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Thread: GCSE results

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    So, GCSE results are published today. Apart from a belated attempt by the government to bring some sort of respectability to standards, instead of the automatic annual raising of grades so that they, and schools, can pat themselves on the back, expect the following :

    1. Much wailing and gnashing, as little Esmeralda, who was expected by proud parents and teachers to get A*** in everything, only gets A's and B's. The systems fault. Of course.

    2. The usual (implied) sexism, as boys doing worse than girls, just gets blithely accepted by one and all, and explained by 'girls are brighter than boys'. Rubbish. It shows that teachers are not paying enough attention to boys. Yes, girls are EASIER to teach than boys, who may be more easily distracted, but intelligence is totally unrelated to gender. Favouritism of girls over boys by many, not all, teachers, should be stamped out. In my view.

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    Senior Member Rook's Avatar
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    Regarding your second point, I thought that coursework was especially introduced to help girls? I may be wrong (and Northumbrian could correct me) but 30 years ago boys did consistantly better than girls at school. The reason for this was because boys were better able to cope in the high pressure situations of exams - which accounted for all of your grade. To solve this 'problem' coursework was introduced which took some of the pressure off the final exams and spread the graded work throughout the year. This took long term determination and studying, something that girls are naturally better at than teenage boys. So in effect, the school system was changed to give girls an (unfair?) advantage over boys.

    As I said, I may be wrong, but I do know that boys tend to do better in exams than girls ...

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    Super Moderator eatmywords's Avatar
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    I did note at university that there was a gender bias between the arts and the sciences. I can't say if men were better than women in the sciences, but in the arts women were outnumbering men, and so I would presume they were outperforming men in that area; although there was a significant feminist contingent in the English department, so that would naturally attract a greater proportion of women for those modules. Even with History there seemed to be a relative balance of sexes and I found the women were far more motivated and cogent than many of the men, and it would be the women speaking up and working as a group while the men/boys, were roaming around in a mindless daze wondering where the library was. Therefore I do think overall women were leaving the Art departments with a better degree than their male counterparts. With grades falling across the board however, I think molesworth is right, there must be some failing in the teaching department, or someone has been lying for the last 15 years and the value of past grades have been greatly inflated, which points to the government (AQA).

    However, many of the women that I knew were particularly motivated to go into Education after their degree; attracted by Labour's ridiculous payments for support-teachers (about 125 a day in 2002). This would then indicate there is a gender bias developing in the Education sector, and this could extend into the subjects they teach: "Eight out of ten teachers in primary schools are women. And this is not remotely pejorative but I think that something like 80 per cent of them said they just did not feel confident taking physical education."

    Of course I'm not saying women are inferior to their male counterparts, but if the training and time is not there for them to teach to an equal and/or improved standard in all subjects, then discrepancies, or a falling in standards must occur. And with schools considering turning to a international examination format, which is considered easier than the English model, then where exactly are we heading?

    I think another aspect is that 30% of teachers are under 30; 49% under 40. I can remember my comprehensive teachers being very mature, in their 40s-50s, with very few teachers under 30; in fact I don't think any. Although I did got to an all boy's school and there was a heavy bias in male teachers. It is indeed a calling, but I don't think Labour's method of injecting the shortfall of teachers has done much to improve standards, and I think these results may now be reflecting they have actually harmed standards in pupil and teacher.
    Faced with certain disaster, defiance is the only answer.

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    The fact that the pass rate and number of students getting top grades for the second year is a good sign, in my opinion, that the curse of grade inflation has been brought under control finally (or at least until Labour gets back in). I don't think a long sustained period of grade deflation would be any more helpful than the grade inflation which preceded it. What is needed for confidence in the exam system is stability.

    If the system really worked properly, you would expect to see only small random fluctuations from year to year, with the pass rate sometimes increasing slightly and sometimes decreasing. The GCSE grading (and A level grading since the late 80's) is a form of "criterion-referenced" assessment, whereas the old O levels were "norm-referenced" assessment. Sorry for the jargon, but what this basically means is that the grade boundaries for GCSE's are (in theory) set independently of the distribution of marks which the students actually get, and are determined by deciding what mark constitutes each grade on a given paper by comparing the paper against the specification for the course. So if the questions on this years paper are "harder" than the same paper last year, the boundary for a grade A might be reduced from 75% to 68% (for example). Norm-referencing, on the other hand, ignores the difficulty of the paper and simply ranks the students by their mark and allocates each grade to a certain percentage of students.

