It is traditionally August, not December, when critics point to the growing number of top grades at A-level and GCSE as evidence that our public exams system is in crisis.
As hidden cameras revealed this month to an outraged public, some examiners are providing inside knowledge to schools under pressure to meet the expectation of ever-improving results.
Let me be very clear. I do not think that our exam system is in meltdown or that standards are forever tarnished, but I do see worrying signs.
Rather than championing resourceful, independent thinking – what we surely need in the current economic crisis – we have an exams culture which tends to reward well-prepared answers to pre-digested questions. As grades rise nationally our international ranking, ironically, begins to slide.
Young people struggle to differentiate themselves, and universities and employers are finding it harder to identify candidates with the most potential.
Take aspiring medics, for example. Not only do they have to achieve top grades in more severely graded subjects, but must also sit proliferating aptitude tests, interview successfully and have bumper amounts of work experience to demonstrate their sense of vocation.
On the one hand, this looks disproportionate. On the other, isn’t this rounded approach exactly what we should be expecting from those destined to play a major role in our future medical care? So why is it, then, that our public exam system cannot deliver such roundedness and differentiation on its own and fairly?
Last summer PGS had its first results from pupils studying the International Baccalaureate diploma, introduced as an alternative to A-level in the Sixth Form. The IB involves studying six subjects and has at its heart a course in critical thinking, an extended essay and a programme of creativity, action and service outside the classroom.
Our IB pioneers have gone on to study everything from architecture to natural sciences, with the majority achieving their first choice university destination.
The A-level is far from defunct and the IB will not be for everyone. But it is important to know that there are alternative models available.