In Scotland school pupils and their parents put enough pressure on the SNP to reverse policy on exams marks. The precedent meant that it was already inevitable that the British Government felt the need to cave into such demands too. Grades have been inflated for the past thirty years and more, but this is the biggest jump yet. We will need a wheelbarrow of A levels to buy a loaf of bread.
Teachers across Britain have grossly overestimated the marks of school pupils, not because they are stupid or dishonest, but because it is the natural human thing to do. Faced with a borderline pupil who might get a B or might get an A, the teacher chooses to be optimistic. This tendency amounts to a systematic error in the predicted grades. It is enough to account for grades this year rising between ten and twenty percent.
Ability remains constant because intellect remains constant. Good teaching can improve exam results in a particular school, but it cannot account for a sudden drastic rise in one year especially when most pupils had minimal contact with their teachers from last March onwards.
School pupils in Scotland have been celebrating getting the improved grades their teachers predicted rather than the lower grades assigned by a computer algorithm. No doubt pupils in England are celebrating too. It is unfair to lower grades en masse by computer. It judges the individual according to what is predicted of the group. But the alternative is worse.
I have either studied or worked in higher education since leaving school more than thirty years ago. There has been a steady decline in what has been expected of pupils and students ever since.
When I did O level French in the 1980s, we had to write a letter in French for the exam. It was marked out of twenty. For each mistake no matter how trivial you lost one mark. It was easy to get zero. It meant that we learned French carefully and had to understand the grammar. Now languages are taught as if there was no such thing as grammar by learning phrases as if going on holiday with a Berlitz phrasebook. This is no longer an academic subject.
When students of moderate ability arrive at university because of grade inflation at school, the result is that courses have to be made easier. A course that was difficult for the top ten percent thirty years ago would be failed by four fifths of students when fifty percent of pupils go to university. If we failed that many, the university would be bankrupted. So, we make the courses easier. This happens gradually. But the difference between what was expected from a student in most courses has changed beyond all recognition since 1985.
What is the purpose of exams either at school or at university? The purpose is to distinguish between ability ranges.
It used to be the case that an employer would know that someone who had an A in Higher/A Level English or a 2:1 in English could be relied upon to be hard working, intelligent, capable of learning new things quickly, literate and therefore likely to be a good employee.
The inflation of grades in the past thirty or so years and especially this year means that these exams will no longer distinguish anything. How do we distinguish between the very able, the moderate and the poor when they all get an A? The problem is that they will now all go to university. But the courses will have to be adjusted still further so that no one can possibly fail. After four years of study they will all probably get a 2:1. But then neither school nor university will have distinguished between them.
But if neither school nor university exams distinguish between the able the moderate and the poor, they will cease to have any purpose. The exams quite literally will become worthless because no employer will be able to predict from the fact that someone has good A levels or a good degree that the person is intelligent, hard working and likely to be a good employee. If young people are celebrating this, they are idiots.
In the Spring before I did my finals in the 1980s my unfinished philosophy course got me an interview with a city forex trading firm and a job offer. I was informed that a good trader could make a quarter of a million pounds each year. I took a different path. But the reason I got the interview and the job offer was because the firm took seriously my university studies and the grades I got at school. Grade inflation means that not one single philosophy undergraduate will receive a similar offer today. Those who study such subjects will instead be lucky if they get a job in a bar, or in a restaurant or a supermarket. This is what grade inflation does to student prospects. Are you still celebrating?
If I had a teenage son or daughter faced with the present problems, I would advise two courses of action. If you can get onto a mathematics, hard science, computing, law or medicine course then by all means go to university. If you want to teach in school then study a subject that is taught in school and then get a teaching qualification, or alternatively study to teach in a primary school. These routes are still sensible. Every other university subject is completely worthless and will lead you merely to debt, disappointment and unemployment.
Grade inflation has tragically killed the arts and social sciences as sensible things to study. There is I believe much of worth to study in my own fields of Russian literature, philosophy and theology, but the only financially secure job that these subjects will lead to is academia and you face a long and lonely route to that with small chance of success. That route just got harder still as you will struggle to distinguish yourself from everyone else who just got an A.
In a world where qualifications have been turned from gold into base metal, the only thing you can sensibly do is gain skills and experience. I would advise most school pupils to get any job they can. This will be difficult in the post Covid world, but work experience will count for more than qualifications, because it at least shows that you can turn up.
Being able to do things rather than not being able to do things will count for more in the years ahead than what you did in school or university. Nobody cares about what a plumber did in school so long as he doesn’t make a mess of your new bathroom. The same will apply to every other job.
The pressure that was put on the Scottish Government and the British Government too by pupils and parents is based on the false idea that it somehow will matter that you got an A rather than a B or a C.
The tragedy is not that poor little Johnny couldn’t get to medical school because the nasty computer didn’t give him an A. Quite the reverse, the tragedy is that people unsuited to study medicine will now do so. They will not fail because universities need their fees and can only afford to fail a tiny percentage. The result will be that someone unsuited to being a doctor will work as doctor for forty years and more.
School pupils who would have been prevented from going to university this year because they did not get the grades they wanted should have got down on their knees and thanked God for their good fortune. Instead as proof of their idiocy they complained and got the grades they deserved. They will now get the fate that they deserve.
You shall go to the ball. You shall drink lots of wine and sleep with lots of men, but what you gain from the experience will be worth less than a solitary glass slipper and there will be no Prince Charming offering you happy ever after afterwards.
University sucks in vast numbers of school pupils and spits them out worse off financially and intellectually than they were before. Science, medicine and law are still worth studying, but pretty much everything else turns pupils into thicko woke warriors who know nothing and have no skills with which to attract an employer and an attitude any sensible employer would do well to avoid. If your child has been spared that fate be thankful.
Students protesting that they cannot go to university are the equivalent of cattle protesting that they cannot go to the abattoir. Get a job, get some skills, work hard. This is how you will get ahead. Qualifications are now worthless.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2020/08/qualifications-are-now-worthless.html