Declining educational standards – a crowd gasps

Last week, at an Intelligence Squared debate, I challenged a claim by Times journalist Oliver Kamm that English is still taught well in English schools.

I explained that just a few years ago Heinemann invited me to submit material for an A-level text book which they then rejected as too difficult. I pointed out that the material was of the same standard as the material I used to teach A-level and IB, for both of which I had also been an examiner. I asked the editor whether standards had been reduced at A-level and her answer was a simple one: “Yes.”

From an audience there were loud gasps.

At about the same time I compared some GCSE and O-level English Language papers. Candidates for each paper were required to write essays of a similar length but for the GCSE twice the time was allowed. Furthermore, whereas GCSE candidates were warned that in some sections of their responses the standard of their spelling, punctuation and grammar might be taken into account, O-level candidates were told that errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar would be penalised.

A friend, a retired teacher of physics, has collections of exam papers form the sixties onwards and can point to O-level questions which now appear in A-level papers.

Which approach would you like your surgeon, your lawyer, your architect or your children to have received?

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