Exams are getting easier?

The end of August has rolled around and shortly, as every year since I can remember, the usual suspects will likely be complaining that exams have gotten easier because young people all over the country have done what they are supposed to do and passed them.

This is all part of the usual having a go at the ‘youth of today’ that these people always engage in. Whether it’s ‘nobody wants to work’ or ‘takeaway coffee is why you can’t afford a house’ or ‘exams are getting easier’. It’s all part of the same attitude that seeks to either blame young people for not being able to overcome systemic problems in society or trivialise and denigrate the things we succeed at. Everything bad is our fault, everything good was handed to us.

The hate and dismissal hurled at children and teenagers every year over exams results is particularly vile though. Simply because we sent these children to school at 4 or 5, spent years attempting to give them all the information and skills they needed to pass their exams. Then they are attacked for succeeding in the very thing we’ve spent years telling them is the whole point of why we sent them to school in the first place. To get qualifications so they can have the best chance of leading happy successful lives.

If 100% of our Olympians came back with gold medals, would we insist the Olympics had gotten easier?

It is sometimes argued that actually exams are about allowing employers/universities to distinguish between candidates but I disagree. Exams are about assessing how well a student has mastered the material, how well they were taught and how well they have learned to apply their skills and knowledge. Dismissing their work by saying they had it easy insults them and their teachers. If other organisations need to distinguish between people for their own purposes they can use other metrics. After all we already require those applying for jobs and university to write a personal statement and (often) an interview. Why bother with any of that if we can tell everything about their suitability and capability from their exam results?

Results can be informative on an individual level but never as an isolated data point because there are too many variables. After all, who has more potential? The refugee student who went from not speaking English at 13 to getting ABB at A level or the privately educated, privately tutored student who got A*A*A. Who has more passion for the subject? The student who got 3 A*’s but spends all their free time watching TV or the student who got AAB but has spent years getting relevant voluntary experience. Grades will only ever tell part of someone’s story so they can never form the sole basis for any decision.

We should always be aiming for 100% of students to get their A*’s, their Distinctions, their 9’s. We should celebrate the hard work they put in, not tell them their efforts meant nothing. We should help them achieve their best and then make sure they know we’re proud of them for overcoming the stresses, hardships and adversity that any young person can experience regardless of their background. Most of all we should stop letting others belittle their efforts.

Well done to everyone getting their results over the next few weeks. Whatever you got it won’t be the end of your story and even if you didn’t get what you wanted there are always other routes to achieve your dreams. Finally don’t listen to anyone who tells you your grades are worth less because you got them this year instead of 30 years ago – you did the work and you earned them!

* Charley Hasted is a member of the Lib Dem Voice editorial team.

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55 Comments

  • Chris Moore 18th Aug '22 - 4:55pm

    Charley, you’ve got this the wrong way round: the obvious reason why there are much much better GCSE and A level results now than three decades ago and indeed two decades ago and one decade ago, is that the children of 30 years ago etc were much less bright and hard-working and their teachers less dedicated and inspired.

    It’s the same at University where 30 years ago a 1st class degree was beyond the reach of all except a tiny percentage of that benighted generation.

  • Sorry, but the A Level pass rate was 68.2% in 1982 and is now around 98%. The proportion of A/A* was around 8% 40 years ago and now sits at around 3 times that proportion. I understand that young people want to believe that they are either more intelligent or work far harder than their parents or grandparents, but I’m afraid the explanation for the trend is called grade inflation. Basically, for each subject, the exam boards set grade boundaries after all scripts have been marked so to achieve the pass rates they believe appropriate. Most of the time they don’t want to see a decline so their tend ps to be a small increase each year. Over time the change in pass rates is dramatic.

  • Andy Boddington 18th Aug '22 - 5:23pm

    The flaw in your argument is clear. You are saying that 40 years of improvement in education, with better schools, better teachers and parents with better education, and more parents that value education, hasn’t achieved what we wanted to achieve. A better educated cohort of students year on year. There may be a degree of grade inflation but the main driver is that we have more educated school leavers than 40 years ago. That’s a success for policy, the schools and above all for the students about to start work or further study.

