Letters: Exam grading

Shifting standards in GCSE
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The Independent Online

To change grade boundaries between pupils taking the mock exams and sitting the real things is duplicitous. Allowing pupils to believe that if they work at a certain level they will attain a certain level and then to move the goal posts is an extremely poor political joke.

Was this political decision taken? Was it because Michael Gove wants to make political capital and lead the Conservative Party? Abusing pupils' futures for political selfishness is disgraceful and Michael Gove should resign, or David Cameron should introduce the legislation to recall a sitting MP as he promised before the general election.

Duncan Anderson

East Halton, North Lincolnshire

During the discussion about the grading of this year's English GCSE, I have heard no mention of the fact that this was the first examination session using a new specification for the subject.

This was the first session using the combination of examinations, speaking and listening assessment, and controlled assessment tasks, which replaced coursework. The change from coursework to controlled assessment meant that students could no longer complete their work at home, and the completion of the tasks was supervised by teachers over a number of hours in class time.

Perhaps the fact that coursework, with its sustained use of internet research, redrafting and remarking, has been taken out of this year's equation has had more impact than expected.

David Prescott


Much has been said about the fairness of GCSE grades in English. Fairness implies the same treatment in the same circumstances, but circumstances are rarely the same.

The two groups of candidates who sat in January and June were not randomly selected. There must have been some reason for a particular candidate to sit in January rather than June. Therefore fairness does not demand that the average marks for the two sets of candidates be equal.

D Williamson

Workington, Cumbria

Over the years there have been accusations of "dumbing down" as GCSE results continued to improve. Now, as grades have dropped for the first time in ages, there are new accusations of unfair "downgrading". Whatever the outcome, there would have been some sort of outcry.

Many students work hard for their exams, and of course it must be deeply disappointing for those who did not achieve the results they had hoped for, but not everyone was going to get their "expected" grades. Parents and teachers can't anticipate that GCSE passes will just keep on rising, when students differ from year to year. This was going to happen sooner or later.

My own exams never even seemed to matter when I first began looking for employment; no one cared that I had a D in GCSE geography. An individual's perceived level of competence in a chosen subject is not even the tip of the iceberg in relation to their ability, ambition, drive and passion for learning.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Wars are now a multi-billion dollar industry

As an anti-war activist, I have to disagree with your leading article's judgement that "it is difficult to see a clear winner emerging from the ever-bloodier civil war in Syria" (30 August).

The wider and bloodier the war in Syria becomes, the better in terms of profit for international and local arms traders, private security firms, UN and private reconstruction consultants and the armies of humanitarian workers who are waiting to move in.

You have to look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Palestine to realise that war has become a multi-billion dollar industry. The only losers are the innocent women, children and other vulnerable people who are murdered, raped or displaced. Yet these wars are started ostensibly to save them.

Sam Akaki

London W3

I worry that the western powers are claiming to support the Free Syrian Army, (that is the Syrian rebels and foreign fighters), albeit ostensibly and in a very limited way. Assad is a Ba'ath horror in the manner of Saddam Hussein, but will his overthrow give the citizens of Syria a better life? I really don't believe that the FSA is fighting for free elections and a multi-religious state that we could recognise,

Will free elections result or will another sect stride in and create just as beastly a regime, which will persecute the losers of this war?

The naivety of the western powers' formula beggars belief: "Remove a bad person and the replacement must be better." In reality these wars have more in common with the religious wars of Europe post-Reformation, but now with outrageously better weapons and far richer funders.

The West should keep out.

Tim Brook


Coming less than 18 months before Nato's withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the Taliban's latest round of horrific violence is an ominous reminder of the group's undiminished threat to Afghan civilians ("Slaughter in Helmand as Taliban fighters deliver show of power", 28 Aug).

Early reports that the 17 were killed because they'd attended a mixed-sex dancing party have been cast into doubt, but many Afghans are increasingly fearful that this kind of brutality is indeed what could be in store for them.

In particular, Afghan women are understandably worried that President Karzai's government and Afghanistan's international partners might trade away their rights in a desperate attempt to appease the rampant gunmen of the Taliban. When I was in the country earlier this year, I heard this concern voiced everywhere I went.

