Fresh warning over A-level grade inflation

A-level results have soared at more than five times the rate of other end-of-school exams, new figures show, prompting fresh concerns over “grade inflation”.

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
10:00PM GMT 04 Nov 2011

Data shows that average scores have increased by almost a quarter – 24 per cent – since the mid-90s.

Over the same period, results in the International Baccalaureate – a Swiss-based qualification favoured by dozens of independent schools – rose by less than 4.5 per cent.

The disclosure, in an analysis by the website Socialglue Schools Guide will fuel concerns that the sharp year-on-year rise in A-level grades is down to politically-motivated changes to the exam – and the comparable ease of tests – instead of rising standards in schools.

Jonathan Gittos, the website’s editor, said: “IB and A-level are taken by candidates of the same age and same schools.

“IB grades have gone up slightly in the UK compared to the rest of the world but the only reasonable explanation, we can think of, for most of the rise in A-level grades, is that the exam has become easier”.

He added: “One of the attractions of the IB is that it’s administered from Geneva and so seen as being freer from political interference and more reliable.”

Currently, students are awarded a certain number of points for each A-level exam, with higher grades attracting more points.

According to figures, the average points per entry in 1996 was 181.3, but by 2011 this increased to 224.7 – a rise of almost 24 per cent.

Over the same period, average points in the IB, which uses a different scoring system, increased from 31.6 to just 33 – a rise of 4.4 per cent.

The rise comes after Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, claimed that a shake-up of the traditional A-level grading structure was needed because of the rise in top grades.

He suggested that a fixed proportion of elite A* grades could be awarded each year to mark out the most exceptional candidates.

An alternative system in which all pupils are ranked in set order according to their performance in comparison with other teenagers could also be introduced, he said.

Speaking last month, Mr Gove insisted education standards had risen in recent years but not by the extent witnessed in exam results.

The rise may be driven by exam re-sits, the introduction of bite-sized modules and highly-structured questions that “sometimes lead the students by the hand through the process of acquiring marks”, he said.

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