How difficult is it to get good grades at GCSE & A level these days?

(76 Posts)
Dragonwoman Wed 06-Mar-13 10:22:59

Asking the question because the Mumsnet offspring seem to be very high performers generally!

Am starting to get a little concerned as I have 3 DCs currently in primary school & the more I read, the more it seems competition will be very stiff at secondary level & beyond.

I am old enough to have taken O levels. Now granted I went to a poorly performing comp (in the days before league tables, so schools tended to get away with being lazy) but I don't remember ANYONE getting an A at O level. Not one. Never mind a string of them. I got 5 O levels - Bs & Cs and was considered to have done well. I had never met anyone socially who had been to university apart from the older sister of one friend who had been to a polytechnic.

Of course everything is different now, but I'm wondering how different? If I were 16 again with the same effort on my part (but considerably more on the part of the school) would my 5 O levels transform into 9 GCSEs A-C with a few As?

I guess I am concerned about my DCs. If they get 5 GCSEs Bs & Cs, that will not stack up well nationally in comparison to their peers.

Both my DH & I got into university without As at A level. We came out with 2.2 degrees. Again not that great by todays standards.

I'm asking, because assuming our DCs are academically as able as DH & I, will their grades look better than ours? I'm hoping so, when viewing the competition!

Idratherbemuckingout Mon 25-Mar-13 16:47:29

Dragonwoman,
I took my O levels back in 1974 (when grades 1 to 6 were passes) and when my sister took them in 1976 it had become A to C was a pass but they were still GCEs not GCSEs.
My mum was by then teaching at the school and she had a breakdown name by name of all the pupils in my sister's year and all their individual results. My sister and I went over them with great interest as these were not generally available usually.
We had been at a grammar school that had recently gone co-educational with the boys (the year before) and was about to go comprehensive with its first intake that year I think.
It was very noticeable that despite being a high achieving grammar school in a top end residential area of a medium sized and very prosperous country town (with a good catchment area due to the types of jobs available locally) there were not great handfuls of As being won.
It seemed there was a handful of boys who had got virtually straight As but the rest of the boys had performed considerably less well.
Then amongst the girls (handily the chart was laid out with boys and girls separated) there were more that had done well but hardly any who could compare with the few boys who had excelled.
I knew the girls and boys who had done well and they were by far and away the brightest of their year group or the hardest working or probably both.
My sister got 6 grade As I think and 3 others.
She is a very hard worker and pretty bright.
I think grammar schools then took the top 15 per cent of children who had passed the 11+ exams but that did not mean all were high flyers. There were four classes in the girls grammar school (and I suppose four in the boys) and of these two were considered the top streams but we were streamed for most subjects anyway. I think the two top sets did Latin but I am not sure.
Anyway, the point of this long and rambling reply is that yes, it WAS very unusual then to get a string of A grades and yes, it has got much easier.
Before anyone who disagrees comes down on me like a ton of bricks let me point out how the modern GCSE works and why it differs from the old O level.
1. The old O level was an exam aimed at the top 15 percent of the school year and as such contained work set to that standard throughout.
2. The modern GCSE is a cobbling together of the old CSE and GCE and as such is aimed at ALL pupils taking the exam.
3. You might well point out that there is a tier system. And be right. But the SATS papers and GCSEs are all constructed using the same set of questions. If you are taking a Foundation Tier Maths exam for instance there will be some of the easier questions from the Higher Tier at the end of it.
4. On the Higher Tier paper there will be a certain proportion of questions aimed at the lowest grade and so on up to the top grade. If you compare the proportions with the grade boundaries something will become glaringly obvious. IF YOU DO WELL ENOUGH IN THE EASIER PARTS YOU CAN GET A GRADE THAT IS ACTUALLY HIGHER THAN YOUR PERFORMANCE WOULD SUGGEST. In other words you can get an A star or an A without having to complete the whole section that is set at that grade.
This would lead to the conclusion that the mass of As and A stars achieved do not actually recognise achievement at that level.

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