Saturday, August 19, 2006


Another year, another mild sigh as passrates climb to ridiculius levels (96% for fuck's sake), and as top grades now make up over a quarter of all grades. University lecturers complain that they are having to offer remedial classes in maths, sciences and even, god help us, spelling and grammar to multi-A'd students. Teachers and the Government continue to assert that all results are purely the result of better teachin and harder work. Any criticism is portrayed as a vicious assault on the diligent darlings who have succeeded.

But there are serious questions here. The first is what A-levels are for. When only 10-20% of students went on to university, the A-level was designed to display who the very best were. Now that the numbers have climbed to 50%, all it is supposed to do is be a basic bench-mark of aptitude. In that context, rocketing pass-rates are no surprise. Given the enormous expansion of further education, it is only the relatively few elite universities that really have cause for concern since their traditional requirement - to identify the best - is no longer possible without recourse to interview or private exams.

The second is where we go from here. There are essentially two options. The first is to view A-levels as they truly are: a qualification that sets a very basic bench-mark of achievement. If universities wish to see further differentiation they can either rely on interviews or set their own exams. The second option is to beef the system up, set harder questions, reduce the modular option and return the system to a test of who the very best students are.

Ultimately it is a question of whether A-levels are used as an elitist (in the true sense of the word) measurement of the best or as a qualification that has to be passed as a rite of passage.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there was a correlation between top 'A' levels & ultimate academic distinction you might have a point. You might also want to critically review your own grammar and spelling

9:04 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

There is, obviously, a direct correlation between top A-levels and academic distinction. If you look at those who have already achieved such distinction you will observe that most of them achieved to A-level results.

The problem is that now there is little distinction to be made between the best and the merely acceptable. And if you are going to attack my spelling (presumably on the basis of typos) you might wish to review your own ignorance of the subjunctive.

11:40 am  
Blogger Tim J said...

I'll ignore the split infinitve for now though

11:47 am  

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