  • Chris Moore 18th Aug '22 - 5:29pm

    That A level exam pass rate will soon be at more than 100%.

  • Chris if one of your A-Levels was Maths I think I may have just put my finger on your problem. It’s not mathematically possible for the pass rate to be more than 100% – hope that helps.

  • In 1966 I took A-levels at grammar school. I was delighted to get 2 passes, C and E. Today my granddaughter had 3 As and a B. The difference is not down to grade inflation but to the fact that I saw her take her homework far more seriously than I did throughout her time at school and do much more revision than I, or any of my friends, did in the 60s. Students are under so much more pressure to get to university today. It was not expected that many would go to university in my day.

  • The article in issue 304 of the New European has some interesting thoughts. What do we make on the GCSE ‘comparable outcomes’ procedure which means the number of good grades every year is fixed by comparing performance of the current cohort when they left primary school. Do we need a proper Baccalaureate system?

    https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/a-levels-are-failing-britain-fiona-millar/

  • @Andy Boddington
    If my argument is flawed and the drastic increase in pass rates is evidence of a massive improvement in pupil ability, teacher ability, better educated parents etc, isn’t it odd that PISA data does not appear to have captured this improvement? True, PISA data has just been collected for a couple of decades but the rise in exam pass rates over even this shorter period was of sufficient order to make it highly likely to be reflected in PISA data…

  • If you want a concrete example of how exams have gotten harder though. I have 3 MFL GCSE’s, one obtained at 14. When I took my exams I was allowed a bilingual dictionary which allowed me to check words I wasn’t sure of and gave me vocabulary for the exam I did not know before I walked in that room. Now students aren’t allowed dictionaries- if you don’t know the word you need then good luck to you.

    Equally I am in the reasonably unique position of having retaken my Maths GCSE and living with a Maths graduate. I can say with certainty that the syllabus I covered in 2003 was categorically less difficult than than the one I covered in 2015 and covered material my friend didn’t cover until A-Level. In 2003 I had coursework which we were allowed to submit for both Maths and Statistics GCSE’s. In 2015 no coursework, again if I didn’t walk in the room knowing it there was nothing I could do about it.

    Comparing mark today to my marks 20 years ago is comparing apples to oranges because the systems and curricula are so totally different.

  • David Evans 18th Aug '22 - 6:52pm

    Charley, if one of your GCSEs was English, I think I may have just put my finger on your problem. Irony was a element of English that one was taught about when studying for O Levels. It seems clear that isn’t anymore. I suggest you look it up – hope that helps.

  • Graham Jeffs 18th Aug '22 - 7:08pm

    “Gotten” says it all

  • @Andy Boddington – “You are saying that 40 years of improvement in education, with better schools, better teachers and parents with better education, and more parents that value education, hasn’t achieved what we wanted to achieve”.

    Given that the Conservatives have been in power for the majority of those 40 years, the implication is that credit is therefore due to Tory education policies, and all the gripes about teacher shortages and workload, class sizes, academies, crumbling school buildings etc are just sour grapes….

  • @Charley

    “””If 100% of our Olympians came back with gold medals, would we insist the Olympics had gotten easier?”””

    Single position medals are not comparable to pass mark determined grades

    If it is standard for 100 athletes go to the Olympics for a specific event, 1% will get a gold medal, 1% a silver medal, 1% a bronze medal, and 97% will get nothing. It’s pretty fixed.

    With ALevel/GCSE results, the proportion of people getting different awards changes, and has been on an upward trend, leading people to think there is grade inflation.

    Hence your comparison isn’t relevant.

    I think there is a combination of many things; namely students being better taught, prepared and motivated. Exam technique and exam preparation resources are far more ubiquitous now. But grade inflation is probably also a factor that cannot be discounted.

    Regarding your anecdotes about MFL and Maths. Your experience and current students’ experience demonstrates a difference of exam process (with/without dictionary). But exams with different processes may be being graded differently. In an exam without a dictionary, use of breadth of vocabulary might be more strongly weighted, but overall accuracy might be few marks. Different knowledge and skills being assessed. In an exam with a dictionary, use of accurate grammar might be more strongly weighted. Ditto maths.

