Dear Zoe

This is called grading on the curve:

The decision in England, where results come out on Thursday, is more rigid still: alongside their predictions, teachers were asked to put their students in order, with none jointly ranked. Then, in what Ofqual called its “direct centre-level approach”, the predictions were largely disregarded; instead, schools have been allocated a fixed number of As, Bs etc based on their performances in previous years. Students’ results will rely jointly on where they were placed relative to their peers, and how students did in the years before them.

The aim is to sort pupils into bright, not so and not. So, rank order does this. What is your problem?

30 thoughts on “Dear Zoe”

  1. Like so many things, there’s a question: what would you do that works better?

    Poor Scottish schools exaggerated their kids results considerably. So what do you do? Let some thicky go to Edinburgh? Some sort of adjustment or grading on the curve is the best solution. Yes, sucks vs exams, but here we are.

  2. ”The aim is to sort pupils into bright, not so and not. So, rank order does this.“

    Afraid not. Rank order gives you a relative measure within a school, not an absolute measure across schools. The problem here is not with the rank ordering within schools, but with how to convert that into an absolute grade, when the absolute performance of pupils in a school can vary markedly from year to year…especially in small classes.

    “Grading on a curve” requires you to have a relative measure (a mark, usually) on a scale comparable between schools.

  3. British state schools need to be scrapped and start again purged of all socialist scum.

    Now is ideal opportunity. But since Blojob IS socialist scum–no chance.

    As for guesstimates –you know I really don’t think it matters that much–most will be heading to the dole line anyway.

  4. What the statistician says. If I were a star pupil in an otherwise underperforming school, I’d be livid.

    The solution is to run the exams ASAP, no time for revision. That’s fairest on everyone.

  5. the Boris Pr machine has had some wins. First of all the genius of presenting pubs versus schools dichotomy. Initially it drove me to distraction- what that’s even a choice? But in hindsight it seems the most efficient question at finding out who the teacher is any group, allowing them to be isolated from all the sane people who actually prioritise education.

    Then the declaration that it was a moral imperative to open up schools in september was very good. The definition of stealing a march on the feet draggers. Get your finger out teach… your going back to work.

  6. Andrew M – If I were a star pupil in an otherwise underperforming school, I’d be livid. The
    Star pupil will get what last years star pupil got. iF there wasn’t one then that’s where they’ve been hard done by.

  7. When I did my A level exams the year above me were an academically poor lot. I recall pupils my Physics class we got more grade “A” passes (13 I think) than the year above got passes at any grade. Based on this my year group would have been badly disadvantaged.

    Unfortunately the only way you can prove a year group difference like that is by exams.

    We should never have shut the schools……. but that’s tricky when the teachers were going to do a no show.

  8. The problem is that teachers are often wrong. My physics teacher predicted I would get C or D – I got B.

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    One of my science teachers predicted such a low mark for me that there were questions asked.

    It is all part of the general collapse of British education. Because everything is run and taught by people lucky to scrape a Pass. And as has been said, all must have prizes.

    Education should be about results. Not feelings.

  10. The scheme wouldn’t have done my educational qualifications any good. Basically, I detested school & took very little interest in it. The final year I avoided my presence there as much as possible. Just went back for the O-Levels. I’m sure some of the teachers wondered who I was. Got a clean sweep of the lot. The trick is to read the textbooks & ignore the idiot standing by the blackboard. You don’t need a middleman. Gave up formal education after. Whilst my classmates were doing A-Levels & uni I was earning decent money & impressing girls. Wonder what happened to the certificates? I think one was supposed to go back & pick them up. Certainly, no-one’s ever asked about them.

    Don’t really understand this coursework business. The point of education isn’t to learn anything in particular but to learn how to learn. Picking around in the details of what’s being learnt doesn’t achieve much. Either you can deliver when the crunch comes, or you can’t. That’s how life works. No-one’s interested how you did it. Unless you’re an educationalist.

  11. Let those 18 year olds who choose find jobs for a year or so and sit A-levels next Spring. If they can’t find some sort of a job, even in an economy that will be in terrible trouble, were they worth an A-level? Anyway, who on earth wants to be a faux fresher this year?

