But exam chiefs insist standards are being maintained. They talk of "driving failure out of the system" - and are predicting a 100% pass rate within a few years.(BBC news)
This is causing an outcry - and it's obvious why - as most people instinctively feel if it is 'impossible to fail', the result is meaningless. However, we must not confuse the factors which are internal to the exam boards and the factors which come from schools and colleges.
Here is an anecdote - it didn't happen to me, it happened to a teacher friend. She had an OFSTED observation of a post-sixteen lesson which was severely disrupted by a young man faking illness. Obviously, the quality of teaching and learning was affected as my friend had to stop what she was doing so she could deal with the 'crisis.' However, the observer criticised her and penalised the lesson. My friend argued that she had dealt with it well, minimised disruption and made the most of it. The observer's judgement was that any student who misbehaved in a post-sixteen context was obviously on the wrong course. This was a failure of the institution in signing him up for the subject that he was not motivated to study. Therefore it was a justifiable criticism of the lesson.
Anecdotes are not data. However, I think anyone in education will agree that in the current climate we are constantly called to account for student 'failure' - did we teach them badly, did we give them enough support, were they on the right course etc. etc. This comes from the management of schools and colleges, but they are simply reflecting the agenda set by OFSTED etc. The implication is that we should strive towards a situation where we can absolutely guarantee a successful outcome for all students. The student is not really seen to be an active part of the process.
Ergo, we are tacitly being encouraged to aim for a situation where no child fails. We should take no risks, expect no miracles, make no demands from our students for which we cannot act as guarantors. If a child is going to fail, we should be able to work this out in advance. Young people will only be on courses they can pass, because if they don't pass they were on the wrong course...
The awful fallout from this trend scarcely needs spelling out but I'm going to (very blogpompous.) If students are only in situations where they will pass, then it must mean they will pass even if they are dis-engaged from the learning process. This is effectively the death of the educational process. Because if we can contrive that they can get by without us taking any risks on them, we will. And so farewell to the risk-taking ethos of widening participation and raising aspiration which is so important for students from backgrounds where no-one has gone on to further or higher education.