Voice: the union for education professionals has commented on the A-level results released today (16 August 2012).
Senior Professional Officer (Education) Ian Toone said:
“Voice applauds the well-earned achievements of all students whose determination and hard work has secured their success in today’s A-level results.
“At a time when A-level results have risen for the 30th year running (the overall pass rate is 98% this year, compared with 97.8% last year), it may appear naïve to insist that this is all down to the hard work of students and teachers and that it represents a genuine improvement rather than a dumbing down of standards. However, with so much pressure being put on schools and colleges to show continuing increases in performance, it should come as no surprise that all the time and effort that has been put in to squeezing every last ounce of achievement out of students has, again, succeeded.
“There is, however, one important caveat to add to this year’s achievements. Although the overall pass rate is up, achievement of top grades has deteriorated slightly.
“The percentage of candidates receiving grades A or A* has declined from 27% last year to 26.6% this year. The official explanation for this is that this year’s cohort is weaker, but this flies in the face of interference from the Government and qualifications regulator Ofqual, which have taken deliberate steps to curb so-called ‘grade inflation’ by introducing more rigorous rules which have, effectively, capped the proportion of higher grades that can be awarded.
“Under pressure from Education Secretary Michael Gove, Ofqual has imposed a ‘comparable outcomes’ approach on awarding bodies, whereby the achievements of this year’s cohort of A-level students has been artificially capped by imposing limits based on GCSE results in 2010.
“The assumption is that most of this year’s A-level students would have sat GCSE exams two years ago, and these GCSE results can, therefore, be used to predict the expected range of outcomes at A-level. Awarding bodies have, accordingly, been instructed effectively to peg this year’s A-level results to the cohort’s GCSE performance.
“Whilst this may make sense from a statistical point of view, it is nonsense in terms of what happens in real life. All teachers are aware of the intellectual and academic growth that can take place between the ages of 16 and 18, so that some students who appeared to be fairly middling at GCSE turn out to be outstanding at A-level. Also, whilst students are generally forced into taking a wide range of GCSE subjects – some of which they may not particularly like or be motivated towards – at A-level they can focus on a smaller number of subjects which match their interests and ambitions. In fact, many students achieve their best grades in A-levels such as Psychology, Law or Politics, which they may not have studied at GCSE.
“It is significant that this new ‘comparable outcomes’ approach has been rigorously enforced this year as this is the first year in which the cap on recruitment has been lifted from universities – but only for students with AAB grades.
“Under new government rules, universities can now recruit as many students with AAB grades (or above) as they wish. It, therefore, seems a strange coincidence that achievement of higher grades has been artificially pegged this year.
“Yet again, it appears that outcomes are being manipulated to suit the Government’s agenda rather than the interests of students. There is a risk that such interference by Government may cause people to lose confidence in the qualifications system, as well as thwarting the life chances of many students who have worked hard in their attempts to achieve success.
“The world-class calibre and international respect accorded to British qualifications may be better safeguarded by allowing Ofqual and awarding bodies to apply their expertise in genuine independence of government meddling.”
Voice Press Office (email@example.com) on 01332 372337 or 0794 871 0413.
Ian Toone, Senior Professional Officer (Education) (firstname.lastname@example.org) on 01332 372337.
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