Thursday, 27 August 2009

Section A, Q1: Spot The Difference

From a 1968, O-level Maths paper. One of two that gave you two hours to answer umpteen questions you wouldn't find on most A-level courses these days.

Cf: GCSE "Higher" Tier, June 2008.

And:Still haven't worked it out? I'll give you a clue: one is a Maths exam for 16 year-olds being trained for adulthood and a working life, the other is an infantile joke that 600,000 British "kids" preparing for a life of texting each uvva and the dole have just "passed".

We're finished. And socialism finished us.


  1. What a comedy exam! I've never seen an example of the 'dumbing down' before, and if that is the standard of all the questions in a public exam ater 12 years education then I'm gobsmacked. I'm not disagreeing with your point but maybe a comparison with the old CSE might be more apposite. I don't know what the questions were like in the old CSEs but 80% of the kids sat them rather than O levels at the bear pit I had the misfortune to attend. If that question relects the standard of all the GCSE questions rather than say 50-80% then the future will be even worse than today, so bad it'll be distopian.

  2. Too right, Art. Actually, my brother emailed me after he read the blog with a good idea: the easiest way to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these exams (and therefore education generally) have been neutered mercilessly is by comparing the hardest questions from each period and measuring the difference. On the strength of the examples I've put up here, I suspect the results would be truly horrifying.

    Best way for socialists secure a power base among the population? Why, keep them stupid, of course. And dependent on the state for their entire lives.

    Education is liberty. The opportunity to excel is a birthright.

  3. Your labels sum it up perfectly Mr Den.

    We are doomed.

  4. Even a CSE grade1 was only the equivalent of a GCE O-Level grade6 and THAT was merely a "pass"! These kids think they've been educated - God help us!

  5. I am absolutely gobsmacked at the 2008 questions - this is the first actual example of the new GCSE that I have seen as my own kids are way past that. I took O-level Maths in 1963 and A-level in 1965, and we would have found those questions a doddle at age 13. I have not seen in the media any indication of the numbers of each class of degree earned now compared to back then - does anybody know? Have university courses also been dumbed down to the same degree? If so, how can we possibly hold our own against the rest of the world? God, we will NEED immigrants to do any jobs requiring the slightest academic skills!

  6. Jesus, I'm sure we did pythagoras in form 2/3 when I was in school. I only completed the sixth form in '97!. In a way I'm pleased I got an actual education and a head brimmed with knowledge, on the other hand, I'm gutted I missed out on the inevitable A's and A*'s all round.

  7. I'm very proud of my B grade in Maths O level (which I got at the age of 15 the year before GCSE took over). I didn't get it because I was any good at Maths - I wasn't. I got a B because I was well taught and because I worked reasonably hard. One thing I do remember, a bit like anon above and you, BS and Bob, is that I was doing Pythagoras in Middle School (at age 11) and quadratic equations at age 13. And I was a completely average pupil.

    As everyone here has implied: where the hell did it all go wrong? But I think we know the answer, too: 12 years of fake-egalitarian socialism further poisoning education.

    Alistair-liar-Campbell, one of the chief architects of this plot to rob children of their intellectual powers, ought to keep his stinking mouth shut on this one, you know, like he hasn't been.

  8. Thank you for providing graphic evidence of what any right-thinking person has suspected for ages. When I speak to graduates better qualified than myself, who seem unable to string a sentence together properly or to be able to demonstrate even rudimentary critical thinking skills; or llisten to white, middle class London school children who really do speak nonsense but in an authentic Jamaican patois, I know that something's deeply amiss.

    You've given us the smoking gun for Liebour's 12 years of 'all must win prizes' diversity and equality dogma, as Britain and its education establishments (save for a handful of élites) slide inexorably down the academic league tables of the world.

    Yet al-BBCeera keeps telling us that A-Level marks and standards are the 'highest ever' and that more people than ever go to university. Sure they do, but what do they come out with?