If anything, Taliban attacks could increase in the lead-up to 2014 and it's vital that any "reconciliation" process with armed groups includes verifiable benchmarks to ensure that human rights are protected. The UK government should certainly put on record its own benchmarks for this.

Kate Allen

Director, Amnesty International UK,

London EC2

There is something very telling in the response of Tony Blair's office to Desmond Tutu's refusal to share a podium with him (report 29 Aug).

In justification of the Iraq war of 2003, his office called to mind the horror of Saddam Hussein's chemical attack on Halabja in March 1988. If Mr Blair had been as upset by Halabja as he now claims, he would surely be on record expressing his moral upset at the time.

I have drawn a blank. Did he simply forget to be outraged, until, that is, he suddenly remembered to be in 2003?

David McDowall

Richmond, Surrey

Fate of NHS whistleblowers

The news that the Health Select Committee is to summon Dame Jo Williams of the Care Quality Commission to answer a charge that she ordered a psychiatric report on a "whistleblower" is to be welcomed (report, 16 August). If true, this was an abuse of power of the kind we would have expected in the old Soviet Union but surely not in the fair-dealing, democratic old UK.

Well, I'm not so sure. Some years ago, a colleague raised sensitive issues concerning patient safety within his own hospital via appropriate channels and found himself suspended. He worked in a high-profile and politically sensitive area of medicine and it would have frightened the horses if this got any publicity.

When journalists got wind of the story and called the Department of Health press office for comment they were told, in terms, "Look old chap, off the record, this fellow has a long history of psychiatric problems".

It wasn't true; but even if it had been it should not have been in the briefing pack of a government press officer. I doubt this man was acting on his own initiative but, when the story came out, he took the fall and was suspended for a week.

It is not safe to be a whistleblower in the NHS if even the DoH briefs against you, and we are all potentially the worse off for that.

Dr Peter Dawson

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Hitler's belief in the divine

Atheists and believers are disagreeing about Hitler and Christianity (letters, 31 August).

Hitler proclaimed himself a Christian in a speech in 1922: "In boundless love as a Christian and as a man...". He was still religious in 1936. He can be heard in the propaganda film Triumph of the Will declaring that the Nazi Party had achieved such wonderful things that mere mortals could not have done them – the party had God's help. When he survived the bomb plot in 1944 he spoke of "divine providence" having saved his life. He may have drifted away from his original Catholic faith, but he still believed in the supernatural.

But what have his beliefs to do with any discussion on the nature of the universe?

Jean Elliott

Upminster, Essex

Britain and England

I have heard English people since the Olympics saying that they feel more British now, and that the four nations of the United Kingdom should rebuild the respect they used to have for each other.

I suggest that England make the first move by: calling the cricket team selected by the England and Wales Cricket Board "England and Wales"; not playing "God Save the Queen" when taking on other British teams; and not calling a team that represents England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland "Team GB", which leaves out Northern Ireland.

Most of the anti-British feeling in Wales and Scotland is caused by the confusion of most English people about the differences between England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom.

Luke Magee

Ashford, Kent

Illness not a joke

There you go again. "Don't make me sound schizophrenic", says the headline on the cover of your magazine (1 September). Schizophrenia is an extremely serious and debilitating illness that affects about one in 100 people. I am surprised if this has escaped your notice. The use of the word as a trailer for a trivial article about a Hollywood actress is completely inappropriate. After all, you wouldn't say, "Don't make me sound spastic" – or would you?

Robert Hobbs

Richmond Surrey

Wrong target

It would be much better if this government legislated on second-home ownership in Cornwall rather than imposing criminal sanction on squatters, the symptom of the misuse of the country's housing stock and not the cause. It says a great deal about the social concern of the Coalition Government that the blight of homeless squatters is dealt with so harshly, while whole Cornish villages are misused by people who are among the wealthiest in society.

Tim James

Penzance, Cornwall

Out of the pan

According to Alice Jones (1 September) the expression "pan-fried" contains a redundancy. Not so! The dish she was contemplating might instead have been "deep-fried" and her plateful might have ended up different. I heartily endorse the rest of her article, which ridiculed pretentious menu wording, but this one was a dig too far.

Susan Ashton

Southport, Merseyside