  12. I’d recommend that for anyone, any time. Changes one’s whole attitude to things. School, you do things because you’re told to. Work, you do things because you have to. By the time I left school I’d been working part time for more than a year. And getting paid by results.
    My other advantage was an excellent state primary school. They still had them in the fifties. 100% 11+ pass rates with classes of 40. They made learning something you enjoyed. And enjoyed succeeding at. Very competitive. Regular tests with a scoreboard of where you stood relative to the other kids. A modern educationalist would have a case of the vapours just thinking about it.

  13. “Get your finger out teach… your going back to work.”

    In the words of Mitch Benn:
    Y O U apostrophe R E
    Is a contraction of you are.
    The possessive form of you is one word spelled Y O U R.
    It’s really not that hard.
    It’s really not that hard.
    It’s really really seriously not that f***ing hard.

  14. The grading system has been a scam for some time. At least since Tony B. said we needed half our young people to have a degree, and the Government started throwing money at “New Universities” that could not be allowed to fail.

    They would obviously fail if the supply of students dried up. So each year, the award bodies and exam boards change the “grade boundaries”; work that would have gained (say) a grade C in one year might well gain a grade B the next year. In addition, there is a slow drift towards more generous marking, such that markers are trained (they have meetings and discuss exemplars early in the calendar year) to give a particular grade or percentage to work of a particular quality.

    There is also huge emphasis on getting students from “deprived” backgrounds into University, which sounds beautifully meritocratic. But as yet, nobody has been able to circumvent the brute fact that what universities traditionally looked for in bright pupils was only ever found in those from “advantaged” backgrounds. The idea of the “mute inglorious Milton”, or the poor black kid who is just bursting with talent that has never been tapped because s/he was never exposed to the right culture, is bullshit. Listen to Oxbridge academics when they talk about overcoming “advantage”. Never less than amusing.

    Current problems have just revealed the rottenness of the system to ordinary parents.

  15. The killer isn’t the star pupil in an otherwise underperforming school. They’ll probably get As instead of A*s, and it would have to be a truly terrible school for them not to get at least Bs – and even with Bs they’ll still get into a decent university. Yes, the school might miss out on its one Oxbridge entry a decade, but the kid’ll still end up at Durham or Manchester or Imperial or something, and get the first their ability deserves (if you could get straight As from that schooling, you’re easily good enough to get a first). That hurts the teachers more than it hurts the pupil.

    It’s the fifth-ranked pupil in an unusually bright class for that school, who gets a D when they would have got a B or an A if they were allowed to take the exam, and has been (rightly) encouraged to raise their sights in terms of university applications and can’t even make the grades for their backup. That’s the person who suffers most. They’d have been the second-ranked most years, but there are three other kids that pushed them down the rankings.

    This is especially bad at A Level, where the numbers from a given school taking a given subject are pretty small, perhaps as few as 10-12.

    At GCSE, where the classes are much bigger, you can’t end up dropping three deciles by bad luck.

  16. @Sam Vara,

    There have always been ‘New Universities’. Birmingham Uni was founded in 1900. Imperial College was founded effectively in 1908. They are hundreds of years younger than Oxford or Cambridge. Surrey University was founded in 1966. So some Polytechnics were made Universities in the 1990s? It’s an ongoing process. The engineering education is some O=Polys was better than in some Russell Group places. Some well-established places teach crap.

  17. I thought that`s how all exams worked, top 15% of marks get an A next 15% get a B etc. Yes it means that one year you can get an A by scoring 80/100 and another year you need 85/100, but the point is to state who are the top 15%.

  18. Witchie:

    All polytechnics became universities. The issue of corruption and double-dealing was never about the acknowledged technical excellence of polytechnics, but about those polys, teacher training colleges, and bigger FE colleges running sub – standard degrees in arts and humanities.

  19. Richard Gadsden nails it.

    @ Sam Vara
    NO. There have almost always been a scattering of bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Whenever someone says that Oxbridge-quality is *only* found among the advantaged I immediately think of cases I knew who disproved this.
    To say that it is *rarely* found among the “disadvantaged” would be correct but not that it *never* is.

  20. bloke in spain,

    “Basically, I detested school & took very little interest in it. The final year I avoided my presence there as much as possible. Just went back for the O-Levels. I’m sure some of the teachers wondered who I was. Got a clean sweep of the lot. The trick is to read the textbooks & ignore the idiot standing by the blackboard.”

