Are our kids just getting more clever?

According to Richard Tomkins our kids are getting better A Level results because, a) A grades are now given out according to an absolute and not proportional measurement and b) they are just getting better at doing tests. But he notes, there is an absolute ceiling for performance, and we might be more concerned at a) the unwillingness of youngsters to study sciences (despite the omnipresence of scientific method in popular thought) and b) the need to engage in other forms of activity besides apparently endless cognitive development.

  • Miss Fitz

    I have to say, I’m a bit sceptical about these results. My son got 3 A’s and a B today, and in 2 subjects he got full marks.

    I should be delighted, but the truth was he spent most of the year either going to London for auditions or in the Waterfront. We know rightly he didnt put the work in to this, and he himself is comepletely bemused by the grades.

    He’s a bright enough wee lad, but his results are not a result of the effort he made, and I really question the rigidity of the testing.

  • Pete Baker

    Miss Fitz

    As a comparison, and I know this is not strictly valid, but in 1987, one of my A Level exams, further mathematics, consisted entirely of two 3 hour exams.

    In each of those two, 3 hour exams, I was required to answer 8 out of 11 possible questions.

    That’s what I call an examination at A level.

  • Mick Fealty

    (Note to self: must go to bed). I remember reading some time ago an article by a Cambridge academic voicing concern that schools are not producing ‘generalists’, but kids who cram on the syllabus for likely questions, and who show less inclination to read around the subject.

    This is not mentioned by Tomkins so I’ve no idea whether there is any evidence to back it up, but I have experienced difficulties (in a previous life) in trying to get French students (where a formulaic national curriculum has been in force for generations) to focus on creative tasks for which they are not marked.

  • Pete Baker

    Generalists? At A level, Mick? Arguably the specialisation is taking place too late.. in contrast to the French variation..

    The comparison, from the past, is surely apprenticeships.. which would, at their height, have started much earlier.

    In saying that, there is an interesting argument to debate on the nature of edcuation itself..

  • Hidden Gem

    …concern that schools are not producing ‘generalists’, but kids who cram on the syllabus for likely questions, and who show less inclination to read around the subject…

    I for one think this observation is accurate and research in to this would be most welcome. There is a wide spread belief across the educational establishment that we are great at producing masters of the memory test.

    Role on the international baccalaureate – a much better system by far!

  • Butterknife

    I wonder if you sent are our politicians back to school how many would pass an A-level, let alone A-levels.
    I hear from high level sources (another MLA) that the parties are having secret tals about restoring the Assembly in November. Not wanting to be a cynic but i wonder if the suspension of their pay was a factor or if they really have the furture of the country at heart…..

  • Butterknife

    Sorry for the bad Grammar etc. … haven’t taken the coffee yet..

  • Butterknife

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2006380326,00.html

    A non-native gets ten yes 10 A-levels at A grade for all.

  • Donnie

    A-Levels are a sham – my wife and her sister are both teachers and have been involved in marking papers for the ELB and papers they were marking as an E grade were being changed to a B by the ELB.

    IMHO students are not doing sciences at A-Level as there is an element of understanding involved in science subjects whereas in Geography etc. you can just learn all your notes and past papers and just spill your guts in the exam – understanding what you write is not a requirement!

  • kensei

    “(Note to self: must go to bed). I remember reading some time ago an article by a Cambridge academic voicing concern that schools are not producing ‘generalists’, but kids who cram on the syllabus for likely questions, and who show less inclination to read around the subject.

    This is not mentioned by Tomkins so I’ve no idea whether there is any evidence to back it up, but I have experienced difficulties (in a previous life) in trying to get French students (where a formulaic national curriculum has been in force for generations) to focus on creative tasks for which they are not marked. ”

    The thing is, the universities are the same because they are doing exactly the same thing.
    Consider this, even up to the early 80’s relatively few people got into university. The entry grades for uni were correspondingly lower for everything. These days the comeptition is fierce. I want into a good university, and I have a high offer. Do I spend time reading around the subject, doing something for the joy of learning. Or do I cram like mad on the topic I know are likely to come up, to give myself the best shot? I know if I don’t, everyone else will. Preciely the same thing at uni. The job market is congested and I want to stand out, because good scores will probably at least get me to interview. Do I spend my time reading around the subject for fun, or do I make damn sure I get the grades I need.

    “I have to say, I’m a bit sceptical about these results. My son got 3 A’s and a B today, and in 2 subjects he got full marks.”

    Your son didn’t pull full marks in the sense of getting everything on the paper right. I scored full marks on 3 of my Physics papers at A-level, but I know I only scored 87% of one of the papers because that year they let you get them back in a trial. A-level results are normalised – your son just did much better than everyone else.

  • Miss Fitz

    I dunno Kensie, and I bow to your knowledge, but he had 3 papers each in English and History. On each of those papers he gor the full mark (90, 120 and 90). So for those 2 subjects, he got 300 out of 300.