    I actually do think that the “exams are getting easier” trope is exaggerated. But I do think there is probably an element of truth in it, as part of a more complex reason.

  • Alex Macfie 18th Aug '22 - 7:39pm

    What’s wrong with “gotten”? It’s an Americanism, for sure, but it’s actually a continuation of the earlier standard English usage (cf forget – forgot – forgotten). So its demise in British English is arguably the result of generations of sloppy usage.

    Not sure about the Fiona Millar article and the “comparable outcomes” assertion. I’m not even sure what it means. Is she really implying that examiners have access to the primary school records of the students they are marking? My understanding is that grading is criterion-referenced. No-one is remotely interested in anyone’s primary school performance by the time they are about to enter their first job or university.

  • Hi David and Graham,

    Sorry I don’t do linguistic prescriptivism. You are both clearly capable of understanding what I’ve said and therefore clearly effective communication has occurred.

    Gotten is a perfectly acceptable usage and if you’d like to take any further issue with the fact that a Dyslexic has no bloody patience with arbitrary rules of language that serve no purpose than to shame and exclude people and actually only create barriers to effective communication then you are perfectly free to direct your complaints to the nearest wall. It will pay more attention to you than I will.

    All that said the fact that my using a word you don’t like is apparently the only thing you can come up with to try and belittle me makes me quite happy.

  • Richard Gadsden 18th Aug '22 - 8:04pm

    Today’s Olympic athletes are absolutely “citius altius fortius” (faster, higher, stronger) than those of 20 or 40 years ago. I don’t entirely understand why so many people have no problem with the idea that physical training techniques have improved over the last few decades, and yet are convinced that intellectual education has not improved since the days of O levels (the last O level was in 1987, so anyone who sat O levels at 16 is over 50 now).

    Of course 18 year olds these days are displaying better intellectual achievements than they were decades ago – it would be utterly astonishing if they were not.

  • Chris Moore 18th Aug '22 - 8:21pm

    Charley, you are balking at a 100% plus pass rate? Where has your ambition gone for the youth of today? With a massive effort and creative thinking by exam boards we will get there.

    PISA results do give the lie to the rocambolesque idea that there has been a dramatic increase in school attainment as suggested by wildly improved GCSE and A-level results. Marks for the 15 year olds of 2018 have declined very slightly since the first tranche of Pisa some 20+ years ago.

    PISA only covers science, maths and reading, of course. And I’m convinced that to compensate, the UK’s youth have now become world leaders in foreign language learning.

    Anyway, there’s plenty of academic evidence of serious grade inflation at GCSE and A-level, and the perverse incentives for exam boards and unis to inflate exam results are multiply attested and pretty evident.

  • Chris I’m not balking at it- I want a 100% pass rate. However, you said the pass rate would be more the 100% which isn’t mathematically possible.

    And hey guess what, grade inflation or not, sneering at kids who have worked their arses off because you’re under the (mistaken) belief you had it harder isn’t a good look.

  • The references to increased pass rates obscure the fact that a far higher proportion of young people are now taking qualifications at 18. I touched on some of the issues in this post: https://www.libdemvoice.org/sunak-and-truss-on-grammar-schools-71103.html

    Not only do more young people actually have access to education beyond 16, but society’s – and schools’ – expectations have risen too. How can this not be a good thing?

  • Charley, I haven’t “sneered” at anybody, let alone today’s school leavers.

    You have misunderstood where I’m coming from.

    I merely believe in an empirical approach to judging levels of educational attainment.

    Accepting the reality of grade inflation in no way detracts from the achievements of current students. Why do you think it does?

    PISA results are a good starting point for a handle on comparative educational attainment over time.

    PS Schrodinger’s uncertainty principle allows for 100%+ pass rates; the complication is you don’t know who the candidates are.

  • Peter Watson 19th Aug '22 - 12:05am

    It’s a shame that, despite an article with a positive message, this thread has a horribly sour taste.
    We should be celebrating our children’s success. After all, they can only deal with the examination system that’s in front of them, and ultimately, it’s one that we put there.

