Exam results more unreliable than ever

Exam results more unreliable than ever

The fall-out from the exams debacle during the pandemic lockdowns continues, with news that English students face stricter grading in their exams this year than students from devolved parts of the UK.

Ofqual, England’s exam regulator, has decided to return to 2019 grading levels, but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland’s regulators won’t.

It means that universities and employers will have to take into account where students took their exams as well as when they took them.

But it is a problem largely of the government’s own making.

It would have been possible to have a cut-down version of exams during the pandemic that would have avoided grade inflation.

Now this has occurred, people are going to cry ‘foul’ as they will not regard it as fair.

After all, why should someone doing their A Level exams during the pandemic have received an A, when now the same paper would be graded as only a B? Unless it were taken in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland when it might remain an A?

The same applies for GCSEs – what was regarded as a grading of 9 might now might only earn a grading of 7? Again, unless it were taken in devolved nations.

It is a mess and means that results from 2020 onwards are not as reliable as they should be. Perhaps things will become uniform in due course, but it is part of a wider problem.

For years and years, politicians have wanted the system to reflect the myth of educational improvement.

While there may have been some enhancements in teaching methods and performance, the truth is that students are not becoming more intelligent than their forbears, and politicians have not massively improved the educational system so that it is reflected in higher grades.

The real truth is that the system of grading is decided by the exam boards and influenced by governments and this is to some extent subjective.

Who decides what constitutes an ‘A’ grade? In the end, grading can be manipulated to give the impression that performance is improving when this is not really the case.

I advocate we return to a grading system that goes something like this – only the top 10 per cent of students achieve an A; the next 20 per cent achieve a B, then the next 40 per cent achieve a C; the next 20 per cent achieve a D; and the final 10 per cent receive an E.

This does not depend on subjective grading or any possibility of manipulating the grade boundaries.

It also means there is less focus on the idea of a perfect exam as the number of students achieving these grades will only be this percentage of students.

We need a fundamental reform of the system and not tinkering around the edges.