I wonder if there is anything to say about GCSE results that has not already been said. There is a standard format, after all. It is August. There have been some slow news days. Most political commentators are on holiday. The nation’s teenagers receive the results. The results are better than before. Therefore the courses which led to the results must be easier, far easier, than anyone imagined. Or the teaching must be better, far better than anyone dared hope.
Of all the trunped-up stories ever invented, this one is the one which has legs. Next year, there will be better results. This will cause educationalists with an axe to hack at the principles underlying the testing. It will bring out of the woodwork people who think that exams are more successful than before at the expense of education. The story of GCSE results (and A level results, which are the antipasti to the outbreak of GCSE outrage) is an annual slugfest. Over pictures of teenagers texting each other, solemn voices refer to there being a row, as per usual, about what the exams mean. The teenagers have a party, The teachers sigh with relief (the pleasure has gone, I think). The posse hires some statisticians and starts up a barrage of insults.
All the evidence is anecdotal. That’s the problem. There are statistics which show that things are better. Therefore, since, it is argued, they are worse, new systems need to be flown in, bussed in, devised, written, tested, operated.
Is it easier to do well? Was it too hard to do well in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, take your pick? No-one really knows. As a nation, we are still obsessed with testing. It is rather as if the whole generation was asked to take part in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? only to find that older people think that Round-Britain Quiz and Double Your Money would have been more honourable pursuits.
One of the acid tests is often said to be the grocer’s apostrophe (banana’s, tomatoe’s, leek’s etc.) and whether its advance into the language is growing. Yes, probably, although the apostrophe test is most often applied to it’s/its and yet next to me there is a picture, framed in 1948, which celebrates my great-grandfather, and which tells me that he “founded this firm on the 10th April 1901 and was it’s chairman from 1901 to 1919 and from 1932 to 1948”.
Yes, it’s chairman. I don’t think anyone has ever been too clever on this one.
To the question, however, ‘Are teachers working harder?’, there is an easy answer.
Has that any bearing on the debate?