    I just assumed that meant full marks.
    (Math is not my strong point)

  • Crataegus

    Many of the pupils did very well in the context of the structures we set.

    Since A levels I have never really used any of the things I learnt whilst studying for them, so was this a clever use of my time? As I have gone through life my interests have chanced and perhaps a broader educational base would have been better. In my youth it was Science and the brave new world, then the visual arts coupled with various attempts to set up businesses and now pottering about looking at the landscape and the flora suits me fine. So the wider O levels for me probably gave a much better foundation than the specialist A levels. But the length of time it took to do O levels seemed ridiculous back then but I suppose you are only young once and plenty of time for larking around is no bad thing.

    I pity the young for they will probably have to live through an era of relative economic decline. What they learn and how well they do will be crucial to their future well being in a way it never was for me.

  • T.Ruth

    This discussion-like the eleven plus results comes around every year.Well done to those who did well and for those who didn’t it’s not the end of the world. Eleven plus exams,GCSE’s and A levels are not significant indicators as to who will do well in the great wide world or in life generally.I am sure we need to look more closely at how relevant the curriculum is in preparing young people for adult life.There are many schools who do wonderful work in this area but sadly they have to divert resources to fight for support.A Simon and Garfunkel couplet springs to mind as I write this so the problem isn’t a new one.”When I think back on all the xxxx I learned in high school, It’s a wonder I can think at all”
    It would be important for public debate in the short term to centre on those young people who for whatever combination of reasons and circumstances leave the education system functionally illiterate.What percentage of the population could have read and understood the Belfast Agreement for example? We need a curriculum designed for the twenty first century that is centred on the needs of all our young people.
    The strong survive our hugely inefficient and in large parts irrelevant educational system but we need to take a hard look at the examination results and school experience of the lower achieving twenty five per cent of school leavers.

  • kensei

    “I dunno Kensie, and I bow to your knowledge, but he had 3 papers each in English and History. On each of those papers he gor the full mark (90, 120 and 90). So for those 2 subjects, he got 300 out of 300.

    I just assumed that meant full marks. ”

    The marks you get back are normalised. Trust me, I was well versed in the system at the time, because I was interested in how to work it.

    All results will fit on a bell curve. If you get a particularly hard paper, the results will be skewed toards the negative end. They then push the marks up, because if everyone did badly then the paper was obviously not fair in comaprison to previous years. If you happened to do well, you get shifted up. Past a certain point, and you get 100%. It also works in reverse, if the paper is particularly easy.

    It’s still a great achievement though.

  • Jacko

    Miss Fitz
    As a parent myself, I’m really impressed by the honesty of your remarks of Aug 18, 2006 @ 01:13 AM. Congrats on that.
    In this internet age, I think the idea of coursework really has to be looked at.

  • nmc

    If I’m not much mistaken most A-levels taken now are actually AS-levels. The difference is significant, I sat both types. There is less work involved in AS-levels, and they are modular, so some students get second and third chances to re-sit papers if they do badly first time round. When I was doing the AS-level I was told that it equated to roughly three quarters of an A-level.

  • Miss Fitz

    Jacko, thanks. I think any credit due is to the school to be honest. (Abbey Grammar in Newry…)

    And Pete….. 1987???? Suddenly I feel so old

  • Rory

    Are our kids just getting more clever?

    Of course they bloody are! And why wouldn’t they? The little bastards have all the advantages we never had like The Simpsons and South Park.

    All we had was The Three Stooges and Mr bloody Pastry. Can anyone blame me for being so bloody thick?

  • Animus

    I must be really thick. Who is Mr Pastry?

  • Rory

    A character on BBC children’s television in the 1950’s. Excruciatingly unfunny even back then. I still shudder to recall it.

  • Occasional Commentator

    The only solution to coursework is the way the Open University does coursework. Your final score is the lower of your exam result and your average coursework score. So cheating on your coursework won’t do you any good, because you’ll be too dumb to get a decent exam result. So there’s an incentive to do well in both the coursework and in the exam, but you can’t trade them off against each other.

    The only “problem” is that if you screw up the exam for some “genuine” reason, your coursework can’t bring you up. But you can bloody well just resit!

    So, all in all, it’s the perfect way to have coursework with no incentive to cheat.

  • Young Fogey

    No, A-Level grades are going up because of:

    * narrower syllabuses
    * easier questions – less in depth analysis required in the social sciences, spoon-feeding in maths and the sciences
    * more generous marking
    * modular exams
    * multiple resits permitted for those same modular exams
    * replacement of marks for facts in some subjects with marks for sputing the correct PC verbiage (geography and biology in particular)

    …and all of this has only seen the degree of social inequality in the education system increase.

  • willis

    Y F

    I don’t think you have quite proved cause and effect there, this is A level y’know.