    Put simply, criterion-referencing assesses students by whether they have reached certain "targets" in their learning, whereas norm-referencing assesses students by comparing them against their peers in the same year group. It doesn't take a genius to work out that criterion-referencing (if it worked) would be fairer than norm-referencing. For one thing, norm-referencing automatically consigns a certain percentage of students to failure, or low grades. The problem is that criterion-referencing hasn't worked. If it had, then the year-on-year increase in the pass rate from 1988 to 2011 would suggest that we had 24 consecutive years when each year group was more knowledgable/intelligent on average than the last. I don't think anyone believes this is true, although perhaps it is the case that teachers have got better at teaching "to the exam" (i.e. preparing students specifically for the types of questions they get on the papers, but not necessary improving their overall knowledge).

    The reasons for grade inflation and the failure of criterion-referencing is complex. First of all, it is a rather subjective business applying grade boundaries to a given paper based on referencing the questions in the paper against the targets in the course specification. The pressure on the examination boards is always to be more lenient each year with the grade boundaries, and indeed to produce easier papers and specifications. This is because they are competing with each other to get business from schools, and given the pressure on schools in terms of league tables, there has long been a tendency for schools to shop around to find the courses which are more likely to give their students higher grades. A government agency, the QCA (now called the QCDA) was supposed to provide an independent check on the quality of examinations. However, there was not exactly a great deal of pressure from governments (either Tory or Labour) on the QCA to deal with grade inflation, which government ministers would often try to spin as good news ... "our particular educational reforms are obviously working because the pass rate is increasing".

    The only long-term solution to these problems, in my opinion, is either to restrict each subject to a single examination board, or return to old-style norm-referenced assessment. I believe Michael Gove is considering both these possibilities, though whether he has enough time remaining in this government to make these changes, and whether or not he could pass it through the Lib Dems, remains to be seen.

    To answer Rook's point about coursework, the change to coursework in GCSE's was not specifically (I believe) intended to help girls, who did lag behind boys until 1988. Rather it was to provide a more balanced assessment which did not just rely on terminal examinations. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that girls (on average) do better than boys (on average) in continuous assessement and modular examinations, whereas boys (on average) seem to cope better with the pressure of terminal examinations. I don't think, Molesworth, that there are many teachers who would deliberately favour girls over boys. Students are very sensitive to how "fairly" they are being treated, and would respond very badly to any sort of favoritism. However, the changing nature of assessment allowed girls to overtake boys, first at GCSE and then an A level.

    I don't think this is the whole story, however. There has always been an "anti-school" and "anti-learning" culture amongst boys from poor backgrounds. Boys from such backgrounds who try to do well at school can face bullying and peer pressure from others. Anecdotally, most teachers would say this problem in recent decades has got worse and not better, and is less of a problem with girls. It will be interesting to see that now we are moving back away from coursework and modular exams towards terminal exams, whether boys start to catch up. The first signs of this are perhaps already happening, with boys outperforming girls in the new A* grade at A level. It would certainly be hypocritical of those who have crowed about girls doing better than boys to start complaining of sexism if the reverse happens.

    Personally, I have never been a fan of coursework and modular examinations, particularly in my own subject. As well as the excessive commitment on my own time, and the perenial issue of dealing with plagiarism, I never felt coursework discriminated between the ability of students - all my students used to get around about the same mark in coursework, regardless of their ability. Of course, this is music to the ears of a socialist, but it is not what the examination system is supposed to be about. I feel that terminal examinations are a more realistic test of a persons knowledge and understanding. In the real life of employment, you often have to produce results under pressure, and you don't always get the opportunity to repeat things again and again until you get them right.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eatmywords View Post
    I did note at university that there was a gender bias between the arts and the sciences. I can't say if men were better than women in the sciences, but in the arts women were outnumbering men, and so I would presume they were outperforming men in that area;
    Not so much a gender bias in the sciences in terms of men being "better" than women, but certainly a gender bias in terms of numbers. When I studied Physics at university 20-odd years ago, there were 62 men on my course and 4 women. Although I suspect things might have improved, there is a long way to go in convincing girls that they can have a career in science.

    There seems to be a prejudice which kicks in at the age of about 13 or 14, whereby girls who are brilliant at science suddenly start believing (or are told by their peers) that girls are not supposed to be interested in science, and need to concentrate on more "appropriate" subjects like languages and the arts. This was certainly the case at the mixed school I used to teach at. Students there studied seperate sciences at GCSE, but in year 9 they were permitted to drop one of the three sciences to open up another "option" slot for a non-science GCSE. Not surprisingly, fewer than half of the girls continued with three science GCSE's, whereas very few boys dropped a science. The majority who went for 2 sciences kept Biology (deemed as the most "feminine" science) but dropped either Chemistry or Physics.

