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The Independent Online
Students need closer scrutiny

The Government is considering a radical overhaul of the way students' achievements are monitored at university, with the introduction of continuous assessment progress files ("The files that will put degrees in the shade", EDUCATION, 23 September).

Supposedly studying economics and social history, I spent four drink- and-drug-fuelled years at Edinburgh University, and I can hardly remember a thing. It wasn't until I graduated and, apparently, "qualified" that I realised how little I had learnt and how ill-prepared I was for life beyond the hedonism to which I had become accustomed.

The student's best-kept secret is that university life has much more to do with clubs, alcohol, drugs, casinos and getting up late than with scholarly learning.

We had to produce three essays a term, each of between 1,000 and 3,000 words and of a standard certainly no more demanding than A-level. They were seen as irritants - interrupters of social life and sleep, something to be begrudged and rushed through in a couple of days.

And so to the exams. With a 40 per cent pass mark, three hours of waffling generally ensures a scrape through. Even with some freak occurrence (such as falling asleep or missing the exam entirely), there are always resits in September, made "easier to pass" by tutors.

Close scrutiny will force students to put some effort back into their work. I'm not saying that I want to see the end of the degree, but I think it should be gained, rather than given, a goal to be worked towards. The current system - with so few incentives, so little structure - makes the goal feel like not much of an achievement - although I scored mine, there was no one in defence.



(The writer gained a 2:2 and is now doing a postgraduate course in journalism at the University of Brighton.)

It's good to talk

In reply to Steven Hastings' article ("Silence is deadly", EDUCATION, 23 September), I should like to congratulate him for drawing attention to the next generation's plight in our brave new technological world. As a specialist in oral communication skills, I have taught English and drama in both the independent and state sector for 25 years. Independent schools address the need for polished communication skills - that is, after all, what the parents demand for their money. It is possible that the need is greater in the state sector, but it is more difficult to deliver: budgets are tight; class sizes are generally larger and year groups more unwieldy; and discipline is often an issue, so communication can result in a free-for-all where the disruptive element shout loudest!

At Great Cornard Upper School and Technology College, Sudbury, we follow the international English Speaking Board's syllabus as a vehicle to raise students' confidence, as well as arming them with added qualifications for their records of achievement and invaluable practice for interview technique and communication in the workplace and community. The syllabus is user-friendly; it prepares the students in presentation skills and encourages them to research topics based on their own interests and experience. It culminates in a public oral examination, assessed by an outside examiner from the board.

It never ceases to amaze staff, parents and students alike how the candidates rise to the occasion: results are always startling from the mixed environment of highly gifted, often shy pupils, as well as those previously lacking in literacy, cultural or social skills. We are often humbled by their achievements and we are grateful to the ESB for offering our students the confidence to talk, the ability to talk and the opportunity to talk.


Sudbury, Suffolk