‘Weimar education’ is a clever little phrase (not invented by me, alas) summing up the GCSE and A level grade hyper-inflation which sees pupils having to take more and more subjects, and ratchet up a string of A*s. Like the German folk pushing wheelbarrows full of money to the shops to buy bunches of carrots, young people are finding that exam results which on paper are impressive are now not enough to secure the coveted university place or work placement.
Of course, we are used to the harmful effects of financial inflation (though my memories of the 1970s are limited to toys and endless summers) even if we’ve enjoyed many years of relatively low inflation here in the UK. In another context, offer a top footballer £120,000 a week to join your football club, and his agents will demand £200,000 to match the salary of a similarly stellar player in another big club: and so the gap between wealthy and not-so-wealthy clubs widens.
For today’s young, the devalued ‘currency’ is their hard work and qualifications, and their ‘purchases’ are their futures.
Last week’s slight drop in A and A* grades awarded in A level subjects might mark the end to the relentless inflation, indicating a return to more rigorous marking and, perhaps, more realistic expectations. Factor in this week’s drop in A* – C grades for GCSE students in England and Wales, and it has the makings of a real shakeup. But if the results are back on their upward trend next years, ministers may have to consider abandoning the A level altogether (as will probably happen to the GCSE).
Then, rather than a completely new currency, why not join an existing European one – the International Bacclaureat? And hopefully it won’t go the way of the Euro.