Do record GCSE results mean kids are getting cleverer?

All morning news has been coming in that it’s been yet another record-breaking year for GCSE results. In fact, the pass rate has risen for the 24th consecutive year since the exams were first taken in 1988. Why does that not come as a surprise?

No disrespect to all those happy teenagers (mainly girls it seems) who are currently basking in the glow of their multiple A* passes, but these ever-improving grades simply show that surely exams must have got easier over the last couple of decades. It’s either that or kids are getting brighter year-on-year, and let’s be honest, why would that be very likely.

You only have to hear many of them speak – or not, as the case may be – to know that this is not a generation where all teenagers come with a staggering IQ or an unusually high grasp on politics, current affairs, the English language, history, world geography or even basic common sense. But this is hardly surprising.

Generation Y is one that has grown up with a rather unhealthy obsession towards body size, fame, fashion and endless low-life celebrities. It’s a generation who seems to believe that 5 minutes of fame on the TV or a few hits on YouTube will automatically equate to a gilded life free from work. It’s a generation who spend 99% of their time physically attached to a mobile or laptop and experience genuine withdrawal symptoms if unable to access Twitter or check their Facebook feed. It’s a generation who have all but obliterated good grammar and basic spelling from the English language, just to ensure it’s quicker and easier to text.

So when those in charge of all things ‘education and exams’ rubbish claims that exam questions are being dumbed down and expectations lowered, or in the case of  Andy Burnham – Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary – claim that “Exams are not getting easier; young people are working harder than ever before” you know it’s all a load of tosh.

Go back 20 years and those sitting GCSEs – the incredibly smart kids included – simply weren’t achieving the ‘record breaking’ 13 A* grades that so many now seem to get. So does that mean we were all dimmer back then or just didn’t try quite so hard? Hardly. If anything we had far more time on our hands to get the work done and a lot more motivation to pass.

We were a generation without celebrity lifestyles to emulate and affordable fashion to religiously follow. We were a generation without mobiles, computers, social networking and trash TV. We were a generation who knew that the only realistic way to earn any money once leaving school was through plain hard work.

And on top of all that, the subjects that we had to study were restricted to the traditional (harder) academic ones such as foreign languages, science and humanities. Of course we may not have actually enjoyed these subjects we were forced to choose from but at least we all covered the basics: the monarchy that shaped this country; the wars which changed the world; the geological forces that formed the planet; the human biology that keeps us reproducing; and those all essential language skills which enable us to ask directions to the nearest railway station when lost in La Rochelle.

Today students are turning their backs on these subjects. Why? Because they find them ‘boring’ and ‘completely irrelevant’. The truth is they also find them a little bit too much like hard work. After all, why waste your time learning about rivers and volcanoes or trying to memorise the periodic table when instead you can pass the time getting better grades in music, drama and P.E? Nothing against those subjects I hasten to add, but at school we covered them in addition to our other lessons, we didn’t plump for an ‘A’ in recorder and a ‘B’ in advanced trampoline.

Of course those in charge of ‘education and exams’ will once again claim these vocational subjects are more geared up to the job market today. But how can it be better to miss out on so much? If students aren’t learning a broad range of subjects at this age how can they possibly emerge into the workplace with a well-rounded education?

Surely that’s the whole point of school isn’t it? As far as I was aware, all those years spent stuck behind a desk were never intended to be a walk in the park or as enjoyable as a day out at Alton Towers. School was meant to be a place where children filled their sponge-like minds with as much information about as many things as possible, not to mention learn that sometimes in life you just have to do things you don’t always enjoy. But obviously I’m well out of touch with the whole point of  education today.

Yes it’s true that I’ve probably forgotten all of the German and much of the French I learned, and I’m sure I probably yawned my way through 100’s of years worth of mind-numbing historical facts. I certainly hated chemistry with a passion and maths sure as hell hated me. But regardless of that, or whether any of it has been relevant to my adult life, I still had the opportunity to find out a little bit about everything.

So it does seem a great shame that traditional subjects such as English, history, geography and science are being ‘dumbed down’ and so many schools are not even offering core subjects anymore, let alone encouraging students to give them a go? Because let’s be honest, there’s no point studying drama, media studies or sociology at GCSE level if, when you then open your mouth as an adult, you have absolutely nothing of interest to say – or think that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1966 and Asia is a small island located off the south of France.

Obviously there’s no disputing there are countless students who worked like demons and deserved the high grades they received. Or the exceptional clever clogs who passed maths at the age of 6. Or the many great schools which produce brilliant results. But what about the others – the majority that make up the rest of the exam entrants?

There are 10’s of 1000’s of kids who don’t bother listening in class and plenty more who don’t bother showing up until the day of the exam? There are kids who, through no lack of effort on their part, just don’t make the grade. And let’s not forget the huge numbers of badly performing schools which apparently produce consistently poor results year after year?

