Controversy over plummeting grades will continue for years to come, claims exams chief

The Independent is reporting claims from the head of one of the big three exam boards that GCSE and A-level exams will become even tougher and more academic over the next few years…

Rod Bristow, the president of Pearson, the exam board that offers Edexcel and BTEC qualifications, says: “The bulk of the reforms to make the content of exams tougher won’t flow through into results for at least another two years.”

…In an internal communication to Pearson staff, Mr Bristow argues that “raising the bar, to stretch and engage learners is the right goal (who will argue with ambition?) and for that reason many of the changes we are now implementing are a very good thing”.

The changes, which include a complete overhaul of the exam syllabus in most subject areas, are designed to make questions more challenging and encourage students to show more of their creative thinking skills in essay-style questions…

Mr Bristow, though, argues that the hardest part is not making the exams tougher but enabling more pupils to succeed in mastering them, rather than simply accept a pass rate decline. He says: “We will know if it has worked when more young people are able to realise their ambitions, when universities tell us new recruits are better prepared than they have ever been – when employers tell us job applicants have the literacy, numeracy and other transferable skills they need.

“While raising standards and making exams tougher is consistent with these goals, it is far from enough. Indeed there are real risks. Higher standards and a greater academic focus won’t alone engage all learners. And academic skills, while important (and relatively easy to examine versus practical skills) are not the whole story…

“The global economy does not only value what people know. It values what they can do. That implies a more rounded education that goes beyond what is tested at exams.”

“More confident teaching to deliver higher academic standards is important but we also need to give the same treatment to vocational and applied learning pathways.”

Nearly one in four successful applicants to university go through the BTEC vocational route – with every prospect that these numbers will grow, he argues. “The A-level is becoming more academically focused at the same time as universities are placing higher value on vocational degrees as they focus their efforts on employability,” he adds. As a result, BTEC is also undergoing reform in consultation with employers.

Mr Bristow also raises a question mark over the decision by the former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to “decouple” the AS-level exam – taken by most students at the end of the first year of the sixth-form – from A-levels…

More at: Controversy over plummeting grades will continue for years to come, claims exams chief


A number of different issues are raised in these comments from Rod Bristow including changes to the exams, enabling students to master them, rounded education, vocational qualifications and the decoupling of AS-levels. What do you make of what he has said? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Policy.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Mr Bristow suggests that education goes beyond exam results, so why are schools & teachers judged purely on exam results?

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove The new maths curriculum will turn off many more students in my view – being made more difficult for the sake of it

  3. Its time to get education out of the hands of politicians.  More political football games!  The cycle goes on…one minister makes the exams harder in the name of ‘standards’ and the next has to deal with all those who fail – and makes them easier in the name of ‘opportunity’.
    I remember in about 2002/3 when suddenly grades lept at KS3 and we started doing modular – all encouraged by government.

  4. Ingotian

    SchoolsImprove What amazes me is why no-one wakes up to the fact that grades going up and down is easy. Just move the boundaries!

  5. lennyvalentino

    SchoolsImprove Interesting that 1 in 4 successful applicants to Uni have gone through BTEC vocational routes. Do we know what Uni’s want?

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