A simple question for anyone who thinks A level standards have fallen

The proportion of people getting an A in their A levels is up, so either it’s got easier to get an A or teachers and kids have got better.

So here’s the simple question that I always want to ask people who assume it must be a case of falling standards: if you think it unthinkable that teachers have got better at doing their job, do you apply that to your own career and that of everyone in your family? Is it the case that neither you, your colleagues, your loved ones or anyone you know with a job has got steadily better at it as time has gone by?

0 responses to “A simple question for anyone who thinks A level standards have fallen”

  1. I agree with the sentiment of your argument here, and think that most people probably get better at their jobs as time goes by but aren’t teachers getting younger (on average), and therefore likely to be improving from a lower base?

  2. I refer to this as the phenomena of creeping professionalism. If we look around the world at any given aspect of society where innovation, revision and refinement has been permitted to exist (as opposed to actively thwarted), then we find that contemporary versions have some degree of upgrades and superiority over prior editions just by virtue of the passage of time and the gaining of skills, insights and ability of the end users.

    Given the ambient complexity of life, and various minor tasks such as password memorisation, pattern matching (password/account/identity), and all of the various things you need to learn, store and do just to function in a contemporary society, it’s entirely possible to have continued upgrading of teachers and students.

  3. This is a rather disingenuous question, which rather misses the central claim of those who claim standards have slipped – which is that the levels of knowledge required to pass an exam have declined as a consequence of creating a market in examining boards. The actual capabilities of teachers are incidental to this point.
    I know several teachers, and I am aware that they work very hard. But they themselves admit that they are hamstrung in developing their abilities by the limits of the national curriculum. Instead of reflexively defending teachers, we should be talking about how our education policy would provide them with far greater professional freedom.

  4. Adam: the question of the market in examining boards is certainly a relevant one, but it’s over-egging the pudding to say that it is “the central claim of those who claim standards have slipped”. For example, the vast majority of the mainstream media coverage along the lines of standards falling doesn’t mention the market in exam board at all. In what sense is it central if it’s frequently not mentioned?

  5. Those who believe that A level standards have fallen are not committed to the idea that it is “unthinkable” that teachers have got better at their job.

    They may believe that it is perfectly possible that teachers could get better at their job, but as a matter of fact it has not happened. Or they may think teachers have indeed got better at their job, but that this welcome development has been outweighed by other, adverse factors.

    I believe that training makes footballers better. I also believe that Oxford United are not as good as they were 20 years ago.

    Where is the contradiction in that?

  6. Jonathan: you’re right that there are those who think A level standards have fallen and have more subtle reasons for thinking so. But that’s no reason to avoid poking fun at the many other people who don’t have the sort of nuanced view you laid out – and hence my more specific second paragraph which tried to be clear that I was talking about one group of people (only).

  7. Your argument might hold good if there was only one group of teachers who lived forever and never left the profession, getting better and better each year. Yes, I have got better at my job over time. But death, retirement and career changes mean that the pool of teachers, like the pool of students constantly “churns”. If I left my job and my deputy replaced me, for a time at least performance would naturally dip until they learned the new ropes. You can replicate this across jobs and roles. Exam results, however, are unidirectional over time. It doesn’t add up.

    • Your logic looks faulty to me David. Look at the recent 100m sprint final for example. More and more sprinters are running 100m in under 10 seconds. Does that mean the courses have got shorter? Or started being downhill? No, it means a whole profession is getting better and better at its job. It’s not just that individual sprinters get better over time (until they reach their peak), it’s also that each cohort performs better than its predecessors and that improvement keeps on happening.

  8. By “teachers getting better at their job” do you mean “finding more ways to get students through the exam system hoop without actually teaching them anything”? I think you do.

    I don’t regard that as their job. Of course, it’s a common way of measuring “being good at the job”, after all it turns out the bankers who were “good at their job” were being assessed in a similar way – they were disastrous at their job, but on some narrow short-term performance measures, it looked “good”.

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