United Kingdom Links

Links on Grade Inflation in the UK

A list of web-based reports and commentaries on Grade Inflation in the UK with URL addresses, brief descriptions and selected excerpts.

Click on the title to be taken to the webpage.

NOTE: Some links may be to subscription only sites – if you or your institution do not subscribe to the source you will be unable to access the document.

Maths exams have become too easy, says thinktank – Click Here

James Meikle, The Guardian, Tuesday June 3, 2008

“Maths exam standards have declined significantly over the past 50 years, with generations of teenagers facing undemanding questions that do not test their
independent reasoning abilities, a report said yesterday.”

How to tame grade inflation – Click Here

Steven Schwartz, How to tame grade inflation, Between them, Tomlinson and the Tories can fix A-Levels, The Guardian, Thursday October 21, 2004. An article by the vice chancellor of Brunel University on how to curtail grade inflation in A-levels

“Academic grades also appear to be subject to Gresham’s law – bad grades drive out good. The process begins with grade inflation.”

“Once grade inflation begins, it becomes self-sustaining. Schools and testing agencies that wish to maintain rigorous standards find their students losing out to those given inflated grades. Not wishing to see their students suffer, they start increasing marks. In this way, bad grades drive out good ones. To halt this insidious process, we need to engage in “currency” reform; we need to reintroduce standards. This is where Mike Tomlinson’s report comes in.”

“Specifically, he wants to provide finer discrimination at the top end of the performance scale by introducing A* and A** grades.”

“If we do nothing to prevent it, A grades will inflate to A* and A**.

“Recognising this, the Conservative party recommends a quota on the highest grades.”

“To create a marking system that gives us an objective idea of how well a student has mastered a subject, we need a combination of the Tomlinson and Conservative proposals. We need an extended range of marks and a commitment to rigor, especially at the top end. We also need Tomlinson’s proposed transcript of student performance, which will provide a deeper understanding of what students have actually mastered.”

So are A-levels getting easier? – Click Here

So are A-levels getting easier? BBC NEWS on Line, Thursday, 16 August, 2001. A commentary on Grade Inflation in A levels with useful statistics up to 2001,views and background information.

“……for the 18th year in a row – students have outperformed their predecessors. The overall pass rate in England this year was 89.6% – with 18.6% of entries being awarded A grades. Back in 1981 the A-level pass rate in England was 68.1%.”

“Not for the first time the head of policy at the Institute of Directors, Ruth Lea, was sceptical.
“It’s grade inflation all round, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,”

“The former chief inspector of schools in England, Chris Woodhead, called for a review of the A-level exams. ‘I think one has to ask whether the A-levels this year are as intellectually vigorous as they were 10, 15, 20 years ago,’”

Grade inflation does exist

Patricia Voute, Grade inflation does exist: I should know I was an A-level examiner The Times on Line, Aug 9, 2004. An insider’s view of how grade inflation is enforced in A-levels.

“….after marking 382 A-level scripts this year I saw grade inflation first hand. In fact I implemented it.”

“…I had not expected to disagree so thoroughly with the manner in which marks were applied. Not one teacher in the meeting agreed with the board’s criterion.”

“I found that A-levels do differentiate between abilities — after all I awarded grades ranging from U to A — but they do so by using a standard of attainment that most teachers I spoke to found depressingly low. The standard is low because the majority of pupils write poor scripts. I was ill-prepared for the sheer nonsense many adolescents write.”

“Grade inflation is a reality and it benefits only students at the lower end of the spectrum: many who do not deserve to pass are awarded E and D grades. But it penalises the most able students.”

Cambridge drafts A-level alternative

Alexandra Smith, Cambridge drafts A-level alternative, EducationGuardian.co.uk
Wednesday July 12, 2006. An article on plans being considered in the UK for an alternative qualification designed to better prepare students for University.

“Drafts of a new pre-university qualification that could rival A-levels will be sent to schools in October as institutions search for ways to better prepare pupils for higher education.”

“The “dying art of the essay” will be brought back to life in the exams, which will be called the Cambridge Pre-U. Universities have increasingly found it difficult to pick the best of the top pupils because the proportion of A-level papers which receive an A grade has risen to 22.8%, ballooning from 11.9% in 1991.”

“The London School of Economics has recently indicated it would recognise the Cambridge Pre-U, which is expected to be offered from 2008.Cath Baldwin, head of recruitment and admissions, said: ‘The LSE would accept the Cambridge Pre-U qualification as suitable for admission to its undergraduate courses. In particular, LSE would welcome the academic rigour of the new qualification’s linear approach and the retention of subject specialism.’”

Bright GCSE pupils ‘have abandoned grammar,’

Sarah Harris, Bright GCSE pupils ‘have abandoned grammar,’ Daily mail, 8th September 2006. An article describing the upward trend of GCSE grades in the UK accompanied by a sharp slide in command of basic written English.