    Its a real conundrum that needs to be solved. Women make excellent scientists - I know this from first-hand experience, and if girls are dropping science subjects because of outdated stereotypes about geeky men in white jackets, then that is a waste to both science, and the economy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Northumbrian View Post
    Not so much a gender bias in the sciences in terms of men being "better" than women, but certainly a gender bias in terms of numbers. When I studied Physics at university 20-odd years ago, there were 62 men on my course and 4 women. Although I suspect things might have improved, there is a long way to go in convincing girls that they can have a career in science.

    There seems to be a prejudice which kicks in at the age of about 13 or 14, whereby girls who are brilliant at science suddenly start believing (or are told by their peers) that girls are not supposed to be interested in science, and need to concentrate on more "appropriate" subjects like languages and the arts. This was certainly the case at the mixed school I used to teach at. Students there studied seperate sciences at GCSE, but in year 9 they were permitted to drop one of the three sciences to open up another "option" slot for a non-science GCSE. Not surprisingly, fewer than half of the girls continued with three science GCSE's, whereas very few boys dropped a science. The majority who went for 2 sciences kept Biology (deemed as the most "feminine" science) but dropped either Chemistry or Physics.

    Its a real conundrum that needs to be solved. Women make excellent scientists - I know this from first-hand experience, and if girls are dropping science subjects because of outdated stereotypes about geeky men in white jackets, then that is a waste to both science, and the economy.
    Fortunately I attended an all female school...and went on to get a job in metallurgy...working for the government..

    We employ wet analysis and atomic absorbtion..
    Last edited by wolfie; 08-24-2013 at 03:13 PM.

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    Thank you Northumbrian, for your analysis of school education and the exam system over a period of time. Very helpful in explaining to a layman like me. Particularly your explanation of norm- and criterion-referencing, and your experiences and views on course work assessment v. exam assessment.
    OK, so there don't seem to have been any tantrums, and not a mention about girls v. boys performance. So I was wrong there, which is good.
    My limited experience : I was educated at all-boys schools, secondary at a state grammar school. There it was the view that boys were better academically than girls. And most maybe even all of us went along with that view. Outright sexism really, and it was some years before I realised and accepted that these views had been so utterly wrong.
    Yes, I agree, there was always an "anti-learning" culture among boys of some backgrounds, where even reading a book was seen as being 'cissy'. I think this was particularly bad in the 80's and 90's.
    Regarding teachers' favouritism of girls, I remember a series by Gareth Malone, where he went to a primary school to find out why boys did consistently worse than girls. He asked the boys why they didn't get involved more in lessons, why didn't they show interest? The answer, once he got the boys talking , was that 'no one ever talks to us', meaning the teachers. He got them interested, even keen, on some activity or other, and they got into it to the point where he arranged a competition between the girls and boys. The teachers, all women, scoffed 'They'll never beat our girls', and during his stay there not once encouraged him, or the boys, even though the improvement in the boys' attitude to class work in that short time was so marked. Probably atypical, but where this sort of thing exists it should be ruthlessly stamped out. As the sexist views should have been when I was at school.

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    Quote Originally Posted by molesworth1 View Post
    Regarding teachers' favouritism of girls, I remember a series by Gareth Malone, where he went to a primary school to find out why boys did consistently worse than girls. He asked the boys why they didn't get involved more in lessons, why didn't they show interest? The answer, once he got the boys talking , was that 'no one ever talks to us', meaning the teachers. He got them interested, even keen, on some activity or other, and they got into it to the point where he arranged a competition between the girls and boys. The teachers, all women, scoffed 'They'll never beat our girls', and during his stay there not once encouraged him, or the boys, even though the improvement in the boys' attitude to class work in that short time was so marked. Probably atypical, but where this sort of thing exists it should be ruthlessly stamped out. As the sexist views should have been when I was at school.
    My experience of teaching is entirely in the secondary sector, so I'm not hugely familiar with primary teaching (other than 2 weeks I spent in a primary school 9 years ago when I was a trainee). I can't imagine the sexism you talk about above being very common, but I agree if it exists it needs to be dealt with. Teachers are judged on their results, and if a teacher lets half their pupils wither on the vine, this would not look good for them. I did notice during my primary observation that in literacy lessons, the "top ability" table was exclusively occupied by girls, but during numeracy lessons it was more mixed.

