The 'race to the bottom' explained
During the summer of 2013, Silver Bullet carried out an important assignment for Ofqual, the regulator in England and Wales of educational qualifications, such as the school examinations GCSE (age 16) and A level (age 18), to contribute to the formulation of wise policy in relation to the signficant reforms to GCSE examinations currently being implemented in England. Central to the assignment has been the use of systems thinking, and the compilation of a series of causal loop diagrams describing how the educational systems really work.
One of the topics 'mapped' was the so-called 'race to the bottom', this being the steady year-on-year increase in the number of candidates awarded the top grades of A*, A, B and C in the GCSE examinations, as shown in the accompanying graph.
For many years, schools claimed that this increase was attributable to better teaching, and the government saw the increase as proof of the wisdom of their educational policies. But look at the numbers. In 1988, the percentage of students awarded top grades was about 42%, and by 2010, this number had risen to about 70%. It would be wonderful if either of these explanations were true. But maybe something else is going on...
...and that something else is - possibly - a systemic effect in which the suppliers of GCSE examinations (for which, in England and Wales, there is a competitive market) are seeking to see their customers happy... For more on this possibility, please download Dennis's systems thinking analysis, The Race to the Bottom.