“Basic punctuation and accurate spelling have been abandoned by even the brightest GCSE English students, a series of damning reports has revealed”

“After yet another rise in GCSE pass rates and number of A* grades this year, the examiners’ reports from Edexcel and the Oxford and Cambridge RSA exam boards will renew concerns about grade inflation.

“Overall, A and A* grades shot up by 0.7 points to 19.1 per cent this summer – the joint second largest rise in top grades since the A* was introduced in 1994.
It meant that pupils were scoring A and A* in one in five GCSEs – up from one in ten in 1988.”

Assessment versus intellect

Frank Furedi, Assessment versus intellect, The Guardian, Tuesday March 25, 2003. An insider’s view of the causes of grade inflation from a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent at Canterbury

“The demise of proper essays and exams has made degree inflation a fact of life.”

“The pressure to compete for student numbers has a profound impact on the way students are assessed and examined. It provides institutions with the incentive to please, placate and flatter.

The transformation of the student into a customer means that a good degree is increasingly seen as the outcome of a commercial transaction. As a result, institutions place strong pressure on academics to mark students “positively”. Positive marking has become the hallmark of a customer-friendly university.

I have not come across a single instance where a department was criticised for marking too generously. However, numerous colleagues report that their departments have been warned for failing too many students or for not giving enough 2:1 or first-class degrees.”

“What has happened is that forms of assessment that lack intellectual merit are assuming an increasing role in the university sector.”

A-level performance over the years

A web page giving a lot of data on trends in A-level performance over the years

“A-level grade inflation continues in 2006”

“The percentage of A grades at ‘A’ level rose sharply again this year as the number of candidates hit an all time high. The most stunning rise was in the percentage of top grades at A level mathematics, reaching a stunning 43.5% as the new “more accessible” syllabus settles in. Not surprisingly many are suggesting this is just dumbed down.”

NGSA Response to the Tomlinson Report

NGSA Response to the Tomlinson Report (Interim Report of the Working Group on 14-19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform, DfES, 2004), 1st June 2004. The Body representing British Grammar Schools responding to proposed educational reforms and commenting on grade inflation in A-levels.

“The Report’s criticism of the increasingly mechanistic methods of examining – multiple choice, short-answer questions and an excess of course work is welcome. It also strongly suggests that grade inflation is operative. This is endorsed by the criticism of the AS fiasco in 2002, but by perceiving it as a ‘blip’ there is a failure to recognise the long term process of grade inflation that has been operative at A-level.”

“The conflict between equality of opportunity and equality of results is at the heart of the present debate, but fails to get a mention in the Tomlinson report. Equality of results has a pleasant ring to it, but what is at stake is whether the equality ought to be achieved by lifting everybody up to the standard of the highest or holding everybody down to the level of the lowest. The answer to this question is obvious, but the real issue is whether it can be achieved.

“The current prevalence of the radical/sociological/Marxist concept of equality of results is alarming. The European Commission’s Teaching and Learning. Towards the Learning Society, 1996, strongly recommended schools that were “based on the conviction that all pupils in the same age group are capable of reaching the same level of academic achievement by the time they are of school-leaving age.””

Beyond Grade Inflation: Grading Problems in Higher Education

ASHE Higher Education Report Series, Vol. 30, Issue 6, 2005, Beyond Grade Inflation: Grading Problems in Higher Education, Jossey Bass Wiley, ISBN 0787 980781. A relatively short book (120 pages) discussing the context in which grading and grade inflation takes place. It is available form Amazon.co.uk.

“The primary message of this monograph is that grading is a shared responsibility among members of the institution and external players such as accreditation bodies, state governments, and boards of trustees. Systematic work across these various groups is necessary to change the context that rewards lenient grading.”

Undergraduates not ready for university

Education Matters, 2005, Undergraduates not ready for university. Taken from an article in the (UK) Times Higher Education Supplement reporting on a study which bore out academics claims that undergraduates in the UK were less prepared for higher education than formerly.

“Students in Britain today are increasingly weak at reading critically, constructing arguments and communicating ideas in writing, and have poor grammar skills.
These are the findings of a comprehensive study undertaken by Oxford University’s educational studies department along with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, and reported in The Times Higher.”

A-level blow as Baccalaureate given same rating as 5 A grades

A-level blow as Baccalaureate given same rating as 5 A grades
By Sarah Harris, Daily Mail. A newspaper article describing the degree to which A-levels, (concerning which there has been a great deal of concerns about serious grade inflation and falling standards) have been defined as lower standard by comparison with the International Baccalaureate examination in the The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) regulations.

“An IB score of 38 points out of a maximum of 45 – which is achieved by more than 200 pupils a year at Sevenoaks School in Kent alone – is deemed to be equivalent to a staggering five A grades at A-level.”

“It demonstrates that the “gold standard” of A-levels has been dumbed down to such an extent that pupils now have to collect huge numbers just to achieve the same level as an IB.”

“Many believe that A-levels are no longer sufficiently stretching for the brightest pupils, leading to university admissions tutors being inundated with straight “A” applicants.”