    I couldn’t even be bothered with that. As far as I was concerned, after primary, school was a prison where people taught me things I didn’t care much about, and expected me to do work on their boring subjects without any reward. All I thought about was leaving at 16. I did get a few GCSEs, mostly in the stuff that matters: maths and english. The best use of my time from 14 to 16 was goofing around on home computers in my spare time.

    I felt far more at home going to technical college and work than I ever did at school. People gave me problems and I solved them. Sometimes, I suggested fixes.

    I still hate institutional bullshit. I can’t work in huge companies. I’ve tried it and I end up hating it because it’s the same nonsense as school. Filling out BS5750 forms that go into a cabinet and no-one ever looks at again, is the same as the list of petty school rules that only exist because a twat is in charge. Diversity training is as wanky and pointless as school assembly.

  21. Like others have mentioned when the target is to pass exams you can get away with annoying the teacher and doing the bare minimum, under this system your screwed.
    Recall one A level the teacher estimated me and a friend as D’s and we had B’s we just didn’t like the teacher and weren’t inclined to work for him, his pet student he forecast an A had a D, turns out 20 page answers doesn’t work in time constrained exams and if you’ve got into the habit doing homework that way because it’s what teacher wants you have a problem if you can’t adjust.

  22. John 77

    Yes, possibly I overstated it. The point I meant to make is that what top universities recognise as intelligence is almost exclusively manifested in cultural terms. Bright kids might “shine through” but so much of it is knowing how to shine. My guess is that if you are bright enough to impress an employer at age 18, you would probably be able to gain a good degree if you had taken a different path.

  23. @ Sam Vara
    What top universities try to recognise is which kids will be able to tackle the course and benefit from it. Not actually intelligence.
    Of course they occasionally get it wrong but not often (leaving aside the occasional free pass given to the children of prominent left-wing members of the Establishment). However one thing that they have learned is that teacher assessment is unreliable so they have reintroduced exams for those that get past the preliminary filter.
    The way for would-be mathematicians to shine is to produce an elegant answer or two in the examinations. Going back to my youth: I was appallingly bad at interviews but I was lucky enough to be awarded a place on the basis of Part 1 of the exam nearly two months before the interview which accompanied Part 2 of the exam. So any polish or lack of it didn’t matter.
    How much experience have you got of Oxbridge entrance?

  24. @BoM4
    Spot on

    SNP have surrendered to unions and restored faked grades

    Scottish Conservative leader happy fruad permitted and congratulated pupils on their achievent of an 85% improvement in one year
    No, that isn’t sarcasm, he did

    Genuine clever pupils not happy, one interviewed by mistake
    – segment removed from C4 News vid on YT

    As for grades, surely mocks/prelims are best indicator, not teachers thoughts?

    I missed one A level due to an accident. Mock was 95%. Exam board remarked it – An A awarded

  25. Bloke in North Dorset

    “ The problem is that teachers are often wrong. My physics teacher predicted I would get C or D – I got B.”

    Teachers have been making predictions for years, have they been recorded because they’d be ideal fodder for AI? If they haven’t they should be as part of a teacher’s assessment as they could easily tease out if some teachers were, say, down grading boys or girls or even if they are being racist.

  26. john77

    Well, universities are obviously keen on those who can cope with the course and do well, and they often talk about this in terms of intelligence. I don’t personally think that there is a valid indicator of intelligence which is independent of cultural expression, although cultural factors are less important in maths and some sciences than in humanities and arts. There might be maths geniuses and prodigies who would do well despite have no cultural capital other than abstract intelligence, but that’s not the case in the humanities and arts. There, abstract reasoning is less important than knowledge and insight, and those things are generally not available to those who have been exposed to the culture.

    In terms of my personal experience, it’s threefold. I spent most of my working life trying to get youngsters into Oxbridge colleges and Russell Group universities; I helped get my son into Cambridge (from which he emerged with a first, I’m proud to say) and until recently we lived in a Cambridge college (not formally part of the Uni, but my wife was a member of one of the Uni colleges and I spoke to lots of academics about this and similar matters.

  27. @ Sam Vara
    OK you *do* know more than I about it. So maybe I’m just out-of-date coming from an era when a majority of Oxford undergraduates came from Grammar Schools.

  28. The few remaining state grammars – such as Lancaster Royal, RGS and Challoners – still send a goodly number of pupils to Oxbridge. Imagine if we still had one or two such in each town.

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