Examiners disagree on question of changing standards

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The Independent Online
IS IT becoming easier to pass GCSE or achieve a grade A? The examiners themselves disagree, writes Donald MacLeod.

Philip O'Hear, head of Acland Burghley School in London and a chief examiner for English at GCSE, said: 'I have no evidence that standards have fallen.'

Results were all in line with what candidates could be expected to achieve. GCSE, he said, had improved standards, and improved motivation of pupils.

'You can see the evidence in terms of the quality of work produced in the classroom. More students are producing better work,' he said. 'There may have been a loss of depth in some areas because of the wider syllabuses but I think on balance that there is both depth and width at all levels of ability.'

He said that when the exam boards had re-marked on the basis of comparing results with previous years, students had achieved higher standards with GCSE than they would have done with either O- level or the CSE. 'The pity is that criticism of the GCSE is being used to question the present structure and prepare the way for changes the Government has already decided upon, cutting down course work and making all the tests for the national curriculum very narrow and traditional.'

But Dr Philip Evans, headmaster of Bedford School, in Bedford, also an experienced chief examiner, said: 'Grades may be drifting upwards at GCSE and A- level despite the conscientious efforts of examiners. The human pressures on examiners not to fail a greater number of candidates than last year are reinforced by the commercial pressures on the boards to attract business.

'It's all being done with care by hard- working, diligent people - but it's drifting. Year by year the boundaries shift only slightly but the upshot is that over the course of a few years the pass rate has jumped markedly and A grades are easier to achieve.'

Exam boards were also under financial pressure to attract customers. 'A particular board is perceived to be 'tough' at its economic peril. This is an almost inevitable consequence of a free market examining economy,' he said.