Leading article: Why we need module grades

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The Independent Online

There is no doubt that the exam boards and university admissions staff had to act over the large number of students obtaining A grades at A-level. When more than 20 per cent are gaining straight As, something needs to be done to help universities select the brightest candidates for the most popular courses. However, whether it is right to give universities the grades that students have achieved in each module - revealed by The Independent yesterday - is open to question.

Teachers' leaders were quick to point out that it will increase the pressure on A-level pupils to perform from day one of their two-year course. That is because each A-level contains six modules, which students sit from the start of the first year of the sixth form. Revealing the grades for each module will also increase the pressure on students to resit modules when they fail to obtain an A grade.

However, the teaching profession has failed to back any of the alternative solutions to the problem. They dismissed the idea that you could have an A* grade and even an A** grade to sort out the very brilliant from the merely brilliant. That, they said, devalued the A grade - and put too much pressure on the students.

The advantage of passing on the modules grades to the universities is that it provides more information about candidates without requiring them to surmount any new hurdles - as would have been required with the introduction of A* and A** grades. Another way of achieving the same end would be to pass on the students' marks to universities, a move favoured by the Conservatives and one which might put less pressure on students to perform in each individual module.

Having said that, there is nothing inherently wrong with putting pressure on students to perform. The point of an examination system, after all, is to test students' knowledge and skills in a series of timed papers. In view of the controversy this issue has engendered throughout the education world, it is perhaps as well that a pilot project is to be organised so that the pros and cons can be considered before the scheme is adopted nationwide. But our feeling is that giving out module grades is inevitable.