    As Chris Rock might say, Britain's been keeping it real under Labour - real dumb.

  9. As someone who believes maths education has been dumbed down, I'm actually surprised (and disappointed) that this isn't borne out as much as I'd like by these examples. I left teaching, somewhat disillusioned, two years ago, just as they were tinkering with the exams again, so what I say below might now be rubbish...

    From the O Level paper, there is no reason any part of question A2 wouldn't appear on a modern GCSE paper. Its concepts were all taught at Higher GCSE when I was teaching. The examiners might not use such large numbers in the factorise question though. Bless.

    A3 is partly dumbing down and partly irrelevant. The first part is mostly a table look-up exercise, whereas we now use calculators (and tend to use decimals in place of minutes). However, logs and integration are definitely off the GCSE syllabus.

    The content of A4(a) was still on the Higher GCSE up to 2007, though they might have (unnecessarily) included a diagram. Part (b) was also still a Higher GCSE concept, though they might not have used the bird "context".

    I find it's the wording and structure most in evidence here: modern exam papers group together related questions, whereas that old paper has (a) and (b) sections that are totally unrelated; modern papers use very superficial context (versus the artificial context in that O Level paper) - I feel modern pupil's aren't taught well enough to extract maths from a more complex situation. And, yes, the modern paper includes questions which really shouldn't tax any pupil entered at that level.

  10. Good points, Bigland. Much appreciated.

    Although it might not appear to be the case from my post, I did notice the thematic similarities between the samples (that's why I chose them). The fact is that the intellectual demands of the '68 paper are far greater than the later ones, and I think you agree with that.

    As you know, the differences between these papers are not only contextual and/or methodological. Once you take into account the requirements for "showing the working" and the enormous time pressures involved with the old paper, I think it can be clearly seen that there has been an cataclysmic dropoff in educational standards.

    I have no wish to besmurch the reputation of teachers like yourself - far from it - but I think you understand that there has to be real honesty in this debate. And the honest truth is that once you strip away the contextual elements of the papers and leave the structural processes, a "Higher" tier maths pupil from 2009 will have absolutely no chance of even comprehending the *grammar*, let alone the systems, involved in the O-level.

    You can't play the piano without a few lessons. This self-evident truth applies to academic pursuits too. That should be obvious.

    So do we really now need to tell NQTs this truth? Has political doublethink really brought Britain to this? I think the answer to both those questions is "yes".

    And that's shocking.

  11. Agreed: shocking, and depressing that things have deteriorated so far, with so many covering up how bad things have got. There are many factors that have contributed to this mess and, you’re right, we need an honest debate to expose them before we can begin to set them right; but I can’t yet see how that’s going to happen where it needs to happen!

    To add to my previous point, while I’m pleased that I recognize O Level concepts are still present on GCSE Higher papers, I know many more that aren’t (e.g. they took off the Trapezium Rule while I was teaching, which was a good precursor to A Level concepts – and people wonder why pupils struggle in the transition to A Level...). I wasn’t enamoured with their replacements (stem and leaf diagrams?!).

    In my experience, very few Higher pupils have the depth of understanding of mathematics to find their way through a problem on their own (those that do probably didn’t learn it at school) - and they don't need to, as GCSE exams are designed to lead them by the hand.

    Everything in modern teaching seems geared to exams (quelle surprise: targets, results, league tables...) instead of the subject. Not much point in a teacher having a love for their subject under those conditions. Pupils used to ask me where a particular concept would be used “in the real world” (maths for recreation no longer gets a look-in, I fear), so I gathered real world examples. Then, one day, while introducing a topic with its appearance and application in said real world, a pupil asked, “when am I going to use this in the exam?”. I left teaching a year later.

  12. On the evidence of your comments, you are a serious loss to the profession, Bigland - but one of many, I fear ( fact know, from personal experience).

    I hope you didn't become an accountant afterwards. The horror!


Any thoughts?