Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Maggie, you were right but you got it wrong

study_text_md_nwmThe recent release of cabinet papers from the National Archives shocked me. I found I was in agreement with one of the most divisive Prime Ministers this country has ever had.

Margaret Thatcher – milk snatcher –  had been Education Secretary but when she became PM that jobs went to Sir Keith Joseph.

In 1986 he was keen to replace GCE and CSE examinations with the combined GCSE examinations, which we still have today.

Thatcher was severely critical of them and wanted their implementation to be delayed for a couple of years to “ensure that the syllabus was sufficiently rigorous, the course work limited and properly assessed, and teachers properly trained“.

She thought that GCSEs:

  1. lacked rigour and would lead to lower standards
  2. assessment by the pupils own teachers offered more scope for teacher bias
  3. would be a shift away from the traditional approach to learning and create a “can’t fail” mentality


She has been proved right on all three counts. Multiple choice questions, shared project work, parental (and teacher) input. Basically a dumbing down approach. Now everyone expects to get As or A*s and the whole examination process has been devalued right through to universities offering more 1sts than ever before to attract students.

Her adviser at the time, Brian Griffiths, had said “the increased emphasis on project work course assessment is a bias towards certain kinds of parents; it is also open to great abuse from committed left-wing teachers“, but the Education Secretary insisted that the new exams should be introduced as soon as possible.

The reason she finally agreed was because of the militancy in the teaching unions who were in dispute over pay. They had also criticised the GCSE system. So as not to appear to concede anything to the unions she agreed to go ahead and introduce them.

Because of her intense dislike of unions (which we’d already seen with the miners’ strike) she made an emotional not a rational decision which every conservative government since has tried to reform.

Michael Gove’s special adviser Dominic Cummings said it had been a big mistake. “It led to the devaluation of A levels and degrees at even the best universities and led to a collapse in confidence in the integrity of the exam system”.


Author: mikethepsych

He says he's a psychologist but aren't we all?

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