    Back in the 80s, I studied 8 O-levels and 3 A-levels. 30 years later, my oldest child earned 12 GCSEs and was able to start 4 AS-levels, deferring a final choice of 3 A-levels until year 13. I thought this increased breadth of study was brilliant.
    As a result of changes that started during the coalition years, my youngest had a much narrower range of options: fewer GCSEs, and in year 11 they had to choose 3 A-level subjects. This felt like a massive step backwards.
    Rather than quibble over whether a peculiarly old-fashioned set of exams are easier or more difficult than they used to be, it would be great to see Lib Dems having a more constructive discussion about necessary reforms of 14+/16+ education, especially if it involves thinking the unthinkable, ignoring the Telegraph/Mail outrage, and considering the scrapping of A-levels!

  • Peter Watson 19th Aug '22 - 12:27am

    @Martin “I suppose a narrow focus on three subjects is cheaper, but I think it is culturally stultifying.”
    I agree entirely. I’d like to see A-levels replaced with the shallower study of a wider range of subjects, allowing choices about careers and university study to be deferred until children have more knowledge and experience upon which to base their decisions.

    Also, it goes without saying – but probably should be said in case this thread gives the impression we have a very narrow-minded view! – that it’s not all about routes to university, and vocational education and training at 14/16/18 is also a vital part of the system.

  • Andy Boddington 19th Aug '22 - 2:03am

    You are drawing the wrong conclusions Nick. There have been shortages and oversize classes, still are, but teachers and students have battled against that. And we could do better. We might have already done better still if it were not for some Tory education policies.

  • Jack Nicholls 19th Aug '22 - 5:39am

    I am not a grading expert – something I think some commentators here would do well to ask themselves – but I absolutely endorse Charley’s argument about the general societal view of young people. I don’t generally blend work with posts here, but this happens to be my professional bread and butter, so I know what I’m on about. To be a teenager is to see an increase in your responsibilities without a commensurate increase in your rights and resources. The rights change post 18, technically if not always meaningfully, but the resources do not. Your missteps are put down to your age, your achievements are lauded because you’ve managed them despite your age. It is nothing less than disgusting. I recently had an article published making the case that conservativism is actually quite collectivist in its expectations, while being individualist in its blame – ‘you owe society but society does not owe you’. I’m truthfully appalled and dismayed to see that kind of attitude among liberals.

  • I read this comment thread with increasing despair at the sneering – and yes sneering is exactly the right word – attitude of some of the commenters. But then I got to Jack Nichols’ post and wanted to whoop and cheer.

    More people could do with applying his level of understanding.

  • Jack Nicholls 19th Aug '22 - 8:33am

    Thank you so much Jennie, that means a great deal 😊. @the_hop_practitioner (insta) if you fancy discussing this more, no pressure. This is a big pokeyface issue for me 🔶

  • Andy Boddington 19th Aug '22 - 8:57am

    Well said!

  • Chris Moore 19th Aug '22 - 9:17am

    The children of 50 years ago and 40 years ago etc and those of today ALL face/d the rite of passage of public exams.

    If we want to compare past and present children, we should be fair to ALL. Why exalt current efforts at the expense of the past? I don’t believe that helps anyone.

    That is the point of PISA rankings which provide objectivity to measuring attainment across time and countries. Not surprisingly, changes in performance across time in most countries are marginal. The UK is not an exception.

    I don’t think the current UK exam system serves children well at all. We should go towards practical competence testing in science and social sciences for example. In some European countries, there are efforts to try to measure intellectual maturity and outlook and orientate children accordingly.

    Finally, the UK’s foreign language teaching is overall really poor. Is now and always has been, whatever the level of GCSE passes says.

    English will do me everywhere, so why bother?is the prevailing attitude. If we had levels of language attainment found in some other European countries, I believe the Brexit vote would not have been lost.

  • James Fowler 19th Aug '22 - 9:56am

    This will always be a hot potato, so no surprise at the emotional charge of many of the posts on both sides.

    A statistic that startled me recently was as follows: In 1973 (the year the school leaving age rose to 16) roughly two thirds of pupils left school with fewer than five O levels graded A-C. In my view, that suggests that whole experience of educational attainment was really very marginal in significant numbers of people’s lives, and that the real priority was getting out and getting work – age 15 – most which did not require any form of qualification at all, since you would learn ‘on the job’.

