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10 June 2008 @ 07:19 am
English schools are the best in the world???  
Reading the morning news, I came across this article. This is an insight into the appalling state of the UK secondary education system. The education system in the UK has traditionally been seen as one of the best in the world, and UK qualifications are recognised by employers and universities all over the world.

Students take GCSEs at approximately age 15/16, after 12 years of compulsory education. The accepted standard of education, which statistics such as this are based on, is 5 GCSE passes (grade C or above) in English, Maths and 3 other subjects. GCSE grades range from A*-G and then jump to U, which is 'ungraded' (which basically means you wrote your name on the paper and nothing else of note).

What constitues a C or above varies among subjects, exam boards and papers, but as an example: I took Higher Tier GCSE Maths and Religious Studies. On a Higher Tier paper you can get a grade from A*-C if you actually pass. I got an A for Maths, which is about 60% (I don't know the exact mark). I got an A* in Religious Studies, which covers about 94% and above (my exact mark overall was 358/360, 99.4%). In Maths, I was told that on the paper I took you needed approximately 20% to get a C.

Let me repeat that, in case you missed it. TWENTY PERCENT. On the Intermediate Tier paper (grade range B-D) you needed about 40% for a C.

Now for the statistics:

Percentages for 5 GCSE passes at grade C or above, including English and Maths, for state schools in England

National average: 46%

638 schools less than 30%
14 schools less than 10%

Of 149 local authorities, only 15 contain no schools with below 30%.
In Manchester and Bristol more than half of state schools have below 30%.

The report on the BBC says these 638 schools make up nearly 1/5 of the schools in England. The national average is 46%.

This means that the average level of achievement in England is that 54% of 16-year-olds leaving a state secondary school after 12 years of compulsory education, in the fifth-richest country in the world, do not have what is considered a basic standard of education in this country. There are 14 schools in England where the 'gold standard' pass rate is in single figures. Even factoring in the policies which mean that many children and young people who would previously have been in a special school (not included in these stats) now attend mainstream schools, this is still unbelievable.

Most private schools with any interest in academics pride themselves on getting 'gold standard' pass rates of 100%. Many have 100% pass rates at GCSE, and A-level pass rates in the high 90s. I took 10 GCSEs at age 16, and got 6 A*s and 4 As. I took another two the next year while doing AS Levels and got another A* and A. Apparently I am 'gifted', and I am not expecting every school in the country to produce those kinds of results, but a national average of less than half? And nearly 1/5 getting less than a third? What is WRONG with this place?

If anyone is still in any doubt as to why I will be homeschooling my children (if we are in England - I may be willing to give the Dutch education system a chance), I'm not sure how much clearer I can make the situation. If you want to know why I don't plan to send my children to a private school, I remind you that 'bullying and discrimination policy' in most schools is just a piece of paper.

Schools told to improve or close, BBC News, 9th June 2008
Schools below 30% GCSE target, BBC News, 9th June 2008
Raising the bar on school results, BBC News, 9th June 2008
Current Location: my bedroom
Chemical Level: infuriatedinfuriated
Aural Sedation: Charley snoring
Jaimesparkle_puppy on June 10th, 2008 09:42 am (UTC)
In Maths, I was told that on the paper I took you needed approximately 20% to get a C.

Let me repeat that, in case you missed it. TWENTY PERCENT.

Yes it's 20%, but considering how much easier the Intermediate paper is and how many less topics you have to cover for Intermediate, the fact that they have a higher grade thresh hold isn't surprising.

And there are quite a few kids who are put in for Higher Tier who aren't as smart as you, and actually find getting more than 20 or 30% a struggle because the topics being taught in 2 or 3 lessons are so complexed that they need extra help which they can't have because the teachers are so hard pressed to finish a huge curriculum which is so vast there is rarely time for more than a week of revision before the exam.

GCSE Higher Tier Maths: Grade C - 22%
Jaimesparkle_puppy on June 10th, 2008 09:46 am (UTC)
Incidently, I'm quite proud of my mark. At least I passed it, which is more than I can say for some of the others in my class.
Sexual Mouseshadowavenger on June 10th, 2008 10:19 am (UTC)
I'm sorry if I came across as aggressive or diminutive in this. I didn't mean that the achievements of people who only get 20% on the higher tier paper are unworthy in some way. I know the way the papers and the exam syllabus are structured is utterly, utterly ridiculous (I was in a class of 20 and we didn't get a chance to do much individual work, I know class sizes in state schools can be more than double that).

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the students. I'm saying there's something wrong with the system. I'm aware schools put people in for higher tier maths exams when they don't understand the vast majority of the syllabus and there is no time to cover it. I know that both teachers and pupils are working under utterly ridiculous conditions to try and pass these exams. What I'm saying is that if 20% is a pass mark, something needs to change. That something, in my opinion, is the way we treat our young people and our educators, and the way the syllabus is structured. We have tried to make exams 'easier' by making them more prescriptive, and it has failed miserably because instead of working on understanding concepts and giving a decent amount of time to understanding how the subject actually works, teachers just have to spend all their time telling their pupils to memorise the syllabus. GCSEs try to be all things to all people, and they are failing miserably.

I'm not saying that 20% is a piece of piss to get, I'm saying that if a mark of 20% is supposedly a valid expression of competancy in a subject, then something in the examination and education system is very, very wrong. We're selling young people short and not teaching them how to think and understand concepts, only how to rote memorise and spew out facts that mean nothing to them and that they cannot apply to any situation other than the one that has been directly taught to them. That is not education.

I'm proud of my mark too. My teacher wasn't. She spent two years telling my mother that I was lazy and not working hard enough and that I should be working to A* standard. My mother and I spent two years laughing in her face. Forced overachieving is no more useful or productive than encouraging underachievement, but something needs to change.