Thursday, June 21, 2012

Back to the future - 'O' Levels

I know I should welcome the return to a more demanding curriculum and exam, and away from the anxiety inducing GCSE where fear of a mistake replaces knowledge and deep understanding of the subject.

If it includes grading by population distribution again ( which makes garde inflation almost impossible ) then I'll be supportive. ( Bleeding heart lefties note that its this measure, more than any other, that will restore merit based progression and maybe social mobility - though I've argued, and others are starting to also, that an efficient education system combined with fair opportunities may just sort the gene pool and make mobility less not more ).

So why doesn't my heart jump for joy ? The answer is I'm not sure the second half of the equation has been addressed. What about the CSE's ? [ For those too young they were the certificate of secondary education - a 1 in which was the equivalent of - was it a C at O level ? The point being that CSE's weren't respected. To get around this problem 'O' Levels and CSE's were combined, and the ability for everyone to pass built in - no more results distribution ].

Mr Gove will need to address this.

My suggestion would be different exams but single certificates and qualifications. I think some of this is supposed to be part of GCSE's right now - but the CSE tail wagged the O level dog too much and the cause of inclusion and peoples feelings trumped acheievemtn all too much.

    Before the educationalist lobby try to lay into me for this, let me give an example. Looking around our local secondary school for one of my children's school choices I came into the English Literature department ( a subject I found very tough going at school - as if your a regular reader you'll have guessed ). They were very proud of two pupils who last year had got 100% in their English Literature exams ! 100% ! Now English literature isn't my subject, but even I knew that was dodgy. The arts 6th formers were always complaining that those of us in the sciences had things easy as things were much more right or wrong than in their subject. 60% for an essay was good, 70% excellent, 100% impossible.

    So I asked the question of the teacher in that class room. She didn't even try to justify the outcome but just pointed to the marked paper that sat in the middle of the table.

    At that point I nknew GCSE English Literature was debased, and frankly something of a joke.

I spent a little time comparing O level maths to GCSE maths - which you can do if you look at the International GCSE and International O level and reading curriculum and sample papers - see here. My superficial view was that the O level developed deeper understanding, though I can see that it would be less 'accessible' for those for whom maths was not a gift.

So in short I support the idea of going back to the rigour of O levels, but if Mr Gove wants me to love it then it must be handled carefully and the question that GCSE's were invented to answer ( ie Who cares about CSEs?) needs to remain answered.


Wildgoose said...

I agree that it must be a statistical spread - you should be competing against your cohort of fellow students (as you will for jobs and University places), and this will largely eliminate variance in difficulty between examination papers from one year to the next.

I would also say that the large range of grades also needs to be narrowed. I remember from my A-Levels that there could be as little difference as 2-3% between a grade B and a grade D, because the bell curve of results could be so pronounced.

I would propose a "Distinction", (for a narrow band of top students), "Pass" for all those exhibiting basic competence, (the majority), "Marginal" for those narrowly passing, and "Fail" for those failing to even show marginal competency.

That's it. No need to add any more gradations.

Steve said...

Shame you didn't learn how to use apostrophes at school, don't you think? Standards, eh?

O levels will never happen, as if they did this govt would see a massive dip in results and they won't allow that to happen. So you'll get either a new O level no more rigourous than what there is already, or the idea will never get any legs at all. (The latter will happen of course)

Man in a Shed said...

Steve - Only a 'C' in English 'O' level I'm afraid and that gave me the biggest headache of all the exams I've ever sat ( and I really have done a very large number of them ).

At least that grade is true indicative of my level of achievement ! ( Which is after all what the whole business is about. )