    The world has moved on. But have the people? If you were 15 in 1973 you’re just about to retire. In other words, this cohort is still very much with us, numerous, voluble and with an understandably skeptical view of school certificates. Qualities beat qualifications is probably their unspoken motto. They have a point, but since these days you can hardly scratch your own bottom without a certificate to prove you can do it, that is the world which young people have to navigate.

  • Laurence Cox 19th Aug '22 - 11:48am

    I see that everyone in this discussion is ignoring the elephant in the room, that our present educational system, even ignoring private schools, preserves inequality:

    https://theconversation.com/the-uk-education-system-preserves-inequality-new-report-188761

    Their conclusion: “Young people from better-off families do better at all levels of the education system. They start out ahead and they end up being more qualified as adults. Instead of being an engine for social mobility, the UK’s education system allows inequalities at home to turn into differences in school achievement. This means that all too often, today’s education inequalities become tomorrow’s income inequalities.”

    Arguing about what a pass at a certain level means is just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

  • I hope the contribution by Laurence Cox is taken seriously. The correlation between poverty, defined by Free School Meals registration, and success at exams is very strong – the average difference is around two years of progress.
    Of course correlation means little, so we need to look at actual children. There were many discussions of this during Covid lockdowns. There are issues like overcrowding at home, lack of access to the internet, lack private tutoring, and so on. I would add in particular that many families can provide tutoring and advice because of the members of the family who are in the education industry.
    The frequent changes in the actual content of exams makes comparison not very useful, as is the use of algorithms which enable adjustments to be made to exam grades.
    Let us start with looking at the needs of looked after children, the figures are readily available, their educational outcomes are clear, as is the number of children who have been looked after in the criminal justice system.

  • Thing is nobody, least of all me, is saying the education system is perfect – I’ve worked in Early years and FE so I’ve seen the issues first hand. But we can talk about those issues without dismissing the hard work put in by students by saying exams used to be harder or exams are now easier. It’s not about easier or harder – they are different exams sometimes in entirely different systems and often testing for entirely different skills.

    Most importantly students are not the ones setting them – it comes back to what I said about blaming young people (and teachers/schools) for systemic issues they have no control over. Government decided we wanted to be able to assess students, Government decided to link things like funding to the results of those assessments. It isn’t a school or a student’s fault that their priority then becomes teaching or being taught to pass the exam rather than to develop a passion for the subject.

    If you want to argue about the flaws in the education system then we can absolutely do that – they obviously exist (and Chris as a languages nerd I feel your pain on MFL teaching in the UK)- BUT we can do it without telling students they had it easy because they didn’t and it’s insulting to keep saying it.

  • Grade inflation is a reality. If in year one, 15% of candidates got 40 marks out of 60 and were awarded an A grade, then the assumption is made in year two that candidates are of a similar quality and thus 15% will get a Grade A. So when the raw marks are collated, we find that 13% scored 40+ marks, 17% scored 39+. Where to set the grade boundary ? Unwilling to face the flack by awarding fewer A grades, the new boundary becomes 39 with 17% awarded that grade.
    I know what you are thinking. Students are getting higher marks because they are genuinely better you might assume. Not quite. Assistant examiners are encouraged to look at borderline scripts from the previous year, not ten years ago, so the very slight loosening of standards each year become ingrained over time until, I would argue, the award of a high grade becomes less significant. If you look at a borderline A/B script paper from ten years ago, it will be superior to a borderline A/B script from today. These comments apply to humanities exams, I imagine science papers could be a little different.

  • With so many students awarded A*, how does Oxbridge decide who the truly exceptional students are ? Interviews that favour the soft skills of the privately educated ? Diversity quotas to right the wrongs of wider society ? Neither seem like the right answer.

  • Chris Moore 19th Aug '22 - 3:06pm

    Hi Charley,

    I, for one, have never said exams are harder/easier now than at points in the past.

    Public exams are a serious trial. And children need all our support, whether they are academically inclined, like my son, or not, like my beloved nephew, who’s making a great fist of his mid-twenties, in spite of poor public exam results and issues with reading, possibly dyslexic.

