I was pleased to read Elliott Fudge’s recent article here on Backbench about the state of Britain’s current education system, and I’d like to take a moment to respond.
For a long time, I have made a point about Finland’s education system producing children that consistently outperform children of other nations in world league tables, despite the fact Finns start school at the age of seven, have no homework and very little testing. And whilst the Elliott Fudge is correct that we should be careful making judgements such as this, I’m always cautious of our own education system, especially as a current student in it.
This year, the brand new GCSEs for English literature, English language and maths were introduced. The new exams for them contain harder questions, closed book questions for English, no formula sheets in maths, and a new grading system of 9-1 - despite the old A*-G system being kept for all other exams this year. To be clear, anyone who sat GCSEs this year are the only group who will have a mix of letter and number grades.
The Gove-reformed exams of this year have taken their toll.
A Tes article, published on the day of the first maths paper of this year, reported a teacher estimating that around 50% of questions in the first maths paper at higher tier this year were A*-A content, compared to 25% in previous papers. A separate article reported that there was a knock in confidence amongst students this year, as a result of this new paper. Further to this, another Tes article contained a teachers' poll that revealed a potential drop in the number of students taking A-Level Maths this year, linking it directly to the introduction of the new GCSEs.
In the UK, only 20% of students continue studying maths after GCSE. By comparison, and taking into account a different system, that figure is 85% in Japan. Indeed, Japan is fifth on the OECD PISA world ranking for maths, whilst the UK is 27th.
It is no wonder that the UK’s children are some of the unhappiest in the world, when the exam system that they are facing feels rigged in such a way that nobody can get good grades in this system. If the UK wants students to consider studying maths beyond secondary education and into higher education, does it not seem counterproductive to knock students' confidence in their abilities?
In case you need some context about the difficulty of these new exams, when the Ofqual Director was asked to estimate the number of students he thought would get all top grades in the new GCSEs being phased in from this year, his response was 'only two pupils'.
I ask you, does an education system seemingly designed to foster insecurity seem superior to an education system designed to allow students to flourish?