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Is school harder now than it used to be?

(60 Posts)
Notcontent Fri 08-Nov-19 23:06:07

I was at secondary school in the late 80s and it was not in the UK (Australia) so hard to make a direct comparison. I was pretty bright and did really well at school. But now I have a dd who is in year 9 at an independent school (not that this makes much difference I don’t think) and it seems to me that a lot of the work - maths, science and English in particular - is of quite a high standard - stuff I don’t think I did until much later.

OP’s posts: |
Milicentbystander72 Fri 08-Nov-19 23:10:28

I tend to agree.

I took GCSE's in 1988. I was relatively bright but didn't work hard. I learned a few historical facts and some quotes from the English texts....I did really well. I was awful at Maths but got a C.

My Dd is now in Y10. Her History syllabus is more like my A-level history and English is really intense. Don't get me started on Maths....

I'm also a school governor and we had regular meetings about curriculum and content etc. I believe it's much harder than I ever remember.

PettsWoodParadise Sat 09-Nov-19 00:03:04

I did GCSEs in 1989, they were soooo easy compared to DD, A* didn’t exist back then. I got all A’s and one B - the latter as I was so shocked at how easy the exams were I gave up revising for my last exam which was history - and got a B.

The leap to A levels was tough though - I think harder to transition to than my degree.,

DD is bright but it seems so much harder, she is currently in Y10. Maths has topics in it I have never heard of. English has grammar in it I was never taught. Geography isn’t about loams, maps and minerals but politics and environment and migration. I never had to know about mark schemes or grade boundaries.

I didn’t have to do a duke of Edinburgh, personal statement or work experience. My comp of 180 intake which was massive in the day had about 25 stay on for sixth form, 18 of whom went onto Uni. Expectations were not so high and young people went off on so many different paths and most seemed to do well, get good jobs regardless of whether they left at 16 or went to university.

Signifyingnothing Sat 09-Nov-19 00:43:13

Definitely. But that's probably because I'm a teacher now.

StationView Sat 09-Nov-19 08:26:26

Signifying grin, me too.

(I guess you're also an English teacher from your user name)

LolaSmiles Sat 09-Nov-19 08:33:32

Some elements are, some aren't, and some elements are better now than they were.

I think the exams have become more rigorous, and whilst I'm not convinced they're right yet, I do think there's some good changes there.
I think the pressure on schools get passed onto students more with lots of compulsory-optional-revision-sessions-meets-lessons, but I also think intervention culture isn't helpful for promoting students who can cope with pressure and independence.
I think it's much, much better that students actually have to work in y7-9. I remember my own school days and those 3 years were a write off where we didn't really study anything. I'd rather be a KS3 student now.
There's more vocational awareness now than there was when I was in school and that's positive for those who need different routes, but unfortunately that seems to be school dependent as others are very much narrowing the curriculum.

Social pressures are much greater I think. For example, social media and 24/7 mobile phones means issue from school don't end there. Cyber bullying is a big issue as are the pressures around sexting etc.

But that goes hand in hand with increasing mollycoddling from some parents who make endless excuses why their child can't possibly do homework, it's not their fault they were disruptive etc, so schools are battling a group of parents who are very against personal responsibility (and in term then children learn nothing is their fault etc).

daisypond Sat 09-Nov-19 08:40:05

I did O levels in the early 80s. My children did GCSEs - before the recent changes. I think the GCSEs were much easier. I did one myself, a language, which I did in a year, and got A*. I was shocked how easy it was. But I was an adult.

testing987654321 Sat 09-Nov-19 08:45:41

Interesting. I did O levels in 1985 and I would say maths is now similar to what it was then. It included calculus which still is only taught at A level. Some other topics have been added.

Maths A level got considerably easier after GCSEs were introduced, which universities had to deal with.