    Repetition of points of view is part of most debates. So I disagree it’s insulting to repeat.

    As to the current generation of 15-18 years olds – my son is 15 – I can’t be alone on here in being very concerned about the problems that generation will face when they eventually take over.

    For me, the list goes in order of urgency: existential threat to humanity from nuclear arms, global warming, other environmental problems and then all the other pleasing issues of everyday life.

  • Nicolas Gibbon 19th Aug '22 - 4:09pm

    Please stop using the vile American import “gotten.” The past tense of “get” in British English is “got.” But altogether more elegant would be to use the word “become” in place of the execrable “gotten.”

  • John Barrett 19th Aug '22 - 5:46pm

    I have no doubt that some students work very hard, regardless of their exam results.

    Some work very hard at their studies and do well, some work equally hard and don’t do well. Some don’t need to work hard at all, but still do very well in their exams, and other don’t work hard and don’t do well at all.

    However, in my life, the people that I know who have worked hardest, and put in more effort than anyone else, are those of an even older generation than me, who worked much longer hours and in more difficult conditions than any of us from the following generations, and who were unable to sit any exams at all, because their lives and circumstances did not afford them the opportunity to do anything other than follow on working in traditional jobs expected by their families, such as down the mines.

    The present exam system is far from perfect, and I have never actually heard anyone have a go at the youth of today in the nasty way detailed above, but things now, are clearly not as bad as they were, for very many, in and out of the education system.

    The results are determined by those who mark the exams in the same way that elections are also determined by those who count the votes. There is always room for improvement in both.

  • Andy Boddington 20th Aug '22 - 2:20am

    I’ll think you will find that younger people often use gotten not got. It is not vile, unless American English is vile. The English language is not static and it will be defined by the younger generations, not the older.

    We don’t have any equivalent to The Académie in Britain and neither should we. Gotten is not an example but many word spellings used in America, for example color not colour, are the spellings we had here in the 18th and 19th centuries. English would be easier to learn if we had kept those spellings. The arrival of dictionaries led to standardisation. Over recent decades, dictionaries have become less important than discourse in defining what words are used and how they are used. Text has become a verb as well as a noun, as one early example.

    I have gotten used to the evolving language. What is important is what people say, not how they say it.

  • Charley Hasted Charley Hasted 20th Aug '22 - 5:10am

    Hi Nicholas, for reasons previously stated I will not be modulating my perfectly intelligible English out of some fictional belief that there is only one correct way to speak or write. As a writer elegance is not my primary motivating factor – effective communication of my thoughts and ideas is and you clearly understood what I meant. Thanks for your contribution.

  • Simon Foster 20th Aug '22 - 9:23am

    Good article Charley, keep up the good work.

  • Alex Macfie 21st Aug '22 - 8:40am

    @Martin: You can’t place a value judgement on changes in use of language the way you can changes in politics or media. And the standard usage that some people cling to is itself the productt of evolution. As I noted above, “gotten” as the past participle of “get” was accepted usage in earlier Modern English. It has survived in America, but not here. I don’t see hte sense in trying to freeze English to a particular point in time. We usedn’t to always speak as we do now.

  • Chris Moore 21st Aug '22 - 9:44am

    Perhaps, in 100 years, “gotten” will have gotten so popular, it’ll be the dominant form.

    Or perhaps not.

    Either way, alternative forms add richness to language. “Gotten” for example – in certain contexts – for me has a different expressive nuance to “got”.

  • Hello Martin,

    I agree entirely with you about targets losing utility when they become criteria. Also targets becoming an incentive for gaming the system: in this context: narrow teaching to exams.

    Also, the unquestioning acceptance of American ideas would be very troubling.

    But I think you’re making a banquet out of “gotten”. I don’t believe its use is a symptom of Americanisation. It’s an alternative form that’s always been around. It was used locally when I was a child. And many of my highly articulate successful south London (mostly immigrant) family use the form. There’s no way they are suffering from Americanisation.

    Honestly, let your hair down and try it a few times.

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Aug '22 - 11:08am

    “Rather than a value judgement, I am suggesting that the increasing use of ‘gotten’ is symptomatic of American influence. To me it is ironic that at a time when a bogey man has been made of European culture, little has been said of pervasive Americanisation.”

