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April 09, 2009


kardinal birkutzki

Except, of course, there has been no dumbing down; as our illustrious government never tires of telling us, that notion is merely the grumblings of elitist, privileged, reactionary rightwingers. Oh yeah, and the rest of the developed world is so impressed by the huge strides made in education by New Labour that they are restructuring their own systems on the British model, as they previously followed the example of our hugely efficient health service.....NOT!

Francis Sedgemore

In the financial sector it is common for vacancy notices to include in the person specification essentials such as a first class degree from a top university. This is certainly true for quant jobs.

As a PhD physicist I was approached in the past by various recruitment agencies looking for scientists who might consider switching to finance. However, when I revealed that I graduated as a mature student from an old and distinguished, but seemingly provincial, institution, no-one wanted to know. What they do want is UCAS points and a first class degree from a Russell Group university.


"that there’s no significant correlation between teachers’ qualifications and their effectiveness in the classroom": since "teachers' qualifications" are specifically designed to have no relation to effectiveness in the classroom, is that a surprise?


No dumbing down?



The problem isn't the dumbing down of exams, per se, but the knock on effects that has on the curriculum and learning: http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/resultsgeneration.pdf

Employers aren't complaining about a lack of initiative anymore, because plenty of people with decent qualifications are lacking in more basic skills. Of course, it might be that education has comparatively little effect on economic growth (compared with having good market institutions), and that might be why things improve anyway.


The problem is not the dumbing down of exams. The problem is the dumbing down of the people. My children are not being educated as well as I was forty years ago. Yes, we take up the slack but state-provided education in the UK is a disgrace.


The argument falls apart if we dumb down exams so much that the only qualification for passing is to continue breathing for a couple of hours. Then all can pass it, and employers have an even wider field from which to select.

This of course misses the point of the exam in the first place, which was to narrow the field so that subsequent selection can be made easier.

The real argument surely would be towards exams that _don't_ test what the employer wants to see, rather than those that do.

In any case, those employers that think the exam is not a good one are free to ignore the results.

Contrarianism can only take you so far, Chris.


"So, in narrow utilitarian terms - which is all that matters to government, business and most of the media - dumbing down might be a good thing."

What evidence do you have to suggest this government is remotely interested in utilitarianism? Let alone sees it as a priority?


The flip-side of your argument is that: for all purposes other than deciding university entrance, public exams are a waste of time and energy for all concerned. I couldn't agree more.


The purpose of exams is for society to treat people differently depending on how well they do. (If we don't want to treat people differently based on exam results, the exam is a waste of time).To do this we need exams that differentiate between people, not ones that're super-easy to pass.

When GCSE biology exams ask whether you see with your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth, we know dumbing down has gone too far.

Tom Addison

I passed my A levels in 2005, and a common method of revising, for every subject, was to go through past papers. And anyone who has done their A levels around the same time as me will tell you past papers from longer ago were harder. Unfortunately I can't remember any examples and my notes are long gone, but I got the impression that nowadays pupils get their hands held a lot more and are guided through the perils of exams by their teacher who is constantly muttering, "Ignore what is going on around you, just get a decent grade."

As for firms not knowing which students have the right core/real life skills, surely it's up to them to judge that? I do agree if exams are too hard many people with good teamworking skills, salesmanship etc will be overlooked, but I can't see people who fail exams left right and centre being particularly good at any of these. It tends to be lazy people who fail exams, and laziness isn't particularly good for anything except keeping your blood pressure down.


I recognise this. It's the 'skills agenda', in universities, where knowledge, understanding and the ability to think analytically are ditched in an effort to instil purely technical abilities in the new university-educated proletariat. For an academic education you'll need to go to Oxbridge, which of course will be the preserve of the ruling class.

It's fascinating to listen to the great and the good fret about 'dumbing down' when they profit from it.

Andrew Duffin

You are not criticising dumbing-down, you are criticised credentialism. In that, I agree with you.

If you define dumbing-down more precisely - "whatever a A Level pass at Grade A meant in 1969 (to pick the year I took them, just an example), it now means a whole lot less". THAT is a definition nobody could argue with, I suspect. I went to a fairly good - and highly selective - school; whatever you think of them in principle (and we all know what you think), they were certainly dealing with the academically-brightest kids from miles around. In all my time there only ONE person was even allowed to take four A levels - the school knew it would be beyond any ordinary mortal. Now we have a situation where just about every Oxbridge candidate has five, and all at the top grade. Now THAT is dumbing down.

In passing, "common sense (a synonym for bigotry)" - what on earth do you mean by this?

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