OddBoots Sat 09-Nov-19 09:49:12

I think there are lots of factors involved, so many that is really hard to compare one experience with another. Over the years different topics have done in and out of exams, The number of subjects has taken has varied. The resources for learning have changed, there are technological improvements but there is far from a level playing field in terms of each child's circumstances. Then there are the social changes, the things children have had to think about.

cantkeepawayforever Sat 09-Nov-19 14:27:40

I think it depends.

For the higher attainers - those who did O-levels in my day - the current GCSEs and current experience is very similar.

However for the large numbers who used to do CSEs in my day, school is much harder, because the unifying of the exam system followed by the latest revision means that less able children are now being taught material that they would not have accessed in the past.

I would say there was a period 'in the middle' where school was easier for those of higher ability.

Fifthtimelucky Sat 09-Nov-19 14:28:34

Similarly to @daisypond, I know someone who failed maths O level twice at school in the early 80s, really struggling with it. Many years later, she went to evening classes for a year and ended up with an A at GCSE ( before A stars existed). Yes, she was an adult and more motivated, but I can't believe that was the only difference, and she herself was very surprised.

I did calculus for O level in the 70s, but it was definitely optional (Oxford exam board).

cantkeepawayforever Sat 09-Nov-19 14:29:17

I also think the reduction in special schools, and obviously the raising of the school leaving age, has made school MUCH harder for some pupils who might have left formal mainstream school at a very different point from the age they have to stay to now.

GrumpyHoonMain Sat 09-Nov-19 14:34:47

Yes definitely. My mum was horrified when we started doing things at A Level maths that she didn’t start until year 2 of her maths degree. Same with gcse science - the stuff that is being taught right now is probably uni level compared to my parents’ generation.

LolaSmiles Sat 09-Nov-19 14:56:50

I think you're right that it depends on your frame of reference.
I think academically school is more difficult now, but that's probably a good thing as I think a good 50% of my secondary education wasn't challenging and y7-9 were a waste.

Even now when I compare the deal weaker/less academic students get, I think they're getting a better deal in some respects now. There were some questionable practices to get students the magic grade C and it didn't mean the students were actually particularly literate.

daisypond Sat 09-Nov-19 15:03:52

I did calculus in maths O level too. I wonder if the new GCSE is similar in standard to the O level, which is it might seem harder to some. A levels seem easy as well. Maybe that’s my age!

Grasspigeons Sat 09-Nov-19 15:07:30

My son is in year 8 and his maths now looks pretty much my gcse syllabus from about 1995. Certainly he has reached the limit of my knowledge now. I never took it higher than gcse but did get an A* . I dont know if his next stage is broader or deeper.

LolaSmiles Sat 09-Nov-19 15:34:44

My y8/9 books look like mine from GCSE.
In English the step up to GCSE is challenge within the texts, depth of interpretation and so on so it's much broader.

Personally I like the change. It's much better than what I remember from school: watching videos, designing your own theme park, making leaflets.

Maths is a different beast though and you'd probably want someone like NobleGiraffe to come along and comment.

indy69 Sat 09-Nov-19 16:20:56

With Maths, I think the degree of difficulty has increased because of more problem solving questions. It is not straightforward to get the higher grades which is a good thing. However it does become disheartening for children who are unable to access more than 50 percent of the curriculum. As a primary teacher, I think we fail to do one important thing that is, properly teach comprehension. That in itself makes a huge difference in the secondary years.

cantkeepawayforever Sat 09-Nov-19 16:37:36

Actually, I think that what has changed in the most recent round of Maths reform is the combination of different Maths techniques / aereas of study in a single question, and the fact that these are not sgnalled.

A typical Maths question in my day might have said something like 'Differentiate...' or 'Solve these simultaneous equations...' or invoked a series of 'frictionless light pulleys'...or at most asked the student to 'find the gradient of this graph and the area beneath it between x = 1 and x = 15'.

Modern GCSE questions seem to have removed many of these 'signals' and indeed set out to add circle theorem bits into a question that appears to be about vectors, or simultaneous equations into a question about something entirely unrelated. or whatever.

Fishcakey Sat 09-Nov-19 16:41:23

As only the REALLY clever kids got As in the 1980s and now it's A* for every bugger, I think not!

