It’s that time of year again that school children dread: exam time. In the next few weeks, millions of pupils will be sitting down to Sats, GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels. And when results are announced in August, we can expect the usual debate about whether education standards are falling, and whether exams are being dumbed down to hit achievement targets. But, says Donald Hirsch in this month’s cover feature, we should instead be asking if we are making reasonable and appropriate demands of our children. Indeed, the row over exams distracts from a much more important question: what kind of education do we actually want for our children?
Hirsch also argues that, regardless of whether exams are getting easier, pupils are much better educated than most editorials suggest:
The educational experience of young people in the middle of the ability range has been transformed. Large numbers are being educated to age 18 or 21 who in the past would have left with few or no qualifications at 15 or 16. This must in part be positive news. For example, six in ten 16 year olds now get a GCSE at grade C or above in maths. Thirty years ago, most young people were turned off maths long before that age. Even if a grade C in maths GCSE is not that demanding, most 16 year olds are at least getting a qualification—helping to combat the “I can’t do maths” syndrome that hampers so many British adults.
Is Hirsch right: should the media and the public be asking different questions about education? Or is he fobbing the issue? As ever, weigh in with your thoughts below.