Education letters: We get results

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Trevor Fisher (Comment, EDUCATION&CAREERS, 3 July) is right to draw attention to the potential dangers for applicants to higher education, which may arise from an increasingly fragmented approach to assessing achievement and potential.

It is important to keep the problem in perspective: for the vast majority of courses, A-level results are perfectly adequate for making offers and confirming places. More than 70 per cent of applicants through the Ucas system are confirmed in their first choice institution on the day the A-level results are published.

Without imposing any additional tests, it is already possible for universities and colleges to have access to the unit grades which compose each overall A-level result to enable, if they wish, a finer degree of legitimate differentiation.

Your article is right: the key to this issue is a firm commitment to transparency so that the potential student is very clear about the measures against which they are going to be judged, at a stage sufficiently early to enable them to make informed choices. That is why Ucas, in partnership with the universities and colleges, is continuing to promote the publication on our website of entry profiles.

Far more detailed than traditional statements of entry grades, the profiles give each institution the opportunity to explain in detail not only their academic requirements but the purpose and use of any additional methods of assessment, such as admissions tests and interviews.

They can also be used to describe the characteristics of successful applicants. Already over 70 per cent of courses have entry profiles attached to them and we intend that by September next year coverage will have reached 100 per cent.

Anthony McClaran, chief executive, Ucas


Yet again I find myself writing to this newspaper about the unfair demonisation of my discipline.

This time it's the claim that media and film studies are the easiest A-level subjects based on comparing actual results to predicted grades ("Official: some A-level subjects are harder than others", The Independent, 1 July).

Apart from the increasingly healthy recruitment to my discipline, perhaps at the expense of others, I cannot fathom the degree of hostility.

In 2007, 66,425 students took GCSE media/film/TV studies, of whom 16 per cent achieved an A or A*, compared to 58,391 who took full course physics, of whom 47.4 per cent achieve an A or A*.

In the same year, 31,942 took A-level media/film/TV studies, of whom 14.1 per cent achieved an A, whilst 27,466 students took A-level physics of whom 30.8 per cent achieved an A.

This does not mean that media studies is harder than physics, but it must be included in contextualising the issue of predicted grade/actual grade variance. Predicted grades are subjective, politicised choices made by teachers, not objective measures against which to simply compare actual final grades.

Schools advise students to do subjects perceived as easier, and then deliberately underestimate their chances in those subjects so that even if they still do not do well, they will appear to have done better than expected, making the school look good. The real problem here, as with all sorts of other attempts to denigrate my discipline, is not comparing like with like.

Sciences and humanities involve different types of knowledge requiring different competencies, and skills that are assessed in different ways.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for the sciences, and maybe if more people in the sciences reciprocated that respect, and paid attention to media and communication research in this area, they might be able to do more about their constant concerns about the communication of science, and its consequences for science policy and funding. All the time the game is just about denigrating my discipline, and no one benefits.

Dr Vincent Campbell, Lecturer in political communication, Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester


Staff, students and parents expressed concern over the national AS/A2 exam timetabling arrangements in England and Wales this year. Many of the AS exams were timetabled from mid-May and this made the teaching of the full specification virtually impossible. Moreover, AS students lost the benefit of being able to complete a revision programme over the late May half term. This will almost certainly have had an impact on the students' performances in the exams in terms of understanding and evaluation of in-depth knowledge, concepts and theories.

This pressure for earlier and earlier exams is misguided and damaging the students' educational development and prospects. If the Government is seeking a genuine post-exam university application system, it needs to think this through more carefully and propose a later start to the higher education autumn term dates – or even a January start to the academic year.

With the reduction in the number of unit assessments in the revised AS/A2 specifications from September, it is hoped that some sanity can be restored to the national exam timetabling system and students can be allowed the time to actually study the full AS/A2 programme and take up a wide range of enrichment activities at their place of learning.

Stephen Page, Deputy head of A-levels, Strode College (Tertiary), Somerset


As a sixth form tutor in a large comprehensive in the South-east of England about seven years ago, I had an almost identical situation to last week's quandary i.e. a student missing A-level exams through illness (Quandary, E&C, 3 July).

In my case the student had completed two papers in my subject but for the third she was actually in hospital having her appendix removed. The school informed the exam board immediately.

On results day she was awarded an E grade instead of her predicted A, as the exam board had taken no account at all of her illness. Instead of arguing with the board, we went straight to the university (Lancaster). She was given a place there, but only after a great deal of hassle involving me protesting right up to vice- chancellor level. It was he who gave me the advice I pass on here.

If anything like this happens, the school should contact the student's chosen university immediately, giving details of the problem and including medical notes. Then when the university gets the results (ahead of us) they can appraise the situation calmly and, hopefully, fairly.

April Beynon, Mumbles, South Wales

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