BBC England Wales make ZERO political comment on falling exam grades

By stewartb

It’s possible to conduct a near like for like assessment of how the publication of school exam results is covered by news outlets. This can most readily be done by comparing and contrasting the BBC News website articles on this topic which appear on the date of results publication.

First para: ‘The proportion of top A-level grades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has fallen since 2021, BUT REMAINS HIGHER THAN IN 2019.’ (my emphasis) Note the immediate, countering ‘but’ to give a positive.

Later: ‘This year’s A-level marking system has been adjusted, so that grades reflect “a midway point” between 2019 – when 25.4% were A* and A grades – and 2021, when teacher-assessed grades led to a boom in top marks. England’s exam watchdog has SAID THE APPROACH WAS INTENDED to bring grades closer to pre-pandemic levels, while reflecting “that we are in a pandemic recovery period and students’ education has been disrupted”. SIMILAR PLANS WERE PUT IN PLACE FOR NORTHERN IRELAND AND WALES.’

This above explanatory paragraph is followed directly by: ‘In Scotland, where pupils received their exam results on 9 August, the PASS RATE AT HIGHER LEVEL FELL to 78.9% – down from 87.3% in 2021.’ No further explanation is given: the reader is left with a negative – ‘fell’!.

There is ZERO political comment anywhere in the article.

First and second paras: ‘Top grades at A-level have dipped since 2021, after pupils sat summer exams for the first time in three years.

‘HOWEVER, more than 40.9% of grades were A* and A, STILL WELL UP on the pre-Covid pandemic figure for 2019, when exams were last held.’ It takes the BBC Wales article just a little longer to introduce the positive – ‘still well up’.

There is ZERO political comment anywhere in the article.

First and second paras: ‘There has been a fall in the number of A-level entries in Northern Ireland awarded top A* and A grades in 2022 following the return of exams.

‘BUT THE PROPORTION OF TOP GRADES IS MUCH HIGHER than in 2019, the previous year when results were based on exams.’

Again note the early ‘but’ to shift the framing to a positive.

Apart from a short quote from an Education Minister, there is ZERO political comment anywhere in the article.

Note in all the above how soon the text introduces a word or phrase to acknowledge the positive in 2022 relative to the true comparator, 2019!

BBC News Scotland page – from SQA results day
First four paragraphs: ‘The pass rate for pupils sitting exams in Scotland has DROPPED from the levels seen in the two years when they were affected by Covid pandemic measures.

‘At Higher level, the number of pupils getting an A to C pass was 78.9%, DOWN from 87.3% last year.

‘This was higher than the rate of 74.8% in 2019, the last year in which formal exams were sat across the country.’ Would it not be clearer to state ‘the 2022 rate IS higher than that in 2019’?

Later in this article there is this rather confusing acknowledgement: ‘Meanwhile, the gap between attainment levels in the least and most deprived areas NARROWED from the 2019 level, BUT has FALLEN from last year’s figures’. Clear?

But the main difference in the BBC Scotland coverage is the inclusion of political comment – and it’s not as if the comment is mild! The Scottish Tory spokesperson, Oliver Mundell is quoted using the words ‘betraying’ and – regarding the ‘widening’ of an attainment gap (that hasn’t widened) – ‘badge of shame’. Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems have their evidence-free negatives amplified by the BBC too.

Are opposition politicians in England, NI and Wales truly silent or not approached by the BBC for comment or even just more ‘serious’ people who don’t engage in the same nonsense as their counterparts in Scotland? After all, the circumstances and outcomes associated with school qualifications from 2019 through to 2022 across the four nations of the UK don’t seem markedly different.

I can find no reference to an attainment gap in the coverage of the rUK exam results but we know from the new Institute for Fiscal Studies report that a persistent one does exist in England. What’s happened to it in 2022 relative to previous years?

The regulator, Ofqual states this regarding the English exam results:

‘Equalities analyses: Now that results have been issued, Ofqual will be repeating the equalities analyses we published in 2020 and 2021. It was not possible for us to complete this analysis ahead of results being issued, because final data from exams is only available very close to results days. We will publish this AS SOON AS WE CAN, IN THE AUTUMN.’ Careful news management – or have I become too cynical?