BigFatLiar Sat 09-Nov-19 16:49:20

I think it's not necessarily harder just different.
We learn stuff that would have been seen as much more advanced in the past but leave out things that would have been covered in the past.
Educational requirements change over time.

MilkRunningOutAgain Sun 10-Nov-19 09:34:59

I did o levels in 1983 and my son did gcse this year , 2019. Maths and science seemed easier overall, though I think the syllabuses have widened. I did calculus at o level and the gcse equation questions and trigonometry seemed a level down from what we did. English was taught with far more rigour (& much better taught all through secondary) but perhaps that was my school underperforming ) at the end I think the level of difficulty was similar. The gcse humanities covered more ground and while similar in difficulty the syllabuses were scarily large - so harder I think. Languages seemed to have got significantly easier, though my son didn’t engage here so perhaps to get a good mark you’d have to actually work, he got a 5 with very little work or revision throughout 5 years of study. And he got the opportunity to study more subjects than I did from a much greater choice of subjects, which was great. I do think having to cover all 3 sciences to gcse is a big forward step, I dropped one which I have always regretted. There seemed to be huge amounts of spoon feeding now , school providing reams of printed revision notes and work books, and on-line revision resources, while we had none of these and had to rely on our own notes, though we did have much better textbooks, which were possible I suppose because of less change in the syllabuses year on year. I had no target grades, much much less individual feedback, much less exam practise, no pressure really apart from that supplied by myself and family, but also far less supply teaching (which in my son’s case got to a level in a couple of subjects that was detrimental) and my teachers varied more, one or two brilliant, but equally one or two poor, my son didn’t have the poor ones, but also seemed to miss out on the really good ones, everything was focused towards the syllabuses and the end exam goals, it wasn’t like that at my school, in maths for example we worked through text books, the syllabus was not mentioned directly, though I’m sure the text books covered it thoroughly as we got reasonable grades, some people got a long way and were helped along well by the teachers, some didn’t get far and no one was much bothered, exams were rarely mentioned until yr 5 (now year 11). Both my son and I went to large comprehensives.

TeenPlusTwenties Sun 10-Nov-19 11:26:45

I did O levels in the 80s. DD2 is y10 and DD1 did GCSEs 4 years ago under the old system but with terminal exams.
- I can't see much difference with the new GCSE for maths, though I might not be the best judge of that
- Eng Lit seems about the same (and at least they are doing whole texts now unlike the previous GCSEs)
- History/Geography/RE seem more thoughtful these days. Not just regurgitating facts but looking for evidence, discussing pros and cons
- Science seems to have more content than I had
- Eng Lang seems very technical these days
- MFL I can't judge

So the feeling I have is the new GCSEs are about comparable with the old O levels, which isn't great for the less academic children. I think losing the intermediate tier for maths is a shame, similarly losing the foundation for English and not being able to mix for science.

On the other hand the teaching is better imo, and the resources available are much better too.

testing987654321 Sun 10-Nov-19 11:57:30

I don't know how they mark the English exams but most of it is single questions about a text that you have to write an essay in response. It strikes me as very difficult for the weakest students as they sometimes don't understand a key word in the question and simply don't know what to do.

LolaSmiles Sun 10-Nov-19 12:21:15

The questions for literature are generally worded in a way that is accessible to people who have a fairly basic vocabulary for a 15/16 year old.
Eg. A question might be about lady Macbeth as an ambitious woman, and any teacher teaching Macbeth would have taught what ambition is because it's a key idea.
Another would be "explore how experiences of battle are shown in..." Again fairly straightforward. If anything the challenge there is getting the higher ability students to figure out how they can take a seemingly very simple question and then bring in their higher knowledge.

Ultimately part of English is vocabulary and comprehension, so whilst it would be wrong to make questions ridiculously difficult to understand, the benchmark for GCSE can't be a rush to the bottom under the pretence of fairness.

I've taught low ability classes with targets of 3/4 and they've got grade 5s.

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