Saturday, June 30, 2007


For non-Brits: British government bodies are often accused of "fudging" an issue. We even hear of "a typical British fudge". The term means something like "an evasive compromise", "handling a dilemma by vagueness" or "concealing what is really going on by vague or misleading words". It might not be too unkind to describe the whole of British politics as one big fudge. I doubt that the word is capable of precise definition but precision is, after all, anathema to it. At any event, it is an essential word for those who claim any insight into British affairs

Government claims of improved examination performance are based on lower test standards, according to an end-of-term report on Tony Blair’s education record as Prime Minister. The school curriculum has been narrowed, and teachers are being forced to teach only for the next tests, say Anastasia de Waal and Nicholas Cowen, authors of the study by the right-wing think-tank Civitas.

“Better results in our schools give no assurance of better-educated pupils. They often signify worse educated pupils,” the report concludes. Ms de Waal said that Mr Blair had failed in his aim of closing the gap in achievement between rich and poor children because his emphasis on league tables and targets had broken the link between achievement and learning. The Government had become sidetracked by structural reforms and innovations. “The Government is not allowing teachers to have the autonomy to teach. If we really wanted to see better standards, we would leave the teachers alone — they are suffering from initiative overload,” she added.

The report cited research from Robert Coe, of the University of Durham’s School of Education, that found evidence of grade inflation at A level. Dr Coe compared the A-level results of students with verbal and mathematical reasoning test results, and found that a candidate given an F in A-level mathematics in 1988 would, on average, get a C in 2005. Students of average ability in 1988 gained E grades in geography and biology and Ds in English literature, history and French. In 2005 teenagers of similar ability were awarded C grades in all six subjects.

At GCSE, grades had also been inflated, the Civitas report claimed, largely because of the increasing numbers of students taking vocational qualifications that the Government deemed equivalent to four GCSEs.

The report also questioned the validity of primary school test results. It noted that, in Year Six, for four months normal teaching was discarded for nearly half the time and pupils were coached for national curriculum SATs.

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, disputed the report’s explanation of A-level grades. “Teachers have got better at coaching students for exams. The modular system of A levels has also helped to raised achievement because it means that pupils don’t have to learn everything for last-minute tests,” he said.


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