployed as a pejorative, but especially so by those smug types who ignorantly see themselves as educationally ‘a cut above’. Laughable indeed. They clearly don’t know what the thing is. Haha!

    Not only that, it gets worse. The term essentially has use only* at the primary-school level when the little kiddies are “learning their fractions”. So the smuglies’ understanding is capped at a level even below that. Talk about shooting oneself in the foot by proving to be the proud professor of a highly arrested educational development! Haha!

    I think what attracts the dross is the ‘poetry’ of the individual words and the intellectual mystery of the final, ‘highly technical’ term. Wow! We all marvel at such mastery! The latter of course not to be taken as mysterious to the Mr Smug employing it, and who, by its very use, wishes it implied that he is perfectly familiar with it. Guffaw!

    I mean, to start with you’ve got lowest and common, both superb for ‘superior’ put-down rhetoric. And then to top it all off nicely you’ve got denominator, whatever that is, but it has a nice de-word ring to it, resonant with words such as debased, degenerate and especially demotic…. Ooooh yes!

    And there you have it. Dumbo speaks! 🙂

    *The related, and encapsulating, term is least common multiple, but then that doesn’t quite do the job intended, does it? Indeed, it has the completely opposite effect. What a shame! How unhelpful™! 🙂

  42. John Archer
    Posted August 20, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    P.S. I meant to include a short exercise for those who feel they might like to catch up. So here goes! 🙂

    1. Express 1/6 + 4/9 as a fraction in its simplest terms.
    2. What is the “least common denominator” here and where, if anywhere, does it appear in the final answer?
    3. In terms of its magnitude, what words describe its relationship to the denominators involved above.
    4. Now, what do those words tell you? 🙂

  43. Treacle
    Posted August 20, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    You cannot tell from the exam papers whether A-levels are easier today. You have to look at the syllabi. In Latin A-level, students read a third, at most, of the lines of Latin that they had to read in the 1970s, and they are told in advance which texts the so-called “unseen” translations will be taken from. So there is no comparison, even if the exam papers look similar.

  44. a-tracy
    Posted August 23, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    My mathematician son says you can’t answer this question because of syllabus changes between Maths in the 60’s and now. The test is a test on what you are taught at that time.

    I would prefer you to concentrate on this ridiculous interest rate on the 2012 student loan, why persist in this – the rate should be no higher than a long term lowest mortgage interest rate, plus the inflated total cost that accrued to £57,000 at the end of a course, this didn’t happen on pre-2012 courses. The Conservative party punished two of my children for wanting to do well, they are the first generation of our family to attend University so we didn’t get the free ladder that you had! The Labour party promises of a free for all in the future, leaving those studying during Conservative years with a 9% tax they will never repay because of extreme punishing interest rates needs addressing, as cheaper to employ graduates coming up behind what was a LibCon decision isn’t equitable.

    Reply Yes, I got a grant to pay for my university education, but faced an 83% tax charge on income if I got a well paid job. Labour has now said they did not have the money to honour their suggestions on student loans.

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 25, 2017 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      83% if you earned around £180,000pa in 1974!
      I accept the basic rate of income tax was around 30% (which is on par with the 29% you expect now from graduates) I’m not sure what employee NI was at that time compared to the 11% plus 3% nest insurance now (14% over the lel). Don’t forget VAT was only around 8% at the time. You can’t just look at one tax in comparison can you, I thought the Conservatives were a low tax government though, Thatcher cut the basic rate three times from 1986 to boost the economy.

      Labour have said they won’t give people with these £9000 pa LibCon student loans free tuition, but they have said they will continue with their policy to remove tuition fees from student loans for future students once they take over.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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