If you’re new here, a quick catch up on the story so far: A UK government agency has said that qualifications based on a fundamentalist curriculum are comparable to O-level and A-level standard. These qualifications teach racism, lies and more lies as fact. They use meaningless methods of assessment, and teach political propaganda. Many Christians believe the system is wrong on theological grounds.
UK Naric has benchmarked the ICCE General Certificate as comparable to O-level standard. Of course, since hardly anyone takes O-levels, most readers will interpret this to mean “GCSE equivalent.” Now, wouldn’t it be interesting if you could compare this directly? Wouldn’t it be revealing if we had, say, a student that had completed both the ICCE General Certificate and GCSEs?
We have someone. Me.
I realise this is a frustratingly limited data set. I’m not going to make the case that my sample size of one gives an accurate generalisation to the whole population. But since I am quite probably the only person in the world who has done both, I think it’s a worthwhile comparison.
When I left ACE, I had virtually completed the ICCE General Certificate (then called NCSC Level 1). I still had a single maths credit to go, and I hadn’t taken the required ICT course. In other subjects, I was way ahead. ACE allows you to work at your own speed, and I was working as fast as I could. In English and social studies (ACE’s cover-all term for history, politics, geography, and economics), I was well into the material that Naric has benchmarked as A-level standard. In the Bible courses, I had actually finished the allegedly A-level equivalent work. I was 14 years old.
Across all subjects, I averaged 98% on my ICCE General Certificate units. Naric’s benchmarking says that 96% or higher is an A grade. They don’t suggest an A* boundary, but ACE’s Home Educator’s Manual suggests an A+ for 98% and above. In other words, if GCSEs and ICCE General Certificate are comparable in academic standing, I would have been predicted straight A* grades at GCSE. You would expect me to find GCSEs a breeze, since I was supposedly already working at A-level standard.
I took GCSEs two years after leaving ACE, and I scored two A*, four A, and 3 B grades. Those aren’t bad, but I performed worse at GCSE than I had in ACE in every single subject, apart from English, where I performed the same.
And here’s the thing: I didn’t take my GCSEs immediately after leaving ACE. I had a further two years of good teaching, studying, and personal development, and I still did worse.
What might have caused this downturn? Some possible explanations:
1) Did I work harder in ACE than I did for my GCSEs?
In my first year of ACE, I worked my socks off. I was new, highly motivated, and I believed in the system. The school set a target of 60 PACEs to complete per year. I did 78, and my average test score was 98.75%.In my second year at ACE, I lost faith in the system (the reasons are a whole blog post in themselves). I was utterly bored, and I stopped thinking the PACEs were worthwhile. I did no work whatsoever outside of school, and I stopped trying on my tests. As a result, my grades plummeted. To an average of 97.7%.
In the third year, I realised that I had to get out. I was suicidal, and I genuinely felt the PACEs were killing me. Since ACE affords you the chance to work at your own speed, I decided to do a hundred of them in a year so I could graduate early. I worked as fast as possible, and to hell with the results. I never revised for a test, since that was a waste of time. The result? I averaged 98%.
Those results would indicate that I am an all-round genius, which I am definitely not. I’m a fairly academic person, but I wasn’t top in any subject when I went back to a normal school. I didn’t work as hard for my GCSEs as I could have done, but I definitely worked harder than I did in ACE. The school day was much longer at Kingswood, and I did homework every day on top of that.
2) Did I have rubbish teachers for GCSE?
No. In particular, I had an outstanding history teacher, and that did not stop my history grade from falling. Kingswood, where I went, is an academically decent independent school. It produces good GCSE grades without being ultra selective about the ability of its pupils. My GCSE grades were very good by most standards, and I didn’t make the top 10 in my year.
3) Did God help me more at ACE?
I was still a committed Christian all through my time at Kingswood.
4) Did I mysteriously become stupider between 1999 and 2001?
Not to my knowledge.
5) Are GCSEs a reliable indicator of learning?
That is a massive (and important) question, far beyond the scope of a blog post. But it doesn’t matter: As I’ve already explained, ACE assessment is a completely abysmal indicator of learning. I don’t know how good GCSEs are, exactly, but the academic community is unanimous in its dismissal of ACE. I’m completely satisfied that, as indicators of ability go, GCSEs outperform the School of Tomorrow by every measure.
6) Is ACE much easier than GCSEs?
I think so. As I said, I averaged 98% in my final year of ACE without trying. And that wasn’t even the highest average in my school, which had fewer than 50 students. ACE claimed to have 3,000 schools by 1980, and over 7,000 worldwide today. If that’s true, I can easily believe that someone somewhere has managed to average 100% across all subjects for a year. How can a test like that discriminate between very good students and outstanding ones?
If my experience is representative – and that’s only an if – it would indicate the ICCE General Certificate is closer to year 9 standard than O-levels.
My subjective experience was that GCSEs were more difficult than Accelerated Christian Education/ School of Tomorrow, and my grades bear that out. Like I said, I’m just one person. But it’s interesting, isn’t it?
Let me know in the comments if you can think of any reason for the discrepancy in results which I haven’t considered.