England’s exams system needs overhauling as top grades “no longer automatically mean top students”, said the former boss of a major awarding body.
In a new book, Jerry Jarvis calls for students to be given rankings alongside their grades to differentiate between candidates.
Mr Jarvis argues that perhaps the “single great failure” of the exams system is that it has lost the confidence of the public.
He also reveals that the reason why he quit as head of Edexcel was due to concerns that the way exam boards were being asked to mark modular papers would lead to grade inflation.
The book, Cheats, Choices and Dumbing Down, looks at how to navigate England’s exams system, and the debate over standards.
It says the current exams system is “far too complex” and that the way in which GCSEs and A-levels are graded has “undermined confidence in qualifications”.
Mr Jarvis warns: “Top grades no longer have the caché that derives from rarity. Top grades no longer automatically mean top students.
“It is obvious: if something is commonplace it is no longer special.”
More than half of all students who sat exams last summer gained at least a B, the book says, and more than a quarter were awarded an A or A*.
It concludes: “The current system does not effectively discriminate: it does not rank-order the attainment of students.
“Too many candidates attain top grades, undermining the achievement of the very best. The A* is a temporary fix. Does the A** grade appear at some time in the future?”
Mr Jarvis suggests that exam boards could rank students, in addition to awarding grades, with each board having its own list.
“The first student gained an A grade and was ranked at the 83 per cent percentile point and the second at the 73 per cent percentile point,” the book says, as an example.
“The first student did better. The percentile point indicates the relative performance of each student compared with his or her peers.”
Mr Jarvis said a scheme such as rankings was essential.
“My real concern is that if the public do not believe something’s of value, then it isn’t of value, no matter how many times you attempt to say it is.