Thursday, 25 August 2011

GCSE A* Maths

Katherine Birbalsingh, the teacher who 'blew off the lid' about the failings of the comprehensive school system, posts that "we've taught out children one essential skill: How to manipulate 'ever-improving' GCSE results".She writes:
"Our children are experts at knowing how to manipulate their national curriculum levels, their UMS scores and their modules because their teachers spend countless hours teaching them how to do so..[..]..With GCSEs, the trick is to take lots of easy GCSEs where some 50% of the grade is achieved through coursework, controlled assessment, or some type of testing where one can access the teacher’s help. Of course, in the end, you’ll have to face an exam or two..[..].. I have taken these 2 questions from a Higher GCSE Maths paper from 2010. Admittedly, they are 2 of the easier questions out of the total of 17 questions on the paper. But remember, the pupils taking this paper are not foundation pupils who are aiming for a C grade on their Maths GCSE. These children are aiming for an A*.

1. A box contains milk chocolates and dark chocolates only.
The number of milk chocolates to the number of dark chocolates is in the ratio 2:1.
There are 24 milk chocolates.
Work out the total number of chocolates.

2. Yasmin can buy 5 identical pens for 75p. [There is a drawing on the paper of 5 identical pens.] How much should she pay for 3 of these pens?"
Back in the '50s, this was, I consider, an easy maths question in a GCE 'O' Level paper:
"A machine that cost £35,000 is operated eight hours a day in a five-day week but one hour each day is used for test purposes. There are three scales of charges, the first at the rate of £5 an hour for private use, the second at £15 an hour for research work and the third at £40 an hour for commercial work. It is estimated that the numbers of hours charged at the first, second and third rates are in the ratios 4:2:1. Express the receipts from commercial work as a percentage of the total receipts.

If the machine costs £30 a week to maintain, how many complete weeks must elapse before one quarter of the original cost of the machine can be recovered?
Back in 2008 The Times conducted an experiment with some volunteer children. They asked a group of five GCSE pupils at Brighton College, East Sussex, to take maths and English papers under test conditions. The results were striking.

Not one of the five teenagers was expected to achieve lower than a B grade in the GCSEs they completed a few days ago and several of the guinea pigs were predicted to score a string of As and A*s.

Yet according to Louise Kenway, Brighton College’s deputy headmistress, who marked the O-level tests they sportingly sat, only two of the five pupils achieved a pass mark in the two-hour O-level maths paper; the rest failed.

As an aside, I wonder how many children today would be able to correct the grammar in the sample English paper?

Yet we are told the standard of education is improving......?

* Answers at the foot of The Times link (no cheating, mind.....)


PeterCharles said...

Indeed we are relentlessly told the standard of education is improving where the truth is the debasement of education is increasing. Back in the 50s and 60s a British 'A' Level was the equivalent of the first year University exam in the USA, now it is the equivalent of 1950s 'O' Level.

We are also relentlessly told how hard modern school kids work, how much homework they do and how hateful it is to implicitly criticise them because we think exams are getting easier. They probably do work hard, those that aspire to the top grades at least, however they are not taught the subject any more, they are taught answers, if you have a good memory you can pass a modern 'A' or 'O' level with absolutely no understanding of the subject. It is the same as training an apprentice carpenter to sand and polish wood to mirror-like perfection but not bothering to teach them how to make a joint.

I was present at the beginning of our educational debasement and experienced it first hand. A new exam paper was the first part and I recognised it for the debasement it was even then. This was the CSE, introduced to replace 'O' Levels. As mine was a Catholic school (actually one of the first comprehensives) everyone was required to take the CSE Religious Instruction paper. Being a bit of a rebel (some called me a trouble-maker would you believe?) and, I am now embarrassed to admit, because being in the Alpha stream I regarded both the subject and the paper an insult, I determined that I would neither revise for it nor make any effort to pass. As I recall it was a 90 min. multiple choice paper which I finished in less than 40 minutes. I achieved a grade 1 pass, equivalent to an 'O' Level pass of at least grade C. In truth had I taken an RI 'O' Level I would certainly have failed, revision or not.

The second element of debasement I did not recognise at the time. The teaching establishment of the school gradually progressed from a majority of 30-ish plus and roughly half male teachers to at least a parity if not a majority of 21 - 22 year old girls. While this was both exciting and aesthetically pleasing to the male half of our classes and we had a great deal of fun at their expense we did not learn very much, especially when we realised we already knew more of the subject than they did.

As an aside, another incident that I recall explains much of our problems as a country today. During our career options 'talk' one person asked what should people do if they failed their 'A' Levels. I have never forgotten the answer. "Well, unless you want to work in a factory or dig holes for a living there are only two choices, teaching or the civil service."

Woodsy42 said...

It would be interesting to compare those pretend questions with the 11plus which we all took in the days of grammar schools. My guess is they might not be too far out of place.

dougal said...

I wonder is it possible to have my crappy O level and A level results(two E's and a D) from the mid 1980's ,adjusted in the manner of other Government figures? would certainly enhance my CV?

WitteringsfromWitney said...

PC: Agreed, your first two paras.

W42: Yup agree.

d Why not? Rewriting history is par for the course is it not?