Trevor Fisher: A-levels are becoming a useless qualification
Italian Language School in Italy - Learn Italian in Italy Otranto: Visit the town Accommodation in our college and private apartments italian language courses Trevor Fisher: A-levels are becoming a useless qualification
code of admissions for schools. The report

A-levels are becoming a useless qualification

Online Italian Dictionary

  The risk of educational apartheid in England is growing rapidly. Andrew Boggis, the chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), is right to warn about the dangers of a divided system, with public schools abandoning GCSEs and A-levels to set up their own exam system. But what some independent schools are planning is part of a wider issue. The university applications system is fragmenting.

Tony Blair may have been mistaken in ditching the Tomlinson Report of 2004, but his predecessors Margaret Thatcher and John Major had begun alienating higher education by creating a mass post-16 education system without developing an adequate selection method. This created a sense that the regulators had lost control of standards. Neither Ruth Kelly's attempts to reform A-levels, nor the actions of her successor as education minister, Alan Johnson, have restored confidence among admissions tutors.

With 24 per cent of candidates gaining at least one grade A, tutors contend they cannot distinguish between exceptionally able candidates and those who are just very hard workers. It is surprising that the Government has not introduced an A-star grade at A-level, to aid discrimination. As it has failed to act, the elite universities have taken affairs into their own hands.

Various expedients have been adopted. Additional exams have been imposed, notably in popular subjects like medicine and law. A bright student faces the prospect that three A-levels at grade A are only the starting line if they are applying to an elite university, and they must jump through additional hurdles, such as intensive interviewing, and bespoke testing. This is on top of GCSEs at 16-plus, AS-levels at 17-plus, and A-levels at 18-plus.

Increasingly, admissions tutors make ex cathedra pronouncements on student admissions which suggest that they do not understand how sixth forms are changing. They appear overwhelmingly committed to the idea that three A-levels remains the tariff, though since Curriculum 2000 many of the ablest have been opting for four. Even more problematically, admissions tutors divide subjects into "hard" and "soft", with little scientific basis.

Manchester School of Law, for example, has a list of "soft" subjects which it will not accept, and argues, bizarrely, that "as law is a theoretical subject, we will only consider qualifications where theory comprises at least 70 per cent of the curriculum". How is this worked out? In history, politics and English literature, all of which I have taught, there is a conceptual element, but to assess this mathematically is absurd.

Law is so popular that the numbers applying give tutors a genuine headache, but headaches don't make for clear thinking. This year, for example, Warwick School of Law has insisted that students gain the usual three A grades plus a grade C in an AS subject. But this is unlikely to help as the students who gain three A grades are likely to have achieved four top AS grades. Perhaps because of this, Cambridge is insisting on receiving the actual AS-module marks, though it is absurd to rely on a qualification lower than A-level for university admission.

Cambridge is posing particular problems. In August, the university issued a list of 21 subjects which it regarded as "soft" and of dubious value. This list was highly subjective, and included subjects which are clearly intellectually demanding but outside the world-view of the more traditional admissions tutors, for example "critical thinking" and general studies. Critical thinking, an outcome of the Dearing Report of 1996, has a rigour which elite universities should favour. It suffers from being new and largely unknown.

University entrance procedures are becoming a lottery. While admissions tutors have genuine problems with the flood of A grades, their responses, and those of the regulatory bodies, have been alarmingly ineffective. Guiding students through university entrance is becoming a Kafka-esque exercise as universities lose faith in A-levels.

There is a real danger that the Government's next batch of reforms in September 2008 will destroy what little confidence remains within the academic community. No one can seriously imagine that the move to reduce modules from six to four will be seen as anything more than an attack on standards.

The lack of confidence in A-levels is now alarming, and the response of public schools to opt out is logical, if irresponsible. The Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, should accept that reform of A-level in autumn 2008 could destabilise the exams system, postpone it, and seek to build a new consensus on examinations and university entry if the A-level system is not to come apart at the seams.

The writer is the head of history at Newcastle-under-Lyme College







                                                                              News by Independent    09 November 2006

                                 ILSONLINE - Circolo di Cultura Italiana
                    Vico Sforza, 18  -  73028 Otranto (Lecce)  -  Italy
Mobile: +39 329 2956361  -  Phone: +39 0836 801552  -  Fax: +39 0836 805350
 Designed by ILS Italian Language School Copyright 2003/2016 ILS Italian Language School
studying languages | wrestling | Elisa di Rivombrosa | LECCE | business | Language course in Italy to learn to speak Italian language | Exams to match the nation's needs | The Government is making welcome moves to improve the standing of vocational education in secondary schools. Employers have been drafted in to help write the syllabuses for the 14 specialist diplomas that will be offered in schools and colleges from 2010. Talks have been going on between civil servants and leaders of the country's universities and independent schools to ensure there is support for the alternative to GCSEs and A-levels. | It looks for the first time, therefore, that the curriculum of the new vocational qualifications will match the needs of the nation - and be recognised by employers and universities alike. It is difficult to see how a diploma in engineering could be seen as inferior to traditional academic qualifications, because it includes maths and physics up to the standard of A-level. These diplomas are indeed "Tomlinsonesque", as some people have claimed. They deliver in content what the former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson called for in his inquiry into 14 to 19 education. There are, however, hurdles to overcome. | First, much of the expertise when it comes to teaching the new diplomas lies within the further education sector. So, if they really do take the place of A-levels and GCSEs for the majority of youngsters within the next decade, as Government advisers believe, the further education sector will be taking on a bigger role at the expense of the school sector. There is little evidence that enough effort is being made at the moment to get schools on side for the new programme. Second, although the Government may have done the work needed for the curriculum content of the new diplomas, there is still a question mark over the structure of the examination system. | Because the diplomas are seen as an alternative to the traditional academic route, there is a danger that they will be viewed as its poorer relation by employers, who don't understand the quality of the new qualifications, and by parents and schools, who prefer to stick with the tried-and-tested academic route. That problem would be overcome, of course, if ministers had the courage to go the whole hog and embrace Tomlinson's recommendation to introduce an overarching diploma for everyone to include GCSE and A-levels. That, regrettably, still seems to be a U-turn too far in the eyes of the Government.
Scuola d'Italiano per Stranieri Italian Language School Italienischschule für Ausländer Skola I Kurs Italijanskog Jezika Za STRANCE Σχολή ιταλικής γλώσσας στην Ιταλία Escuela de Italiano para extranjeros Włoska Szkoła Językowa Escola de Língua e Cultura Italianas Ecole de Langue italienne To Be Continued