If GSCEs really are as tough as ever how on earth is it possible for nearly a quarter of all girls sitting exams this year to have been awarded an A, not to mention the 1 in 12 who are also expected to also earn a coveted A*? Doesn’t really add up to me, especially when the average exam-sitting teenager I come across these days seems more interested in straightening their hair, updating Face Book and completing a 140 syllable tweet.

Hopefully next year things will change as the Government look to introduce the English Baccalaureate – a school ‘leaving certificate’ that rewards children for gaining at least a C grade in the five disciplines  of English, mathematics, science, foreign languages and humanities.

The bite-sized modules that pupils can re-sit to boost their overall grades in favour of traditional end-of-course exams will also be abolished and, more worrying for pupils who live to text, those taking English language and literature will now be penalised by as much as 12% for the grammatical errors they make.

My grammar probably isn’t what it should be, but here’s a couple of helpful hints for those currently ploughing their way through endless poetry or The Catcher in The Rye: ‘8’ (as in gr8 or h8) is not an acceptable replacement for any vowel and writing ‘bcoz’ probably won’t win you any brownie points.



Top 10 Resolutions to break

Good grief, it’s 2011. Where did that year spring from all of a sudden and what on earth happened to the last 10? It’s like you’ve taken your eye off the clock for a few minutes and a whole decade has slipped by.

One minute it’s July and you’re muttering that half the year has already gone. Then suddenly it’s October, you’re knee-deep in pumpkins and moaning that the tinsel and fake trees are already out in the shops for sale. And then, all of a sudden, you take your head out of the fridge, glance up from the TV guide and find that Christmas is over and a whole New Year has already begun.

It’s all slightly alarming really and not helped by the rather bizarre week you’ve just had, where everyday felt like Sunday, you found yourself eating leftovers non-stop and then, to top it all off, you missed putting the bin out by a day.

So this time of year can only mean one thing – New Year’s resolutions. Those completely meaningless goals you set yourself when you’re riddled with guilt and feeling that diet and total detox are the only sure-fire way to recover from all that festive boozing and bingeing. Of course few people ever stick to their resolutions past the second week in January, and by February, most can barely even remember what they swore to uphold.

At the top of most resolution lists comes the ever-popular Stop Smoking, along with the Get Fit, Lose Weight and Give Up Drinking. These are often followed by the slightly trickier to achieve Get out of Debt and Change Jobs. Both of these do of course require more than just a steely resolve, but would be far more attainable if you were then able to stick to the next – Get Organised.

Next on the well-used resolutions list comes Enjoy Life, Try Something New and Spend More Time With The Family. All very admirable indeed, but perhaps more plausible if then followed up with Manage to Keep At Least One Of My Resolutions.

Yes, I’m pretty sure that over the years I’ve set myself all of these goals. Well except for the smoking that is. Get Fit and Lose Weight are always something of a given in early January. They follow the several weeks of eating like a complete and utter pig and consuming more than my body weight in turkey, cheese and chocolate.

But at least this year I’m not about to make that age-old gym membership mistake that I made last year. And the year before. You know the one.

When getting to grips with Get Fit and Lose Weight, many people (like myself) make the mistake of rushing out and joining their local gym on a spur of the moment, guilt-induced whim. Then, once they’ve barely survived the ‘free’ induction training session and limped their sorry way through the first full week, the reality of exercise actually sinks in. Their shiny white trainers, gym bag and stretch Lycra ensemble then swiftly go back into the cupboard and languish there for another year collecting dust.

So then, not only have you set yourself up for a year feeling like you should be making more of an effort, you also have to watch the money fly out of your bank account each month. You can of course convince yourself that you’ll be more inclined to get sweaty on a gym ball once the temperatures have risen and the sun comes out, but it’s simply not true.

The sad fact of the matter is that you’ll now be forking out fees simply for the privilege of feeling guilty every time you happen to glance at a Custard Cream. And, if you make the same silly mistake every year, over the course of a lifetime (with an average annual gym membership costing £372) you could well be wasting close to £17,500 of your hard-earned money to fund the latest exercise equipment. Equipment that you’ll never even use. Or see for that matter. How bloody depressing is that.

This year I don’t think I can actually be bothered to make any resolutions. Quite frankly I can well do without putting any more pressure on myself to achieve something that I probably won’t. With one possible exception that is..

Being someone who has given her liver something of a breather in the last decade, I reckon I really should make more of an effort to take up drinking in 2011. In a far more carefully controlled, non-bingeing way than in my 20’s of course. I don’t think I could handle (or afford the quantities) I consumed back then, and I definitely couldn’t face a 4-year old’s hand tapping on my face in the early hours of the morning while dealing with a mid 30’s hangover from hell.

Taken in part from blog written for Treehouse Life.