Source: Ofqual (18 August 2022) Guide to AS and A level results in England, summer 2022 – First summer exams since 2019 – this year’s grades explained.


6 thoughts on “BBC England Wales make ZERO political comment on falling exam grades

  1. Synopsis of this and all such matters regarding
    Scottish matters
    That without any doubt the
    Very dark forces of UK state are behind all such media control
    They are the Master Puppeteers pulling behind the scene all the strings
    This is no accident the evidence is overwhelming
    That there is Central Command and Control system at work
    From the current utterances from Sunak, Truss and Starmer right down to the gutter of provincial news editors and social media lackeys
    All with 1 purpose and that is
    That all costs Independence MUST be crushed and ruthlessy so

    Their campaign is bereft of
    Any morals or decency
    They are now actively moving on to provoking us
    To react violently

    Liked by 1 person

  2. On the page which reports on examinations in England there is a map indicating the distribution of A and A* by region. In the North East the percentage is 30.4, but in the South East it is 39% it can be seen that there is an ‘attainment gap’ between the most affluent areas of England. However, no reference to this is made in the article. The contrast with the reporting of the examination results in Scotland by all sections of the media is stark. In Scotland, the emphasis was on what was claimed to be the failure to close the gap and the ‘fall’ in Higher Grade passes.

    The reporting on England Wales and NI all indicated that attainment rates had fallen since 2020 and 2021, bur quickly pointed out that the rate was higher than in 2019. Exactly the same pattern obtained in Scotland, but this was well down the reporting. The emphasis in the headline was FALL!!!! In addition, the NI, England and Wales reports all emphasised that University Places awarded was ‘the highest ever’. In Scotland, the emphasis was on the apparent lack of places for students in halls of residence.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. True enough Stewart, but within even their own utterly uncritical comment there are things to note.
    This is from Cleverly (Secy of State for Ed’n – good name for the job, but ….)
    WATCH: ‘Right and proper’ that grades are down on last year – Cleverly
    Education Secretary James Cleverly has been congratulating students on getting their A-level results today.
    This year’s grades were determined by exams, rather than being assessed by teachers as was the case during the pandemic, and are down on the past two years. But they are still higher than before the coronavirus outbreak.
    “We always had a plan that we wanted to get the grades back to the levels we saw pre-pandemic and we’ve taken a big step in the right direction,” Cleverly says.
    They are still a little bit higher than they were in 2019 but they are down on last year and that’s right and proper.”
    Can you imagine if Shirley-Anne Somerville had come out with that this time last week? “SNP govt deliberately did Scottish school pupils down”. But here he is saying it as bold as brass and not a critical comment to be heard.
    Or there is this – posted at about the same time

    London fares best in top A-level grades Hazel Shearing Education correspondent
    In London, 39% of A-level grades were marked at A* and A, compared with 30.8% of those in the north east of England.
    Last year, it was 47.9% in London and 39.2% in the north east of England.
    Students getting their results today have experienced huge disruption to their education because of Covid.
    They were part-way through Year 11 when the pandemic hit and schools closed during national lockdowns.
    They didn’t take GCSE exams, as those were cancelled.
    Further school closures followed while they were in Year 12, and many pupils also experienced disruption due to Covid at the beginning of Year 13.
    The disruption didn’t affect everyone equally – they varied depending on how different areas were affected by the pandemic, and how different schools and families were able to cope.
    Back in March, MPs said the “devastating” impact of England’s school closures during the pandemic was leading to greater inequality.
    The Department for Education introduced catch-up tutoring to help those pupils who needed it most.
    Cash to arrange tutoring will go directly to schools in England from September.

    Leaving aside the utterly unnecessary and well worn excuses that follow, could it be that the better performance of kids in London compared t o those in the north east might have something to do with poverty (or wealth?) You’ll never know from reading this, but more importantly the possibility isnt even explored.

    Liked by 3 people

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