    However, it is true that there has been a feminisation of teaching in the primary sector over the last few decades, with men virtually driven out completely of the primary classroom. This is largely, I would say, due to our society's hysteria about paedophiles, whipped up by the media. Even in the secondary sector, we are not immune to this. I remember being taught during my teacher training that male teachers should never speak alone with a child in a classroom, but it is fine for female teachers to do so ... absolutely bonkers. It is a real shame - I remember one of my primary teachers was an old retired Colonel, who was a WWII hero, with a handlebar moustache! He was a great teacher too, although some of our left-wing members on here wouldn't agree (I remember him pointing out which parts of the world map were coloured in British Empire pink!). I guess men like him would never think about teaching primary these days.

    I think boys are disadvantaged though by having virtually no male teachers in primary schools. There is the lack of male role models, particularly for those boys who don't have a father in their life. There is also the fact that teachers (including myself) tend towards methods of teaching which they themselves were comfortable with as learners. Given that men and women do have distinctive learning styles, it follows that on average women teachers will teach in a way that the girls are more comfortable with than boys are. This is not deliberate sexism, and is completely subconscious. Also I can't stress the "on average" enough - there is a lot of variation in both teaching and learning styles!

    There is one other reason why the lack of men in primary schools is a negative thing (for both boys and girls). At my stepkids primary school, it seemed that at any one time about a third of the staff were absent long term on maternity leave. This means disruption to pupils learning and a never-ending conveyor belt of supply and cover teachers. I'm not wishing to initiate a debate on the rights of women to take time off work to rear a family - I'm sure we have covered that elsewhere. It is just a purely pragmatic observation that most primary teachers are women in their 20's and 30's, and that (on average) each of these women will spend several years of their career on maternity leave. Indeed, some will not return after leaving to start a family. Children - especially young children - crave stability, and I believe having a more balanced mixture of men and women in primary schools would at least provide more continuity in the teaching and learning for some children.
    Last edited by Northumbrian; 08-25-2013 at 10:08 AM.

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    Today it has been proposed that pupils with a grade 'D' pass or less in maths or English are to be made to take them again while (and presumably IF) they study for 'A' levels. What does this imply? It implies that a grade 'D' 'pass' is in fact a 'fail' to all intents. It is telling prospective employers 'If Kirsty or Kyle proudly display their grade 'D' pass certificates to you, you should tell them that their 'pass' is in fact a dismal failure, show them the door, and tell them to go back to school to do it properly'.
    Why don't they just admit 'We have dumbed down standards so much over the last 25 years, just to falsely inflate apparent performance, that grade 'D' GCSE is what grade 7 in GCE 'O' levels used to be.'
    Last edited by molesworth1; 09-02-2013 at 10:34 PM. Reason: Word order (well I only got grade 6 eng lang)

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    Quote Originally Posted by molesworth1 View Post
    Today it has been proposed that pupils with a grade 'D' pass or less in maths or English are to be made to take them again while (and presumably IF) they study for 'A' levels. What does this imply? It implies that a grade 'D' 'pass' is in fact a 'fail' to all intents. It is telling prospective employers 'If Kirsty or Kyle proudly display their grade 'D' pass certificates to you, you should tell them that their 'pass' is in fact a dismal failure, show them the door, and tell them to go back to school to do it properly'.
    Why don't they just admit 'We have dumbed down standards so much over the last 25 years, just to falsely inflate apparent performance, that grade 'D' GCSE is what grade 7 in GCE 'O' levels used to be.'
    A grade D has always really been a fail at GCSE, no matter what the do-gooders claim. Most employers regard a C as a pass at GCSE, not a G. Some GCSE's require only about 5% to award a grade G. A student was famously once awarded a grade G in GCSE English because he scribbled "This is f**king shite" across his paper, which constituted a complete sentence and thus earned him some marks.

    Comparing modern GCSE grades to old "O" level grades is difficult, but the statistics suggest that thanks to grade inflation, modern GCSE's have slipped by on average one grade in comparison with "O" levels awarded in 1987 (the last year they were took). Thus a Grade D GCSE is equivalent to a grade E GCE "O" level or a grade 3 CSE.

    To be honest, even a grade B or C is not that impressive any more at GCSE. GCSE grades have to go on the UCAS University application form, and most of the top "Russell Group" Universities routinely reject anyone who has anything less than an A in any of their GCSE's.
    Last edited by Northumbrian; 09-03-2013 at 01:21 AM.

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