Richard Garner: A day for congratulations - and concern at a tarnished qualification

Share

This year's 250,000 A-level candidates deserve congratulations for the record results they achieved yesterday.

As Dr Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - the Government's exams watchdog, said yesterday, there is no concrete evidence that the exam has been dumbed down.

It is different, yes, from 50 years ago - making it impossible to do a like-for-like comparison. That said, the second point to be made is that yesterday's results will add urgency to the review of A-levels that is being carried out by ministers.

Several ideas are floating about: the introduction of an A* grade at A-level; allowing universities access to the six different module grades of every A-level; allowing them access to the marks of individual students; making questions harder (either for all candidates or introducing a separate paper with hard questions, which can be taken by high-flyers); and introducing an extended essay project to allow candidates to develop their creative and thinking skills.

The latter is going to happen. From 2008 it is expected that the extended essay project will be compulsory. That, coupled with giving universities access to the marks (so that admissions tutors can tell whether a candidate has achieved an A grade with 71 per cent or 90 per cent) should be enough to aid the universities in their mission. The problem with handing over the module grades is that it would be possible for a candidate who has achieved outstanding marks in three modules but just failed to gain an A in the other three to be better than one who has just scraped through to an A in all six.

As for the A* grade, it may not be necessary if the marks can do the job by themselves.

When it comes to making A-level questions harder, many teachers have argued that it would be fairer to make the proposed harder-questions paper available to all candidates. Otherwise, they argue, it will depend on individual schools whether pupils are entered for the separate paper. This could end up benefiting the independent sector at the expense of bright pupils in struggling inner-city schools.

Another difficulty with making questions tougher is that this would not look good politically; the minister in charge would be seen to be presiding over a decline in the A-level pass rate.

The debate over whether A-levels have become easier may be a sterile one . That does not mean, though, that an exam whose fitness for purpose has decreased as universities struggle to identify the brightest candidates should not be made more stretching for pupils.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'