    Seconded – having been fed in childhood a TV diet of ‘cowboys and indians’, white hats and black hats etc. – all of which I feel I now despise.

    I see less and less about the USA (apart from scenery) which I feel is worth admiring and a lot about it which seems downright dangerous.

  • Charley Hasted Charley Hasted 21st Aug '22 - 11:09am

    Or it’s a symptom that actually using ‘gotten’ felt more natural to me than other verb forms in context. Sometimes a word is just a word. I pick the words that feel right to me in the moment and if they communicate my meaning I see no reason to change them when I edit.

    It’s a pity so many people seem to have fallen into what I’ve noticed happens alarmingly frequently in the Lib dems, focusing on a tiny and ultimately utterly unimportant technical point and utterly ignoring the actual issues being discussed. It is incredibly depressing.

  • Charley, I’m very surprised anyone even mentioned your use of “gotten”! A real eye-opener to me!

    But please don’t be depressed! Your article has sparked off a very feisty debate on the main issues. So it’s been a marked success.

    And deviation is a typical part and parcel of wide-ranging debate; so I don’t see it as negative.

  • @Chris Cory – … how does Oxbridge decide who the truly exceptional students are ? …
    From my experience of Oxbridge entrance over recent years, I suggest they aren’t actually interested in identifying truly exceptional students but are more interested in selecting students that will flourish in their environment and so graduate and enhance their world standing. So they do a lot of data crunching, with the result being someone who is achieving well above the norm for their (state) school with a good school reference, probably stands a better chance of receiving an offer than someone from Eton; if only they applied…

    From my sports coaching experience, no Olympic medal-winning Team GB cyclist performed particularly well at under-16 ie. they didn’t podium, they did however, keep turning up to coaching sessions and events and consistently achieved top 10 placings, they also had something about them which I can’t put in words, through my development as a coach, I can now recognise when I see it.

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Aug '22 - 1:43pm

    @Charley
    “When I took my exams I was allowed a bilingual dictionary which allowed me to check words I wasn’t sure of and gave me vocabulary for the exam I did not know before I walked in that room. Now students aren’t allowed dictionaries- if you don’t know the word you need then good luck to you.”
    I can assure you I was not allowed a dictionary (or supplied with a relevant vocabulary list) when taking French O-level in 1963.

    “Comparing mark today to my marks 20 years ago is comparing apples to oranges because the systems and curricula are so totally different.”
    Agree with you about that.

    Some questions:-

    1. Might I suggest there is too much obsession with exams and their results?

    2. Might I suggest that some people could be better at passing exams than others?

    3. Is it possible that secondary school teaching is (maybe inadvertently) focussed on passing exams (common accusation about the driving test) at the expense of students acquiring a wish to go on learning for the rest of their lives?

  • Andy Boddington 21st Aug '22 - 1:57pm

    Spot on @Charley. LDV in particular has too much debate along the lines of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Not just whether we have gotten the wrong word but endless irrelevant arguments that detract from the real battle. Fighting the day to day problems people face and getting the Tories out.

  • Mick Taylor 21st Aug '22 - 2:44pm

    I am usually free and easy going – surely that’s part of being a Liberal – but not when it comes to the English language. I have a very firm policy of never using Americanisms or other bastardisations of our language. I get extremely pissed off when spelling checkers insist on using z when the correct UK spelling uses s, for example in words like liberalisation.
    I am actually quite proud of being a language pedant. UK English needs defending from the pernicious influence of our American cousins.

  • Charley Hasted Charley Hasted 21st Aug '22 - 3:27pm

    @Nonconformistradical – I’d absolutely agree that we’ve created an education system where any love of learning a kid comes out with tends to be by accident rather than design.

    @Mick- pissed off to mean annoyed is an Americanism so clearly you’ve not succeeded as much as you thought. Also again linguistic prescriptivism is pointless, unnecessary and exclusionary.

  • My own very anecdotal thoughts as a Mum of teenagers who took her own exams 40 years ago is that MFL has stayed about the same, GCSEs are harder now and A’Levels (certainly the Humanities) are significantly easier.

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