Forget all the A* stuff. When it comes to global comparisons our kids are not doing very well at all.
They are the most illiterate in the developed world, according to a survey by the OECD.
It warned that many young people are graduating with only a basic grasp of English and Maths and are unlikely to be able to get a job in which they can afford to pay off their student loans.
English teenagers aged 16-19 were rated the worst of 23 developed nations in literacy and 22nd in numeracy. In contrast pensioners or those close to retirement age were among the highest ranked of their age group.
Most illiterate nations
- Northern Ireland
- Slovak Republic
- Czech Republic
- The Netherlands
The number of low-skilled people in England is three times higher than top-performing countries like Finland, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands. South Korea came top for literacy and numeracy.
While English teenagers get good qualifications (which I attribute to grade drift, group assessment and multi choice formats) their basic skills remain “stubbornly weak“.
Some graduates have such poor skills they can’t tell when the petrol tank is empty or read the instructions on an aspirin bottle.
The OECD report suggests we would be better off cutting the number of undergraduates and putting more resources into basic education. The idea that everyone should be a graduate is nonsense and the proliferation of Mickey Mouse degrees to allow people to graduate was lamentable.
It also suggested that universities that allowed students to graduate without core skills in English and Maths should be fined.
“Education in England has been blighted by the beliefs of progressive education” said the director of the centre for education at Buckingham University. And this has been going on since the 1970s when I saw student teachers out on teaching practice who couldn’t spell simple words and had no grasp of grammar.
Recent reforms introduced by Michael Gove when he was education secretary have still to make a full impact although the number of top grades awarded are expected to fall in future years with only a third getting grade 5 (old grade C) which is the global standard.
And to add to students, and educationalists’, woes examination boards have finally admitted that some subjects are easier than others.
Critical thinking is the hardest A level subject followed by further maths, general studies, latin, physics, philosophy, chemistry, biology, and environmental science.
So which are the easiest A levels? Dance, followed by communication and culture, film, electronics, English literature, media, English language, textiles, drama, and photography.
At GCSE level Latin is the hardest subject (I still remember amo, amas, amat, amamus etc) followed by French, German, Spanish, business studies, religious education, history, geography, and music.
And the easiest GCSEs are: Art, English, design and technology, home economics, maths, PE and English literature.
So what are Ofqual going to do about it? Make the easier subjects harder? Well in average subjects a massive 30% of students get a or A* so hardly rewarding the best. In easy subjects only 15% get those grades whereas in difficult subjects 45% get them. Hardly seems fair does it. If it was a harder subject logic says there would be fewer higher grades.
One proposal is to raise the proportion of A and A* to 55% in harder subjects and reduce the proportion to 10% in easier subjects. How well you actually do and what grade you objectively get means nothing when you are applying such criteria.
One alternative was to have a uniform grading pattern and award 30% of students A or A* in all subjects.
This is the crazy world of modern education where what you know and actually achieve in examinations is subject to other criteria. An A* grade is hardly worth the paper it’s written on but at least it prepares students for the dumbing down they will be subject to at universities keen to attract student fees by awarding ever more 1st class degrees.
That’s of course if they’re not too busy worrying about safe spaces and no platform policies instead of actually studying.
In the meantime too many of our children lack basic skills in English and Maths. We should be ashamed.