On 7 July 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted in Parliament that it was a ‘scandal’ that 1 in 4 children still leave primary school at eleven unable to read, write or count to required levels. Any debate about standards should take note of the following:

• On 20 June 2004, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that 11-year-olds taking their National Curriculum tests in English this year would require only 41 marks out of 100 to reach the standard expected of their age group.  In 1997, when the Labour government took office, pupils needed 57 marks out of 100 to reach the expected standard. In 2004, pupils could get most of the test wrong and still achieve the required level. If standards are improving, why is it necessary to lower the ‘pass mark’ year after year?

• In 1989, the mark required to achieve grade C in the higher Oxford and Cambridge GCSE Mathematics paper was 48%.  In the year 2000, it was 18%. So candidates could get 4 out of 5 questions wrong and still achieve a top grade.

•  Between 1967 and 1999, the percentage of pupils at secondary modern schools achieving 5-plus A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) rose at 6 times the rate of those at comprehensive schools.  Indeed,  pupils in today’s secondary modern schools are achieving twice the percentage of 5-plus A*-Cs as did the  whole of the maintained sector – grammar schools and all –  in 1967 (Fred Naylor in Grammar Schools in the Twenty-First Century, NGSA, 2001).

• Another telling point is made by Professor Adrian Smith in Making Mathematics Count (TSO, 2004). He notes that the distribution of A-level grades achieved in mathematics does not follow the typical bell-shaped curve.  In 2003, 39% of candidates achieved Grade A compared with 21% (Grade B), 16% (Grade C), 12% (Grade D) and 8% (Grade E).  Furthermore, in 2003, the difference between the figures for the A and E grades was 31%, compared with 21% in the year 2000.  This is a clear sign of grade adjustment for ideological reasons (NGSA Response to the Tomlinson Report, 2004, 

•  Performance in the key subjects of English, Maths and Science over a 5-year period was highlighted in a reply to a Parliamentary Question by Graham Brady MP on 5 March 2003. The percentage of candidates getting good grades in these 3 subjects is rising. But is this apparent improvement credible when considered alongside the evidence above? 

Percentage of pupils achieving A*-C grade GCSEs in English, Maths and Science:








National averages 






LEAs deemed wholly selective






Wholly comprehensive LEAs 






 As the figures above show, only around 4 out of 10 teenagers achieve a reasonable level in the core subjects of English, Maths and Science. It is notable, too, that the results from LEAs deemed wholly selective are above the national average, while the results from wholly comprehensive LEAs are below average. (See also The Betrayed Generations: Standards in British Schools 1950-2000 by John Marks, Centre for Policy Studies, 2000 and ‘Value Added’ by Mark Tweedle,                                               


/Campaign for Real Education, July 2004


Chairman: Chris McGovern.  Tel: 01435 830109 or 07757 715145.  Email:
Vice Chairmen: Jennifer Chew OBE, Jacqui Davies, Katie Ivens
Treasurer: Dr WAD Freeman, Ashgate, Halland, East Sussex, BN8 6PW.  Tel: 01825 840831.  Email:
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