National exam scores have gone down for the first time ever and yet the Minister of Education is pleased.

This paradoxical situation is true of Great Britain, where Michael Gove holds the education portfolio in the cabinet of David Cameron. Gove is probably Israel's greatest friend in the cabinet.

It is Gove's belief that the high school GCSE  (General Certificate of Secondary Education) standard has been watered down over the years and as a result, Britain has fared worse in international competitive test scores involving reading comprehension, maths and the sciences.

This year, the percentage of test papers receiving an "A" grade fell by 0.8% to 22.4% while the number of pupils receiving "C"s declined by 0.4%. Grades A-C are considered respectable.

While the declines may seem minimal, in absolute terms the results mean many disappointed students and shocked teachers.

Declining grades are also significant in assessing school performance. Schools must now score a minimal 40% rate of grades A-C on all exams. Those schools failing to meet that target will be placed in a form of educational receivership and lose their independence.

Additionally, the Ministry of Education is cracking down on the subjects that students are allowed to sit for in the exams. Students could previously take exams in catering, dance or tourism but under the Gove program it is now back to the basics thus increasing the pressure on schools and teachers.

The test scores have already elicited protests from teachers unions and schools. They claim that the results of been fixed to achieve a reduction of test scores or that the exams particularly in English have been made harder. The students maintained the same level as the previous year and put in the same amount of effort and yet that effort was insufficiently rewarded.

Behind the criticism lurks an ideological divide and suspicion. Those on the left accuse the education minister of a reactionary agenda that would seek to reimpose an elitist policy and bring back the O level exams that decided which students would be consigned to vocational training and which could continue on to higher education.

The new grade standards would discourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds who in the words of one teacher quoted in the Guardian "worked their arses off even though they found neither school or English easy, and I now go into work this morning expecting both them and me to have been liberally rogered by Gove due to his educational experiments."

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