When is a pass not a pass? When a lump headed dilettante starts dicking around with stuff they don’t understand. As if life today weren’t tough enough, as if there wasn’t already too much uncertainty, stress and anxiety facing every student, or, indeed pretty much every person in the UK, we’ve only gone and piled on. This year sees the first cohort of GCSE students being marked numerically rather than alphabetically – so 9 – 1 rather than A- U. Now that in itself is hardly news worthy, utterly unnecessary busy work that probably pulled in an enormous amount of resource to make an entirely arbitrary change that no one asked for but not news worthy. What is however newsworthy is the way that no one can figure out what that means.
Evidently the switch has thrown employers and universities in to some kind of numeracy induced stroke, as they adjust to the new normal of describing pupils as being ‘a straight 9s student’. The old system, which once again, wasn’t broken, had at its core a very simple key to define success or failure, grades A-C were passing grades. That was it. Really slick. Universities and employers then took their cues from that very simple equation and knew what they were dealing with when it came time to assess and weigh applicants. Helpfully the brain trust behind this toppling folly have characterised both 4 & 5 as being a pass equivalent to a C. How can that be? It’s either a pass or not. What this has meant is that universities are now let loose choosing willy nilly what they consider to be a pass or otherwise, with Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds University choosing a 4, but UCL a 5 (we’ll come on to who MU, Liverpool and Leeds think they are another time given their current rankings…). LSE who would previously require a B in certain subjects now require a 5, but a 6 is also equivalent to a B. Are you seeing how smoothly this’ll work? In essence the DfE have created a system where a pass is no longer a pass, so kids who have worked their arses off to get a pass have already missed out on the possibility of getting to certain universities because their pass was only pass adjacent, pass light, diet pass.
All of this reminds me of a time when my wife was buying her first flat. She had seen something and offered close to the asking price, the vendor was unwilling to negotiate so she came back with the full asking price. Which he again turned down. That really shouldn’t be how it works, when it comes to numbers, the whole point is that it’s admirably clear. Only now all these extra numbers are beginning to look like fridge magnets discarded by a toddler, no meaning, no order – just random, fragmented signifiers with no sense of purpose.
Justine Greening has said that universities are expected to recognise grade 4 as a C which only makes the 4 & 5 idea less clear. Universities are of course welcome to set their own tariffs and admission policies so whilst this ambiguity exists, likely thousands of highly capable students will fall below the threshold of their chosen university before even sitting an A Level – which I’m given to understand will now be entirely graded by animal noises.
Packs have been sent out to every school and college, a website set up to answer questions and the guiding principle of trying to raise standards seems to have once again been overlooked in favour of ‘initiatives’. Creating a system that employers and universities not only have no concerted agreement upon but also one that no one seems to entirely divine. It reeks of vanity and unnecessary reprographic costs. The more I watch how Government departments, regardless of their political stripes, operate, the more I yearn for a world where Malcolm Tucker could corral these headless marionettes into some semblance of order. When it comes to ‘initiatives’ sometimes less is more. Or is it? Who fucking knows nowadays?