If you speak to even a handful of teachers who have been working in classrooms over the past twenty years, it is very quickly apparent that yes, exams have become easier, and so yes, the grades are “worth less” than they were in the past.
I would argue that one reason for this is that the UK has just come out of a period of being governed by a Labour government who held a noble intention, to make further education available to all.
Their thinking was flawed, however. I do not believe that everyone is suited to an academic, university-based, education. Nor do I believe that society needs us to move in that direction. We need a diverse population with a diverse set of skills.
In fact, I would argue that what Labour have instead achieved, is a watered-down education system that hands out GCSE and A-level qualifications all too easily. At the Sam time, teachers have become more focussed on the narrow goals of high GCSE pass rates than on the teaching children skills for life. Children are spoon-fed information to make the school look good, rather than taught how to learn, and take responsibility for their own achievement. As a consequence, our children are ill-prepared for a rigorous university education, or for life in the working world.
On the other side of this, we have the X-factor culture, where every week children are taught that it is far better to aspire to fifteen minutes of fame rather than have an honest job. Will we ever forget “Andy Abraham, the singing binman” who could not bear to go back to his normal life? Each week, year on year, our children are taught that working for a living is a mug’s game. Twelve weeks on a talent contest, becoming a national spectacle, is pitched as a great alternative path.
I look forward to a shift back to more challenging exams, with stricter guidelines for examiners so that children are not given an inflated sense of their accomplishments and the value of those grades. Perhaps then, they will be able to prepare for their futures more realistically.