Education Letter: A-levels fail the test

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The Independent Online
THE LEADER headlined "A-level reform strikes the right balance" (The Independent, 20 March) sadly does not strike to the heart of the problem of post-16 qualifications.

It is important to forget the arguments about "standards". Most evidence presented will be anecdotal and will show that standards are falling because it is always possible to produce examples of work that 18-year-olds could do in, say, 1970 which 18-year-olds today cannot do. The process cannot, however, be done in reverse; you cannot take an 18-year-old from 1970 and test him or her against today's criteria. Curriculums change over the years and all that can be measured by comparisons is what has been left out, not what has been added in.

It matters not really whether standards are rising or falling; what matters is whether or not they are appropriate for the needs of the pupils and the society that pays for their education. If it is intended that more people should attend further and higher education then standards on entry will certainly fall. This is an indication of success not failure.

The A-level was devised for that 10 per cent to 15 per cent who were fast-tracked to university via grammar schools and sixth forms at a time when it was assumed that the remaining population had no need of further academic education beyond the age of 16. It now serves its purpose badly. It requires students of 16 to decide if they wish to go to higher education, the route they wish to take to get there and what they wish to study. Many are not in a position to make such decisions. Its narrowness badly serves those who want other options post 16

RICHARD SLACK

Walthamstow

London

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